Posted by Steve
Sure, I’m about to beat a dead horse. But it’s my blog (and Dan’s?), so I’m allowed.
I was very pleased to see the voters actually get one right and award Zack Greinke with the AL Cy Young yesterday. Greinke was the best pitcher in baseball this season and definitely deserved the award. Of course, the only reason there was any doubt was because of Greinke’s lack of wins–16. That people still let an utterly meaningless “stat” such as win-loss record influence their evaluation is an embarrassment. Fortunately, it did not affect the outcome in this case, but it still has in many cases. None more glaring than… (Dah, dah dah daaaaah) The 2004 season of Ben Sheets! Cue the groaning, people heading for exits.
Let’s compare the two seasons. You may be surprised by what we find (or if you know me at all, I guess you probably won’t)
229.1 Innings, 2.16 ERA, 242 strikeouts, 51 walks, 11 home runs
237.0 Innings, 2.70 ERA, 264 strikeouts, 32 walks, 25 home runs
Those are the only numbers I listed because other stats incorporate all these in some way. ERA is extremely subjective and dependent on things like defense and scoring. Strikeouts, walks, and home runs are the only things completely controlled by the pitcher (hence the title of Three True Outcomes).
To have the most value, you need to throw a lot of innings. As you can see, both Greinke and Sheets were workhorses in these seasons. The rest of the numbers are debatable as to who was more valuable.
The most glaring difference is home run totals. As a fly ball pitcher, Sheets has always been plagued by the long ball. 25 is not a very good number. On the other hand, 11 home runs in 229 innings by Greinke is insane.
Then you get to k/bb ratios, which is my favorite stat to look at for pitchers. I consider a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio to be very good, and it’s the marker I’m looking for if I for some reason needed to identify ace-caliber pitchers on a moment’s notice. Greinke’s ratio of 4.75 is excellent.
Then we get to Sheets. He had both a higher strikeout rate and a lower walk rate than Greinke’s 2009. It’s good for an 8.25 k/bb mark, which is just otherworldly. I went over the significance of that ratio in my Ode to Ben Sheets last year, so I won’t recite all that again except to say that it’s historic. Incidentally, he put up a ratio of 10.55 in 2006, but that was over 106 innings.
So which was better? For my personal affinity towards k/bb, I’d take Sheets’ season over Greinke’s. It’s certainly debatable and there probably isn’t a wrong answer. That’s not the point of this post. All I’m trying to say is they are certainly comparable seasons in terms of value.
So what’s my point? My point is that Greinke (rightfully) won the Cy Young in 2009. Where did Sheets finish in 2004? First? Second? Nope. Would you believe a tie for eighth? Because that’s what it was.
Is there any logical explanation for this? Of course not; we’re discussing MLB Awards voters here. The illogical, asinine, mind-numbingly stupid explanation is that Sheets’ record in 2004 was 12-14. That he could have a losing record with that incredible stat line speaks volumes to how awful the rest of the team was, but that’s beside the point.
Roger Clemens won the Cy Young in 2004. He had a very good season, but all the peripherals outside of home runs were vastly inferior to Sheets’. The “edge” Clemens had over Sheets was his record; Clemens was 18-4 that year. In truth, there was another candidate more deserving than Clemens aside from Sheets. Randy Johnson had an insane year (290 strikeouts) but finished second in the voting due to a 16-14 record.
This still bothers me today, as if you couldn’t tell. Sheets’ 2004 is better than most Cy Young seasons. The majority of baseball fans have no idea Sheets ever had such a dominating season. Many don’t realize he was a workhorse ace for many years. In fact, many fans look at Sheets’ overall tenure with the Brewers in a negative light! Sure he’s had more than his fair share of injuries, but those were all after 2005. People don’t realize how good he was. And it’s all because he was stuck on crappy teams and couldn’t get wins.
Every time I hear win totals used as the prominent qualification for the Hall of Fame, or hear Joe Morgan say the first thing he looks at in Cy Young voting is Win-Loss record, or hear a pitcher criticized for not getting more wins, a small part of me dies inside. Performance should not be judged by a completely meaningless stat. It will never happen, but I’d love to see the Win-Loss stat removed from the scorebook.
And take saves, batting average and RBIs with it.