Is Ty Lawson Better Than Chauncey Billups?

January 6, 2010

*More than usual, this post is heavily statistical. If you have a deep and abiding interest in the Denver Nuggets, Ty Lawson, Chauncey Billups, statistics, or anything I have to say in general, then I would encourage you to read on. If none of these interests apply, you might find this to be kind of a snooze.

Through a certain friendship, I’ve become well-acquainted with Denver sports over the years. The Nuggets, Broncos, and Rockies have joined teams like the Louisville Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, and Atlanta Braves in the group of teams that I’ve developed a small rooting interest in because of intra-national friendships. And because my Denverite friend lives right here in New York, I often find myself discussing the Coloradan sports scene. Past topics have included Jay Cutler’s petulance (go ‘Dores!), Josh McDaniels’ incredible ability to alienate, and the Matt Holliday and Allen Iverson trades. I can’t believe I have a strong opinion about each of those items, but I do.

Just recently, however, the Nuggets’ swoon has been a hot topic. That it has coincided with starting point guard Chauncey Billups’ injury has added an interesting element to our conversations, primarily because of our differing assessments of Billups’ ability. I asserted (with some vague knowledge of the pertinent stats) that the drop-off from Billups to rookie backup Ty Lawson isn’t as significant as many might think. He asserted, quite understandably, that Billups is the experienced caretaker of the offense, the team’s leader, and oh yeah, he’s still a pretty good player. Us being us, we proceeded to argue this point at length on several occasions. And me being me, I’ve hit the internet for some evidence that would either support or refute my claim. After some research, I’ve more or less decided that – at worst – Billups and Lawson are equally effective, and that it’s more likely that Lawson holds a slight edge. Read the rest of this entry »


Mariano Rivera’s Cy Young Candidacy Relies On The Overvaluing Of Closers

August 25, 2009

A little over a week ago, I offered my opinion about who should win the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. In a roundabout sort of way, and after wondering why Kevin Youkilis hasn’t garnered more support, I said it’s clear that Minnesota’s Joe Mauer is most deserving of the honor. In fact, this is the rare race in which there is an unquestionably right answer; Mauer is the league’s most valuable player, and if you think otherwise, you are wrong. Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan agrees with me, even if he is more optimistic than I am about the voters ultimately choosing Mauer. In any case, I no longer feel compelled to participate in this particular debate (unless he doesn’t win, in which case you will most certainly be hearing from me).

I hadn’t thought much about the American League Cy Young award race until last night. I was watching the MLB Network when former player-turned-analyst Dan Plesac said something very closely resembling the following:

“I’ll tell you what, Mariano Rivera should be in the thick of the Cy Young discussion. He’s simply the best ever at his position and he’s having another great season. To have a guy that can come in and get the twenty-sixth, twenty-sev… uh, the last few outs of the game every time, that’s a huge advantage for a team. I know there’s the Rolaids award for relief pitchers, but he should be in the Cy Young discussion.”

After chuckling at Plesac’s struggle to remember the number of outs typically required for a baseball game to end, I paused to consider his opinion. Then I rejected it.

As I’ve mentioned several times, 70 innings of brilliant pitching are not as valuable to a team as 200 innings of excellent pitching. One time, I was condescendingly instructed “not to think of it as innings pitched, but as appearances, as the number of games a player can affect” (had this person written his suggestion, I’m positive he would have written “effect”). This is also wrong. A team must throw a minimum of 1,458 innings to make it through a baseball season. You can divide the pitchers up into however many appearances you’d like, but the minimum number of innings is static. Wouldn’t you rather have 15% of those innings soaked up by an excellent pitcher, instead of 5% by a brilliant one? Especially when that 5% is often against the bad part of a lineup with a three-run lead? This is why I disregard relief pitchers as Cy Young candidates. Unless the reliever throws 100 brilliant, high-stakes innings (no, the 9th inning does not automatically qualify), he’s not qualified to win the award.

Mariano Rivera’s proposed candidacy gets even more dubious when you look at the numbers themselves. Look at Rivera’s key statistics compared to the two most qualified Cy Young award candidates, Zach Greinke and Felix Hernandez:

  • Rivera: 53 IP, 1.87 ERA, 1.0 HR/9, 1.5 BB/9, 10.0 K/9
  • Greinke: 173.1 IP, 2.44 ERA, 0.5 HR/9, 2.0 BB/9, 9.5 K/9
  • Hernandez: 178.1 IP, 2.73 ERA, 0.7 HR/9, 2.7 BB/9, 8.7 K/9

Greinke and Hernandez (the former in particular) have performed about as well as Rivera, but in three times as many innings pitched. That has much greater value to a team than Rivera’s small but brilliant contribution.

I think there’s no chance of Rivera actually winning the award, so I’m not as worked up about this as Mauer’s candidacy. But I think Plesac’s misguided opinion of closers’ contributions to a team is fairly common and needed rebutting. A good starter is more valuable than a great closer, period. Assuming Mauer wins the AL MVP award, I hope that this realization is the next frontier in Cy Young voting.

Kevin Youkilis’ Strange Absence From AL MVP Consideration

August 17, 2009
Although currently undeserving, Kevin Youkilis has been strangely absent from the AL MVP discussion.

Although currently undeserving, Kevin Youkilis has been strangely absent from the AL MVP discussion.

I had a wild Saturday night this past weekend. Around 10:30, I tuned the radio to the Yankees-Mariners game. Then, I got into bed and fell asleep. At some point between 11 o’clock and midnight, however, I woke up to the soothing sounds of a good, old-fashioned debate about who deserved the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

Broadcasters John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman invited the Daily News’ Mark Feinsand into the booth to discuss the candidates. Even in a sleepy daze, it was easy to tell that the three were collaborating in starting the “Mark Teixeira for MVP” meme. Sterling gushed about Teixeira’s unparalleled defense, Waldman about his knack for getting the big hit, and Feinsand about anything that his hosts missed. At the end of the inning, the three concluded that Teixeira is the frontrunner, with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (not enough RBIs) and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer (on a bad team) next in line.

Before making my surprising suggestion, I want to be clear about the fact that Joe Mauer has clearly been the American League’s MVP so far this season. Mauer – a catcher – has a .377/.444/.626 line this season, including 22 home runs and only 46 strikeouts. He’s an exceptional hitter at home (1.166 OPS), and merely excellent on the road (.983). In fact, Mauer is having the single best offensive season by a catcher in baseball history (186 OPS+), just ahead of Mike Piazza’s 1997 season. If the season ended today, Mauer should be the league’s MVP, and it’s not even close.

Given that Sterling, Waldman, and Feinsand were intent on ignoring Mauer’s historic greatness, I wondered to myself (and to you, now) why Kevin Youkilis was not mentioned. Certainly, I find the Red Sox first baseman whiny, hyperemotional, and generally unlikeable, but he’s having a superb season. His .311/.424/.564 line trumps Teixeira’s .285/.382/.557, and his home/away split isn’t nearly as comical as his counterpart on the Yankees’. Furthermore – and you will most likely get shot here in New York for saying this – Youkilis’ defense has been better than Teixeira’s. Finally, Youkilis is on a winning team and has that fiery, scrappy, team leader-y (read: he’s white and looks like he’s trying hard) thing down pat, which MVP voters absolutely love. As you can see, Youkilis has satisfied the historically important criteria for MVP consideration, and yet his name remains conspicuously absent from any preliminary lists.

Again, the AL MVP award should be Joe Mauer’s to lose. But for now, I just wanted to help beat back the idea that Mark Teixeira is clearly the frontrunner. After all, he isn’t even the most valuable Yankee.

Mike Mussina Belongs In The Hall Of Fame

December 1, 2008

The baseball offseason is a sad time for me. Not only is there no baseball being played, but also the normally steady stream of bad baseball analysis slows to a trickle. With fewer articles and broadcasters to criticize, I have to resort to settling good, old-fashioned baseball debates. Fortunately, there is currently one debate about which I feel quite strongly, and which I will settle for you thusly. 

Obviously, the pertinent debate is whether or not former Yankees’ and Orioles’ starting pitcher Mike Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame. This discussion interests me for both intellectual and emotional reasons. In the case of the former, I look at Mussina’s potential induction as a referendum on the baseball media’s intellectual growth. As most intelligent baseball fans know, Hall of Fame and awards voters far too often use antiquated, ineffective, or tragically flawed statistics in determining their selections. Statistics like wins, batting average, and RBI historically have been used as barometers of a player’s performance, when a lucid and honest look at those measurements reveal overwhelming shortcomings. Wins are hugely dependent on a pitcher’s run support and the bullpen’s effectiveness. Batting average is an incomplete measure of a player’s ability to not make an out, which is the most important thing a baseball player can do. RBI are dependent on runners being in scoring position, a variable over which the batter has zero control. You know all this, because you are reading our blog, and our blog attracts only intelligent and savvy readers. Right? Right. Mussina’s candidacy will lean more on less-traditional statistics than past inductees’. As such, I’m curious to see how far the baseball media and voters have come in their understanding and utilization of more complete and descriptive statistics. It’ll be like this past election, except not nearly as important and without the global implications. 

My emotional interest in this debate is two-fold. Firstly, I am a Yankees fan, so I am rooting hard for him. Secondly, and more antagonistically, I am extraordinarily tired of and perturbed by the prevailing counter-argument against Mussina’s induction. The knock on Mussina used to be his lack of a 20-win season. With that having been fulfilled, the new knock is invariably some permutation of “he just doesn’t look like a Hall of Famer” or “I just don’t see it.” Take a few moments to reel from the depth of that analysis. If Hall of Famers look like gigantic magenta cephalopods with a slight limp in their fifth tentacle, then no, Mike Mussina does not look like a Hall of Famer. If Hall of Famers are baseball players who have, relative to their peers, distinguished themselves as well above-average over a substantial period of time, then yes, Mike Mussina is a Hall of Famer. Read the rest of this entry »


June 13, 2008

This is the number of games the Yankees have blown in the 8th inning since Joba’s conversion to a starter began. You can look it up.

I point this out because the specific lament regarding Joba’s switch was the theoretical hole it created in the 8th inning. Furthermore, the general concern was that the Yankees’ bullpen would suffer as a whole because it pushes Farnsworth into the 8th, and and assorted flotsam into the 7th.

Since and including the day of Joba’s first start, the Yankees bullpen has put up the following line:

  • 30.1 IP, 24 H, 11 ER, 35 K, 13 BB, 2 HR
  • 3.28 ERA, 1.23 WHIP

The 3.28 ERA would be good for 7th in baseball and the 1.23 WHIP tied for 5th among bullpens. The 2.69 K/BB would be 2nd.

Of course, I’m going to attach the requisite small sample-size warning to these numbers. I have no idea if this will continue or not. But in fairness to those of us who did not see Joba’s switch as a death knell, I think the doom-sayers would do well to acknowledge these numbers. When a reliever not named Joba blows a lead in the 8th – and it will happen – I hope these people remember the times that Edwar Ramirez, Ross Ohlendorf, Jose Veras or Kyle Farnsworth gets the job done before beating their chests about their clairvoyant abilities.

Watch the Yankee bullpen get creamed over the next week.