Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Am Idiot, Hear Me Whine.

Hello there, young'ins. My name is Bryan Burwell. I've lived in the great state of Mizzoura for the past 83 years, and, in that time, I've witnessed some mighty fine ball-playin'. I've seen Bobby Gibson, and I've seen the Wizard, and I've seen Big Mac, and I've seen Skip Schumaker and his magnificent mustache.

Because I've seen so much ball-playin', I'm, of course, infinitely more qualified than you Facebookin' little fuckwits to opine on the merits of the modern ballplayer. And today, you young folk have managed to righteously piss me off by votin' for some long-haired she-male -- I think his name is Lincecum -- in the Cy Young balloting. Somehow, you slapnuts didn't realize that there were two better candidates here in St. Lou.

I'm old, and I'm dyspeptic, and I'm really, really fuckin' confused. And now you're gonna hear about it:

Of all the many mysteries surrounding our national pastime, none is more baffling than the rather peculiar obsession by so many who profess a love of baseball who repeatedly try to turn this wonderfully simple game into a mind-numbing, highfalutin' brain twister.

You thought I was just kidding with the dropping of the "g"s on all of those words in the intro, didn't you? You thought I was playing on the tired "this sportswriter is a crotchety old man" meme, right? Ha! JOKE'S ON YOU, COCKSUCKERS! That's how this bastard actually writes!

When did pitching victories become passé?

About the same time saying "passé" did, Jacque.

Apparently I have been misled for all these years. Here I was thinking that guys who win 18, 19, 20 or 25 games were some kind of special. I always figured that a guy who was able to go out on the mound every five days and pretty much guarantee his team a victory was one of those Cy Young-type hurlers everyone dreams about.

Two things:

(1) Keep this "takes the ball every five days" criterion in your back pocket. It'll prove exceedingly useful when Mr. Burwell starts talking about Chris Carpenter in a few paragraphs -- the same Chris Carpenter who missed a month of the season due to injury and, therefore, wasn't able to take the ball every five days ...

(2) More important is this "guy who takes the ball every five days and guarantees his team a victory" shit. Now, of course, no pitcher can guarantee his team a victory every time out; really, what you're looking for is a guy who can consistently give you six, seven, or eight solid innings and only cough up a couple of runs.

In fact, I think some people measure that type of performance. They call it a quality start: six innings, three or less earned runs. It's not a foolproof stat, by any means, but, if you're talking "eats innings and keeps his team in the game," it ain't half bad.

Care to guess who led the National League in quality starts in 2009?

I'll give you a hint: he plays in San Francisco, he has long hair, and Bryan Burwell hates him because he only won 15 games this past season.

Now I find out that I am wrong. Baseball's new wave of deep thinkers and pseudo-intellectuals have told me so loud and clear with the voting in this year's Cy Young awards.

"Pseudo-intellectuals" is an interesting word choice, no? When I think of "pseudo-intellectuals," I typically don't think of people who have facts, data, and reason on their side. I tend to think of people who -- I don't know -- write a sour grapes column because their hometown pitcher didn't win an award, despite the fact that the pitcher led the league in an utterly irrelevant statistic. But maybe that's just me.

Particularly in the NL voting, I am taken aback, because two voters —'s Keith Law and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus — did not include Chris Carpenter on their ballots. Law also had the NL's winningest pitcher, Adam Wainwright (19-8), in third place on his ballot behind Lincecum (15-7) and Javier Vazquez (15-10).

Yes, how dare they? It's not like anyone else voted for Lincecum first. And it's not like Vazquez had better numbers than Carpenter; I mean, he didn't strike out 100 more batters, or post a near-identical FIP or WHIP in 25 more innings, or put up a WAR that was a full win better than Carpenter. Ignoramuses. Bumpuses!

Armed with all their sabermetrics, Carroll and Law — and obviously a lot of other voters — were able to determine that winning the most games in the heat of a pennant push was not nearly as important as looking good while losing.

As fellow condescending smartass -- and BCB Weekend Daddy -- Fatter than Joey points out: picking on Law and Carroll, while acknowledging that "a lot of other voters" were of like mind, is akin to singling out Utah and Idaho for voting for Ronny Reagan in 1984 and saying: "What the fuck were you two thinking?"

Look, I think Lincecum is a heck of a pitcher, arguably the most gifted hurler in baseball. But I always thought the Cy Young was intended to honor the pitcher with the best season, not necessarily to reward the guy who has the best stuff.

Do you still have room in your back pocket? I know you've got the "takes the ball every five days" nugget in there, but I want you to make room for the "pitcher with the best season" piece, too, 'cuz that's going to come in handy when Old Man Burwell completely ignores Lincecum's preposterous June-to-July numbers (11 starts, 4 CG, 2 shut outs, 99 Ks in 83 IP, 1.73 ERA, opposing OPS of .534).

So here's what I still don't get. How can you look at what Wainwright did from a won-loss standpoint and essentially dismiss it in favor of Lincecum?

I can do so, and do so with little (if any) hesitation, because:
  • Lincecum had a better ERA, even though he had a worse defense behind him (witness: Lincecum's FIP was nearly eight-tenths (0.8) of a run better than Wainwright's);
  • Lincecum had four complete games and two shut outs, to Wainwright's one and zero (respectively);
  • Lincecum had a much better K/9 rate;
  • Lincecum had a much better WHIP (1.05 to 1.21);
  • Lincecum gave up 10 homers in 225 innings, while Wainwright gave up 17 in 233 innings;
  • Lincecum had an opposing batting average of .209, while Wainwright put up an opposing BA of .247.
See? It's called "thinking." You can do it, too, Bryan Burwell. It's fucking awesome.

As gifted a pitcher as Lincecum clearly is, he faltered down the stretch when his team was in the playoff hunt. In his last 10 starts, the San Francisco ace was only 3-4 with a 3.15 ERA.

He's right, Lincecum was only 3-4. Now, he lost three of those games by scores of 4-2, 2-1, and 3-0 (respectively), but that doesn't matter. In that last game, for example, Lincecum should've given up (-1) runs. Sure, that's impossible, but if he was really Cy Young material, he'd find a way to make it happen.

(Also: Lincecum faced the Dodgers twice, the Rockies three times, and the NL Champion Phillies once in those final ten starts. For comparison's sake, Wainwright matched up against the Dodgers once and the Rockies once in his final 10 starts. Just sayin' ...)

Oh, and also: PULL THE "BEST SEASON" PIECE OUT OF YOUR BACK POCKET! Smack him in the junk with it! VENGEANCE IS OURS.

I'm sorry, but that has to mean something, doesn't it? If won-loss records are suddenly obsolete, why do we bother to keep the stat?

Probably for the same reason we ask Lou Pinella to cram his gunt into a size 36 baseball pant: because baseball, for all of the great things about the sport, is the slowest-evolving institution this side of Holy Mother Church.

Over the final three months of the season, Wainwright had an 11-3 record with a stunning 1.90 ERA. In Wainwright's last 11 starts, the Cards lost one game. All of this was done in the heat of a push to the postseason.

Did you hang on to your "best season" card? Smack Mr. Burwell in the face with it again. There's no debate that Wainwright was awesome over the last three months of the season. Lincecum was equally transcendent from June to July, and he was fucking dynamite in the first part of August, too. (What's the point? I'm not sure; I'm not the one making the dunderheaded argument.)

What's more: regarding this "heat of a push to the postseason" nonsense? The Cardinals were never less than six games ahead of the Cubs during the final 40 games of the season. Quite the pressure cooker you've got there, Bryan.

So tell me again, why is winning not an important stat anymore?

Well, it's the most important stat, when you're talking about a team. In terms of measuring individual performance, it's downright stupid, since a pitcher doesn't go out there by himself -- though, in Lincecum's case, with that K/9 rate, he probably could -- and since a pitcher rarely contributes to the team's offense.

OK, I'm tired, and this post has now stretched on for two full days, and, honestly, at this point, I'm beyond caring. The only way this column could have been any worse is if Grandpappy started quoting Herm Edwards.



"This is what's great about sports. This is what the greatest thing about sports is. You play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game. You don't play it to just play it. That's the great thing about sports: You play to win, and I don't care if you don't have any wins. You go play to win. When you start tellin' me it doesn't matter, then retire. Get out! 'Cause it matters."

Fuck all.

(EDIT: Almost forgot -- much love to Walsh for the link.)


Master Reid said...

This is funny stuff. I love the reaction out of St. Louis over this shit. It's not like Wainwright had totally lapped the field and won like 25 games or something. The difference is 4 wins, that's not earth shattering by any stretch, especially when you break it down with other stats which this dude apparently refuses to acknowledge the existence of.

Rubie Q said...

I particularly enjoyed how he blamed sabermetrics for this catastrophe; it's like we invented 12 new statistics just so Lincecum could win the award.

Fact is: Lincecum was better in the traditional statistics -- and, in some cases, better by a lot.