Welcome to the column that was almost delayed by a week because of a mix-up by AT&T that took out my home phone and internet for the weekend.
For award definitions and background on the column itself, please consult the Primer.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an arcane practice that must stop
Good luck division
Braden Looper went 14-7 with a 5.22 ERA. The ERA was well-earned: He struck out 4.6 batters per nine and hitters slugged .503 against him. He gave up 30 percent of the total home runs from his almost 1,200 career innings and his walk rate deteriorated as well. He was awful. But he won a game in which he gave up six runs and two in which he gave up five. He also got bailed out enough by his offense to get no-decisions in one game in which he gave up six runs, three in which he gave up five, and another three in which he gave up four.
Joe Saunders didn’t have many wins that I would consider cheap ones. He had one in which he allowed four runs in six frames. So despite a 16-7 record and a 4.60 ERA, I can’t complain about a bunch of five-run, five-inning ugly victories. What I can point out is that he had 13 quality starts, which ties him for 73rd in baseball. But he tied for ninth in wins.
Manny Parra had a run of starts between July 29 and Aug. 28 in which he went 5-2 with a 7.14 ERA and batters hit .344/.405/.556 off him. He won games while allowing five, four, four, six and six runs. This explains a lot about how he can finish 11-11 with an ERA of 6.36.
Bad luck division
I tipped my hand on this one a few weeks ago. Since that time Zack Greinke went 2-0 in three starts. I really only have to say that he is the owner of a 2.16 ERA and is tied for seventh in the AL in wins and eighth in win percentage. Joe Saunders has 16 wins, just like Greinke, and he has an ERA more than double that of Greinke.
It was remarkable that Greinke failed to give the Royals a quality start only seven of the 33 times he took the mound. It is more remarkable that he received a loss or a no-decision in 10 of the 26 quality starts and he never got a win in a non-quality start. Of the 80 major league pitchers with at least 180 innings pitched, Greinke is dead last in run support.
Runners-up: John Danks ended up 13-11 with an ERA of 3.77 while the field he called home was a pretty nasty place for a pitcher to do business. He had nine losses or no-decisions in games in which he went at least six innings and gave up three or fewer runs. In four of those games, he allowed one run or no runs.
Johan Santana had losses in six quality starts. He ended at 13-9 with an ERA of 3.13 before he went on the disabled list for good.
Wandy Rodriguez finished in the top 10 in the NL in three categories. He was ninth in the league in ERA at 3.02, eighth with 193 strikeouts and 10th in losses with 12. He lost five quality starts, including a duel against Adam Wainwright in which he had a game score of 72. He had four more quality starts with no-decisions.
Braves teammates Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez shared a hard luck story and in a year without Zack Greinke losing a third of his decisions while posting the best ERA in almost a decade, I might have let them split the honor. But Jose Guillen and Yuniesky Betancourt made sure that this was no normal season, so they have to settle for a silver medal. They posted ERA+s of 160 and 145 and managed to lose 10 games each.
Jurrjens lost or recorded no-decisions in 12 games in which he threw at least six innings and allowed three runs or fewer. Opposing hitters managed only a weak .237/.304/.356 against him and he still was only four games over .500.
Vazquez had eight starts with six innings pitched, three or fewer runs allowed, and no wins. He ended up at 15-10 with a line against him of .223/.267/.346.
Randy Wells started the season with six starts in which he went 0-2 with a 1.86 ERA and a .550 OPS against in 38 innings. Things eventually got a little better for Wells, but you would certainly expect better than a 12-10 record with a 143 ERA+.
Better nicknames please
One of the themes at the awards is me whining about how bad baseball nicknames have become. I had almost given up hope and yielded to the lazy convention of using shortened versions of players’ given names, but then along comes proof that good nicknames are still possible. Megatron is simply an awesome idea. So I officially nominate Roy Williams of the Cowboys as the official nickname guru. And if he won’t take the job, then let’s hope that Disco Hayes and Rany Jazayerli will.
That all being said, it is a little depressing for me to know that the Calvin Johnson is probably too young to have many meaningful memories of the original Transformers cartoon series and toys.
Wes Littleton Award
I really shouldn’t have to introduce you to Brian Fuentes. I believe we’ve all met him. And we all watched as he didn’t really do very well despite his league-leading 48 saves. He had some very ugly nights. And through the season, he contributed only 0.51 WPA
Runner up: Kevin Gregg made Fuentes look like the picture of value. He actually lost his job as Cubs closer and ended up with negative value despite 23 saves. I still have no idea why the Cubs felt it necessary to trade a prospect away for the privilege of overpaying Gregg for his “closer pedigree.” This is a lesson to all those general managers reading at home: Grow your own closer rather than overpaying for somebody else’s. Omar Minaya ended up paying retail prices for three guys with closer price tags and ended up with nothing but sunk costs and a mediocre bullpen.
Please hold the applause
Bobby Seay was third in baseball with 28 holds. But he finished the season having added only a quarter of a win to the Tigers.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
In 2008, Jarrod Washburn struck out 5.1 batters per nine and ended up with a 4.69 ERA, with batters hitting .287/.345/.463 against him. Then the Mariners got Franklin Gutierrez, plugged him into center field. Washburn still struck out 5.1 batters per nine. But his BABIP fell to .245 (before his trade to the Tigers). His ERA fell to 2.64. And batters hit .223/.276/.334 against him.
If you’re curious how Cole Hamels managed to maintain almost exactly the same strikeout rate, walk rate, and home run rate in 2009 as he had in 2007 and 2008 and add more than a run to his ERA, and sink to below .500 with his won/loss record (an arcane process that needs to be stopped), then look no further than the 60-point jump in his BABIP. Hamels was the same pitcher he was in previous years. He just had rotten luck on balls in play. Talking heads will give you explanations that speak of his mental state or something. Don’t listen. This is your advance notice to buy low heading into next year’s fantasy draft.
AL: Zack Greinke is the pick by an easy margin. He was the AL leader in ERA by 33 points. He was the leader in ERA+ by 29 points (a figure that was 32nd all time). He led in WHIP, home runs per nine innings, WPA, VORP. He was second in complete games and shutouts. He was third in strikeout rate. He was simply the most dominating pitcher in almost a decade. And it may be wishful thinking, but I can’t see enough voters passing him up for him to lose in the Cy Young voting. There will be some dissenting opinions focused on the three extra wins that Felix Hernandez accumulated this season. But as great as Hernandez was, the idea that he was better than Greinke doesn’t pass the smell test.
Runners-up: His Royal Highness Felix of Pugetshire really did arrive this year, dropping his ERA by almost a run. Any comparison to Greinke is by no means meant to denigrate what a job he did. He simply ran into a buzzsaw. It really is astonishing that batters hit only .227/.287/.318 off him. He is preposterous.
Last year I called Roy Halladay a unique player because his effectiveness and durability are off the charts. Every year he is one of the half dozen best pitchers in the game. He has 49 complete games in his career, third only to Randy Johnson and John Smoltz among active pitchers. And both of those guys are more than 10 years older than the Blue Jays star.
This year was nothing new for Halladay. He actually set a career high in strikeouts and led the league in complete games and shutouts. He finished a solid third in ERA and ERA+. He did not match the level of greatness of Greinke and Hernandez. But he was great and deserves to be mentioned as a solid third.
NL: This is a close one between Chris Carpenter and Tim Lincecum. I think Carpenter will win it pretty easily in the official Cy Young voting because he leads Lincecum in ERA and wins. The fact that his team made the playoffs while the Giants did not doesn’t hurt his chances, either. But it is closer than the vote will indicate. Lincecum had an extra four starts and 33 innings. And that has real value.
Regardless, I do give it to Carpenter by a very small margin. With a 2.24 ERA, he shocked me. I had almost left him for dead after the shoulder problems that killed his 2007 and 2008 seasons. You just don’t expect a guy who has missed two seasons to have a career year and put up a 2.24 ERA. Hitters went .226/.272/.310 against him. He actually had a higher WPA than Greinke.
Lincecum was fairly close with a 2.49 ERA and a .206/.271/.290 line against. He led the NL in quality starts and strikeouts, and tied with his teammate Matt Cain for the lead in complete games.
Third place is Adam Wainwright, who was another surprise. Last year he chopped a half a run off his 2007 ERA. This season he chopped a little more than half a run off of that figure. A 2.63 ERA and a .244/.297/.349.
Best rookie pitcher
AL: Andrew Bailey came right in and did great work in the back of the A’s bullpen, producing 2.33 WPA and quickly becoming the Oakland closer. The A’s don’t miss Huston Street. They can grow their own closer again and again.
Gigantor Jeff Niemann was a pleasant surprise in a season in which the Rays had a series of disappointments.
NL: I don’t think J.A. Happ will be the best of this class in the long run. But he did do some remarkable things, putting up a sub-3 ERA in 166 innings.
Second place is Tommy Hanson, who I think will be better in the long term. He was as good inning for inning as Happ. But he came up later and ended up with less value because of it.
Barring any unforeseen telecommunications problems, next week we will tackle part two of the season wrap with the hitters.