Dispensing with another argument for Sabathia

The Platoon Advantage would like to clear up a lingering misconception:

    What I do want to address is one line of argument the pro-Sabathia crowd keeps bringing up in this debate. You see it mostly in angry comments to articles like the ones I just linked to, but it's probably phrased most ably by courant.com's Dom Amore (who doesn't ultimately pick C.C., but uses this argument to take Felix out of the equation right away; the bolded emphasis is mine):

      "Pitching isn't like a golf tournament where the lowest aggregate score wins, it's Match Play - the job of a starting pitcher is to match the other guy on each given time out. This is why a great pitcher can win a ton of games for a bad team, like Steve Carlton in 1972, while others, no matter how talented, seem to find their way to .500 no matter what kind of team they're on, such as A.J. Burnett."


    So [Steve] Carlton starts out looking like a good argument against giving a low-win, bad-team guy the Cy Young Award, but if you dig a little deeper, it's a good lesson about the uselessness of pitcher wins as a statistic. Carlton had an absolutely phenomenal season, but he got to 27 wins because (a) he pitched often and generally completed his games and (b) his team scored a pretty decent number of runs for him. It wasn't his ability to win, it was the situation he was placed in. Switch up his offense, environment and some luck, and he could have had exactly the same season, in effectiveness terms, and gone 32-5 or 17-20. The point, again, isn't to impugn Carlton's great season or to attempt to argue that Felix has been as good as Carlton was; the point is merely that putting any stock in the pitcher's win-loss "record" doesn't really do justice to either of them.

I think Felix ultimately finishes second or third. I think he'll get some first-place votes, but that he'll also get some third- and fourth- and fifth-place votes from writers who simply can't accept the idea of a starting pitcher with a dozen-some wins as Cy Young winner.

That's fine. I try not to get so exorcised about these things. In the Grand Scheme, Don Amore's loving Cy Young ballot is merely an interesting historical artifact, one among many thousands of such artifacts.

And I've little doubt that if we're having this discussion in 10 years -- shoot, maybe three or four years -- Amore's opinion is in the minority, even among his fellow voters.

Sometimes I'm given the advice -- thankfully, not by anyone in Bristol, Conn. -- to dumb down the analysis. Because the "average fan" (whoever that is) supposedly isn't ready for UZR and WAR and SIERA and Win Shares and whatever other tool I might happen to pluck from the box this morning.

That advice is misguided. When it comes to the application of modern metrics, the fans -- the ones who read, anyway -- are right there with me and they're ahead of Don Amore.

Again, not picking on Amore, who by the way seems like a good guy and enthusiastically posted a bunch of comments under his column. But reading through those comments, I'm amazed by how things have changed. Mind you, this is not Baseball Prospectus or Baseball Think Factory or FanGraphs.*

Of course, FanGraphs readers really, really, really like Felix Hernandez.

This is the website attached to the Hartford Courant, one of those dead-tree outfits that's supposedly on the way out. And most of the commenters are presumably just plain old baseball fans who want to read about the Yankees and the Red Sox.

But reading through the 35 comments (at last count) you find things like this ...

Randy: "Felix is flat out the best pitcher in the league this year..."

David: "Felix has out-pitched CC in every category and I think many people are going to be very surprised that a lot of voters are going to vote for him. Many voters (and fans) now recognize that 'wins' is not the benchmark it used to be."

Ross: "To base a Cy Young vote on wins is old fashioned ... The Cy Young is awarded to the BEST pitcher in both leagues. Felix Hernandez is flat-out the best pitcher in the American League."

Danny: "To deny the best-performing pitcher -- i.e. the one who most effectively prevents runs -- the CY, simply because his teammates produce runs poorly and therefore he accumulates few wins, is akin to denying a brilliant fielder the Gold Glove award because his team has a losing record or because the rest of team fields poorly."

Brian: "Come on Don, very smart people have put in a lot of time coming up with stats 1000 times more useful than wins to evaluate pitcher performance. For someone in your profession to use wins to justify his/her case is simply unacceptable. Take some time, do some research and enter the modern age. The sun doesn't revolve around the earth and wins are not a proper tool to use to evaluate a pitcher."

That's just a small but representative sample. The commenters overwhelmingly support Hernandez's candidacy. And again, these probably aren't mostly Mariners fans or SABR members or Bill James acolytes. As near as I can tell, they're just baseball fans who are passionate enough to spend some of their Web time reading about the sport. And they're ahead of most of the guys who get paid to write about the sport.

You know what's really interesting, though? We're still working this stuff out. Because according to most of the advanced metrics, Felix Hernandez has not been the best pitcher in the American League this season. Baseball fans seem to have progressed from wins to ERA when rating pitchers ... but we can travel farther down this path. And I'm sure that we will.