Archive for September 30th, 2010

Despite leading the American League in just about every meaningful statistic, Felix Hernandez has hovered around the .500 mark all season. To some in the mainstream, Hernandez “inability” to rack up wins has disqualified him from consideration for the Cy Young, which, of course, has made him the poster child for sabremetricians far and wide.

Although Hernandez is probably the most deserving candidate for the award, he isn’t exactly a slam dunk. According to various advanced metrics, Hernandez’ lead over other deserving candidates, such as Francisco Liriano, C.C. Sabathia, Jon Lester and David Price, isn’t very large. In fact, Fangraphs version of WAR actually ranks Cliff Lee as the American League’s best pitcher, with surprising candidate Justin Verlander just a shade behind the King.

2010 AL WAR Leaders

Pitcher Team IP WAR
Cliff Lee Multiple 205 1/3 6.6
Felix Hernandez Mariners 249 2/3 6.4
Justin Verlander Tigers 224 1/3 6.3
Francisco Liriano Twins 186 1/3 6.2
Jered Weaver Angels 217 1/3 6
Jon Lester Red Sox 204 5.9
Zack Greinke Royals 213 5
CC Sabathia Yankees 237.2 4.8
David Price Rays 207.2 4.4
Colby Lewis Rangers 196 4.4

Source: fangraphs.com

In an attempt to counteract the lazy, misguided conventions of the past (i.e., a pitcher’s job is to “win”), it seems as if those advancing Hernandez’ cause have exaggerated his performance a bit. Although he has certainly had a great season, and is a great pitcher, by no means does Hernandez’ 2010 campaign register on a historic scale, whether you use tradition or advanced metrics to perform the measurement. In other words, if Hernandez were not to be voted the Cy Young, it wouldn’t exactly be a travesty.

Instead of focusing on Hernandez, the more interesting part of the equation is the historic futility of the team on which he plays. After all, that’s exactly why the debate exists in the first place. Not only does Hernandez “lead” all of baseball with the lowest level of run support (3.75 runs per game/ 3.07 per 27 outs), but the Mariners have managed to score two or fewer runs in 15 of his 34 starts. No matter how you slice it, the Mariners lack of support for Hernandez is startling.

Pitchers with Lowest Run Support (min. 160 IP)

 Pitcher Team RS
Felix Hernandez SEA 3.75
Johan Santana NYM 3.98
Ted Lilly CHC/LAD 4.10
Roy Oswalt HOU/PHI 4.14
Jason Vargas SEA 4.48
Dallas Braden OAK 4.51
Doug Fister SEA 4.62
Zack Greinke KC 4.69
Fausto Carmona CLE 4.85
Randy Wells CHC 4.96

Source: ESPN.com

Hernandez shouldn’t take his offense’s lack of support too personally, however, because the Mariners’  lineup has been a universal deadbeat. To date, Seattle has scored only 506 runs (or 3.20 runs per game), which is good for last in the American League by almost 100 runs (the Orioles are next with 597).  How bad is that? Well, since 1901, only 123 teams have scored fewer (out of 2,272 seasons), and of the teams that did score less, 50 played in a season shortened by either a strike (1981 and 1994) or war (1918 and 1919).

On a per game basis, only 64 teams have scored fewer runs than the 2010 Seattle Mariners, and all but four played in either the dead ball era (39 between 1902 and 1918) or the pitching dominant period that preceded the DH (21 between 1963 and 1972). Regardless of qualifications, not since the 1981 Blue Jays, which averaged 3.10 runs/game, has the major leagues seen such a low scoring team.

Taking things one step further, when compared to the per game average of the league, the Mariners 71.8% rate ranks an astounding fifth worst in baseball history, dating all the way back to 1901.With the season not yet concluded, the team could still conceivably “climb” as high as second on the list of all-time futility, or “drop” back a few slots, but regardless of the final weekend, the 2010 Mariners have locked up a claim to being one of the top-10 worst offensive teams in modern baseball history. Even if you want to cut the team some slack for playing in a pitchers’ ballpark, the historic proportions of the offense’s ineptitude is still rather impressive.

Team Year Games W L R R/G Lg R/G %
Phillies 1942 151 42 109 394 2.61 3.90 66.87%
Red Sox 1932 154 43 111 566 3.68 5.23 70.24%
Senators 1909 156 42 110 380 2.44 3.44 70.79%
Padres 1969 162 52 110 468 2.89 4.05 71.25%
Mariners 2010 158 61 97 506 3.20 4.46 71.81%
Giants 1902 141 48 88 405 2.87 3.98 72.11%
Cardinals 1908 154 49 105 372 2.42 3.32 72.65%
Beaneaters (Braves) 1905 156 51 103 468 3.00 4.11 73.06%
Superbas (Dodgers) 1908 154 53 101 375 2.44 3.32 73.24%
Red Sox 1930 154 52 102 612 3.97 5.41 73.40%

Source: Baseball-reference.com and proprietary

So, instead of wasting time hemming and hawing about Felix Hernandez’ lack of run support, it’s time everyone took full notice of  the real star of the show in Seattle. King Felix may very well earn his Cy Young award, but the 2010 Mariners’ lineup is the one making history.

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The Blue Jays honored retiring manager Cito Gaston before last night’s game (Photo: AP).

The Toronto Blue Jays paid tribute to retiring manager Cito Gaston with an on-field ceremony before last night’s game and then gave him a proper sendoff by not only setting the franchise record for most home runs, but also besting the Yankees in a season series for the first time since 2000.

Entering the game, the Jays had belted a league leading 244 round trippers, which matched the total established by the aforementioned 2000 team (for those interested in cosmic links, a Batista, minus the “u”, also led the Jays in homers that season). It didn’t take long to break that link to the past, however, as Travis Snider, who along with several teammates sported a fake mustache in honor of Gaston, belted Javier Vazquez’ fourth pitch of the game deep into the right field stands. With the home run, Vazquez also wrote his name into the record books, but not on a page he’d like to see it. The Snider blast was the 30th homer surrendered by Vazquez, making him the only pitcher in franchise history to allow at least as many in two different seasons.

Yankee Pitchers Who Surrendered More than 30 HR in a Season

Player Year HR G W L IP ERA
Ralph Terry 1962 40 43 23 12 298.2 3.19
Orlando Hernandez 2000 34 29 12 13 195.2 4.51
Javier Vazquez 2004 33 32 14 10 198 4.91
Randy Johnson 2005 32 34 17 8 225.2 3.79
Jim Bouton 1964 32 38 18 13 271.1 3.02
Javier Vazquez 2010 32 31 10 10 157.1 5.32
Dennis Rasmussen 1987 31 26 9 7 146 4.75

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Both Vazquez and the Jays added to their history making efforts later in the game when John Buck launched a solo blast in the second and Aaron Hill sent Vazquez to the showers with a three run shot in the fifth. Although his concerns are likely elsewhere, Vazquez can take some solace in knowing that he wasn’t alone on the team in helping assist the Jays with their record setting performance. The Yankees surrendered 33 home runs to the Jays in 2010, 21 of which came courtesy of Vazquez, Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett.

On a more positive note, Alex Rodriguez made some history of his own by belting his 30th home run of the season in the sixth. Like Vazquez, the number had special meaning for Arod because it gave the Yankees’ third baseman a record setting 13th consecutive season with 100 RBIs and 30 homers, not to mention an all-time best 14th such season overall. Despite missing over 20 games for the third consecutive season, a late surge once again carried Arod across the milestone’s finish line. Last year, it was a historic 2 HR and 7 RBI inning in Tampa that turned the trick, while this season it was a more methodical 9 HR and 26 RBI September that cinched the accomplishment.

30 HR/100 RBI Seasons

Player Seasons
Alex Rodriguez 14
Manny Ramirez 12
Jimmie Foxx 12
Babe Ruth 12
Barry Bonds 11
Albert Pujols 10
Rafael Palmeiro 10
Hank Aaron 10
Lou Gehrig 10

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

While history was being made all around the ballpark, the Yankees were squandering another golden opportunity to leap back into first place. Another Rays’ loss to the Orioles once again opened the door, but the lousy pitching of Vazquez quickly slammed it shut. After Arod’s historic blast, the Yankees did mount a rally that saw Nick Swisher come to the plate with the bases loaded as the tying run, but after a double play ball the air was completely let out of the game. Meanwhile, Brett Cecil pitched another gem against the Yankees, upping his season record against the Bronx Bombers to 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA. In keeping with the theme of the night, Cecil’s four victories against the Yankees made him the first lefty to accomplish the feat since Chuck Finley did the same in 1996 (with a remarkable 0.57 ERA).

Last Five Lefties to Beat Yankees Four Times in a Season

Player Year GS W ERA IP SO
Brett Cecil 2010 4 4 2.93 27 2/3 15
Chuck Finley 1996 4 4 0.57 31 1/3 32
Floyd Bannister 1984 4 4 4.18 28 15
Geoff Zahn 1979 4 4 1.59 28 1/3 7
Mike Flanagan 1978 4 4 2.37 30 1/3 14

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Not only did Vazquez help to pitch the Yankees out of the division title, he probably also pitched himself off the post season roster. On the other hand, Royce Ring may be slowly pitching his way onto it. In the fifth, Ring was summoned to face lefty Adam Lind and retired the slugger on a ground ball to third. Granted, Ring’s appearance lasted only one batter, but if promoted to the post season roster, that’s exactly the role he would occupy. Carrying a second lefty specialist might be too much of a luxury for the post season roster, but it’s getting to the point where the Yankees can simply not afford to trust a playoff game to the cadre of righty long men who might otherwise fill the slot.

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