Archive for November 20th, 2010

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

Three of the most significant names in American sports history collide tonight when Army and Notre Dame not only play the fiftieth game in their historic rivalry (for a summary of every game, click here), but do so at Yankee Stadium for the first time in 41 years.

When Army first played Notre Dame on November 1, 1913, the game was really more of a warm-up for the upcoming clash with Navy later that month. However, the Westerners, as Notre Dame was labeled in the New York Times’ account of the game, upset the cadets with a revolutionary passing game that took the college football word by surprise. By the end of the afternoon, the Fighting Irish, who were captained by the legendary Knute Rockne, bested Army by a jaw dropping 35-13.

The East learned a lesson from the Middle West at West Point on Saturday, when Notre Dame showed a greater development of the possibilities of the forward pass than Eastern elevens have undertaken to master.” – New York Times, November 13, 1913

Over the next few seasons, the two teams began to develop an emerging rivalry that attracted increasing fan interest. By 1923, both teams had developed into top college programs, and the attendance at their annual matchup necessitated a move to larger stadiums in New York City. Because the Yankees and Giants were playing in the World Series that year, the first new home for the game was Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. The following year, the two teams laced up at the Polo Ground and then, in 1925, the game moved on to Yankee Stadium, where it found a home for 22 of the next 23 years (in 1930, the game was played at Chicago’s Soldier Field).

A scene from the first Army vs. Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium in 1925.

A lot of history was made by both teams during the 22-year period when the game was played at Yankee Stadium. In 1928, with the score tied 0-0 at the half, Rockne, now the coach of Notre Dame, gave his historic “win one for the Gipper” speech. The inspirational address spurred the Fighting Irish on to a 12-6 victory, and an American sports legend was born.

The effect of psychology on football teams was never more clearly demonstrated than at Yankee Stadium Saturday. The underdog, a glowing, determined Notre Dame team rose to the heights and played better than they knew how.” – Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, November 12, 1928, writing in an article distributed by the Christy Walsh Syndicate

Although fan interest was always heightened, the rivalry really intensified in the 1940s. Amid the backdrop of a World War, the two teams had emerged as elite, championship caliber programs, and their annual contest had evolved into a national event. From 1943 to 1946, Army and Notre Dame never ranked lower than fifth and at least one of the teams was ranked first in the country. Not surprisingly, the two teams split the four national titles in that span (Army winning in 1944 and 1945, and Notre Dame taking the crown in 1943 and 1946).

As Bill Pennington wrote in a retrospective for the New York Times, the Army vs. Notre Dame game became such a big deal that soldiers on the battle front would quiz suspected spies about the score of the most recent game in order to determine if they were really Americans. By 1946, the war had finally come to an end, and soon, so too would the game’s run at Yankee Stadium. Before saying good bye, however, the two teams engaged in what was even then being called the “Game of the Century”.

A scene from the "Game of the Century" in 1946.

In 1944 and 1945, Army outscored Notre Dame by a combined 107-0. In 1946, however, the game was being played in a new era of optimism. With many of each institutions’ war heroes back at home and in the stands for the game, the anticipation reached an unprecedented level, especially as each team entered the showdown undefeated. Because each team was averaging over 30 points per game, everyone expected a high scoring affair, but instead what occurred was an epic 0-0 tie with new names like Johnny Lujack and Doc Blanchard added to the legend.

The two foremost contenders for the mythical national college championship honors pitched camp on the outskirts today while an invading horde of thrill-seekers descended on the big town for football’s battle of century between Army and Notre Dame.” – AP, November 8, 1946

In 1947, the rivalry moved back on campus in South Bend before taking a 10-year hiatus and then resuming on a more sporadic basis. In 1969, the two teams reconvened at Yankee Stadium for one last time. However, although Notre Dame was still a powerhouse, Army’s program had faded. With Joe Theisman leading the way at QB, the Irish pummeled the Black Knights 45-0 and then closed the curtain on the rivalry’s time in the Bronx.

Over forty years later, Notre Dame and Army finally return to the grounds of a new Yankee Stadium. Even though the bloom has faded from both teams’ national profile, the powerful combination of their historic legacies and the rivalry reconvening at Yankee Stadium makes today’s game a highly anticipated event. Yankee Stadium has never been a stranger to legends, so who knows, maybe the echoes will be calling again tonight.

Army vs. Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium

Date   Score   Attendance 
 10/17/1925  Army 27, Notre Dame 0   65,000
 11/13/1926  Notre Dame 7, Army 0  63,029
 11/12/1927  Army 18, Notre Dame 0  65,678
 11/20/1928  Notre Dame 12, Army 6  78,188
11/30/1929  Notre Dame 7, Army 0  79,408
 11/28/1931  Army 12, Notre Dame 0  78,559
 11/26/1932  Notre Dame 21, Army 0  78,115
 12/2/1933  Notre Dame 13, Army 12   73,594
 11/24/1934  Notre Dame 12, Army 6  78,757
 11/16/1935  Notre Dame 6, Army 6  78,114
 11/14/1936  Notre Dame 20, Army 6  74,423
 11/13/1937  (18) Notre Dame 7, Army 0   76,359
 10/29/1938  (7) Notre Dame 19, Army 7  76,338
 11/4/1939  (4) Notre Dame 14, Army 0  75,632
 11/2/1940  (2) Notre Dame 7, Army 0  75,474
 11/1/1941  (6) Notre Dame 0, (14) Army 0   75,226
 11/7/1942  (4) Notre Dame 13, (19) Army 0   74,946
 11/6/1943  (1) Notre Dame 26, (3) Army 0  75,121
 11/11/1944  (1) Army 59, (5) Notre Dame 0  75,142
 11/10/1945  (1) Army 48, (2) Notre Dame 0  74,621
 11/9/1946  (1) Army 0, (2) Notre Dame 0  74,121
 10/11/1969  (15) Notre Dame 45, Army 0  63,786

Note: Notre Dame leads series 14-5-3 at Yankee Stadium and 37-8-4 overall.
Source: goarmysports.com

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The American League Cy Young race was seen by many as a battleground between modern sabremetrics and old fashioned statistical analysis. As a result, the “controversial” selection of Felix Hernandez was heralded in some corners as the dawning of an age of enlightenment, while in others it was viewed as a turn to the “dark side”.

There’s no point in trying to settle that debate because both sides seem firmly entrenched in their positions. What is more interesting, however, is whether or not Hernandez’ selection represented much of a change in the thought process used by the BBWAA voters to elect the Cy Young.

As Tyler Kepner noted in the New York Times’ Bats Blog, one really didn’t need to delve too deeply in advanced metrics in order to appreciate Hernandez’ accomplishments in 2010. Even though he was a pedestrian 13-12, the Mariners’ ace led the league in ERA and placed second in strikeouts (only one behind the leader), two statistics that have factored into historical voting almost as much as wins.

Without a doubt, wins have always played a role in selecting the Cy Young. In the American League, 26 of the 45 winners since 1967 (the first year a separate award was given in each league) led in wins, while 39 came within 10% of the league-leading total. After removing the four relief pitchers who won the award, the percentage increases to 63% and 95%, respectively. In the National League, 64% of non-reliever Cy Youngs finished first in wins, while 79% finished within 10% of the best total. Combined, the correlation between the Cy Young and win total is stronger than any other statistic.

Cy Youngs Who Have Not Finished Within 10% of League Leader in Wins

Note: Relievers excluded from consideration.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

When you consider that the last two AL Cy Youngs, Zack Greinke (84% of top win total) and Hernandez (62% of top win total), are the league’s only award winners to not finish within 10% of the leading win total, it does seem as if there has been a philosophical change among the voters. After taking a deeper look, however, it becomes clear that Cy Young voters have never lived by wins alone.

Cumulative Rankings of Cy Young Award Winners in Three Traditional Statistical Categories





  Leader Within 10% Leader Within 10% Leader Within 10%
AL 63% 95% 44% 76% 22% 41%
NL 64% 79% 33% 85% 44% 59%

Note: Relievers excluded from calculation of percentages; the American League had two award winners in 1969.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

As illustrated in the chart above, both ERA and strikeouts have a strong relationship to winning the Cy Young. In fact, in the National League, a higher percentage of winners have come within 10% of leading in ERA than wins. Nonetheless, the correlation to wins is still significantly stronger, but a few caveats are in order. Because ERA is a rate statistic, there is not only more room for variance, but qualified pitchers with much fewer innings pitched are not disadvantaged as they would be with cumulative totals. Also, although strikeouts, like wins, are cumulative, the league leading total is often 10-15x more than the best win mark. Again, this introduces more variance among the leaders. After taking those two qualifications into account, it certainly seems as if voters have always given very careful consideration to both ERA and strikeouts.

Relative Performance of Cy Young Winners in Wins, Strikeouts and ERA

  Leader in all 3 categories Leader in at least 2 categories Leader in at least 1 category
AL 10% 37% 83%
NL 10% 38% 92%
  Top 10% in all 3 categories Top 10% in at least 2 categories Top 10% in at least 1 category
AL 29% 73% 100%
NL 28% 82% 100%

Note: Relievers excluded from calculation of percentages; the American League had two award winners in 1969.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

In the National League, only three Cy Young starters have failed to lead at least one of the three categories under consideration in this analysis, while seven have come up short in the AL. However, every award winner has at least finished among the top 10% in one category, with a large percentage achieving the feat in at least two. It should be noted, however, that among the 18 pitchers who only ranked in the top 10% of one category, 16 were listed among the leaders in wins (including 14 who actually led their league). Only Greinke in 2009 (led the league in ERA; 84% of wins leader; and shade below 90% of strikeout leader) and Rick Sutcliffe in 1984 (traded to NL on June13; only finished among top-10% in ERA, but went 16-1 for Cubs) were able to buck that trend. So, although it seems as if voters have always considered more than just wins, they have often allowed a leading total in that category to obscure other relative deficiencies.

An evolution in the criteria that beat writers use to vote on awards like the Cy Young certainly seems to be underway. However, it would be stretch to suggest that this gradual tidal shift is really a sea change. As startling as Felix Hernandez’ win total may be (at 62% of the leading total, it is the lowest among all non-relievers since 1967), he still led the league in ERA and strikeouts (he was actually one behind Jered Weaver, but based on rounded percentage was within 100% of the leading total), which has usually been good enough to win the Cy Young.

Pitchers Who Led Their League in Strikeouts and ERA, but Didn’t Win the Cy Young Award

Year ERA/K Leader Wins WAR Cy Young Wins WAR
1970 Tom Seaver 18 6 Bob Gibson 23 8.7
1971 Tom Seaver 20 9.2 Fergie Jenkins 24 9.2
1979 J.R. Richard 18 6 Bruce Sutter 6 4.6
1987 Nolan Ryan 8 5.5 Steve Bedrosian 5 2.6
2002 Pedro Martinez 20 5.7 Barry Zito 23 6.5

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Of the five times (out of 21 cases) that the electorate turned away from the ERA/strikeout leader, it either awarded a reliever or the league leader in wins. Of the latter, however, each pitcher also happened to have a higher WAR: Jenkins and Gibson were the league leaders in their Cy Young season, while Zito finished a close third behind Roy Halladay (6.9) and Tim Hudson (6.6). Interestingly, the correlation to WAR doesn’t stop there. The baseball-reference.com blog ran a comparison of Cy Young winners to WAR and found that 46 of the 80 non-relievers (58%) actually led the league in the website’s calculation of the metric, which isn’t far from the 64% correlation to the stodgy old wins category. This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, however, considering our previous discussion. As foreign and advanced as WAR may seem, common place metrics like strikeouts and those that influence ERA play a significant role in many sabremetric constructs.

So, let the philosophical battle rage on. Hernandez’ Cy Young victory doesn’t belong to either side.

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