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Posts Tagged ‘Felix Hernandez’

Now that CC Sabathia has opted against opting out, the starting pitchers available in the 2011 free agent class pale in comparison to the offensive players testing the market. However, there are viable options to consider, including C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, and the soon to be posted Japanese standout Yu Darvish.

Should the Yankees be pumped up about a potential free agent like Yu Darvish, or focus on the trade market instead?

Although Brian Cashman will undoubtedly give careful thought to every prominent free agent starter, more and more, it seems as if the Yankees’ primary focus will be acquiring one in a trade. This strategy makes sense for several reasons. For starters (pun intended), there are heightened risks associated with many of the more attractive free agents (age for Buerhle and Oswalt; lack of a track record for Wilson and Darvish). Because these free agents would likely require a lucrative long-term contract (or in Darvish’s case, a hefty posting fee), a cost-risk analysis might not justify the pitcher’s expected contribution. Besides, in free agency, a team is often forced to pay more for past performance than future value, which especially seems likely among this group.

Another reason why it makes sense for Brian Cashman to explore a trade is because the Yankees have depth in their minor league system, particularly at pitcher and catcher. To some, that might be all the more reason to not make a move, but the recent release of Andrew Brackman is a cautionary tale. Less than eight months ago, Brackman was being touted as one of the Yankees’ three “killer-B’s”, but now he is looking for a job. Part of the reason for that decision was the Yankees’ prospect depth made Brackman’s 40-man roster spot a valuable commodity, but the tall right hander’s rapid fall from grace says more about the unpredictability of pitching prospects.  Although the organization should not be adverse to allowing its own prospects to develop, each and every one should be on the table in the right deal.

With the rationale out of the way, the next step is to determine potential trade targets. Brian Cashman and his Yankees’ brain trust have likely already begun assembling such a list, but just in case they need some help, the Captain’s Blog will be spending the next week highlighting the top pitching trade targets whose acquisition would be worthy of a concerted effort. So, where to start?

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On Monday, the Yankees will face King Felix for the third time this season (Photo: Getty Images).

The Yankees won’t be catching any breaks on their final West Coast trip. One day after being stifled by Jered Weaver, the Yankees will have to contend with the Angels’ co-ace Dan Haren. Then, on Monday, Felix Hernandez will be waiting for them in Seattle. What’s more, the Yankees shouldn’t expect much of a reprieve when they head back east because Ricky Romero, Jon Lester, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, and David Price are all in line to face them over the final two weeks of the season.

“Here come the Yankees” must be a popular rallying cry because regardless of the city, the Bronx Bombers have been unable to sneak out of town without facing down an opponent’s top gun. Although the luck of the draw often dictates the opposing starting pitcher, sometimes it seems as if teams lay in ambush for the Yankees.  The paranoia that comes with being a fan can sometimes distort perception, but when you see the Mariners give King Felix an extra day of rest just before the Bronx Bombers arrive, it makes you wonder if part of being the Yankees means having other teams save their best?

After looking more closely at the numbers, the Yankees have, in fact, faced more “aces” than any other team. Although the disparity with the Red Sox is only one, that gap should grow based on the upcoming schedules for each team. Otherwise, the disadvantage compared to all other contenders is at least four games, which, in a tight pennant race, would be significant.

W-L Records Against Opposition Aces

  W L W%
Tigers 11 9 0.550
Athletics 15 13 0.536
Red Sox 17 15 0.531
Rangers 14 15 0.483
Yankees 15 18 0.455
Angels 11 15 0.423
Twins 11 16 0.407
Rays 11 16 0.407
Royals 9 16 0.360
Blue Jays 9 19 0.321
Indians 9 20 0.310
Orioles 8 18 0.308
White Sox 8 19 0.296
Mariners 9 23 0.281

Note: Aces defined as the top-15 pitchers in the American League, ranked by ERA as of September 10, 2011 (minimum 150 innings pitched). Only intra-league games considered.
Source: Baseball-reference.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

 

Wins

ERA

SO

  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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