Some Thoughts on Fairness

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Some Thoughts on Fairness
I moved to Hartford, CT area in July 2008. Young Tommy Haberstroh couldn't have predicted that.

I grew up in a lovely pretentious town called Westport which is an hour's drive away so I had heard some things about the capital city. Such as: it sucks. It is also the location where most Fairfield County teens smoke their first joint as Dave Matthews Band performs there every year at an oddly-named outdoor venue called "The Meadows" which by the way is a large hill. For those who I grew up with, it is the city you pass on the way to Boston. For the Mallrats fans among us, it's known as The Whale. And some insurance companies, like Aetna and yes, The Hartford, are based there.

And that's pretty much all I could tell you about Hartford. There's so much I didn't know like for instance, the All Traffic Must Stop For Pedestrians Crossing an Intersection rule. Yes, all traffic at an intersection must stop for the pedestrian - not just the perpendicular traffic but also the parallel traffic. I hadn't seen this before.

Now thanks to this rule, when all cars are motionless at stop light I glance around in a nervous panic trying to locate the ambitious pedestrian standing at the corner by the Walk/Don't Walk lamp post. You know, the one with the fun button that we as children couldn't resist to press. Anyway, sure enough, there's a person waiting to cross the street.

Here's how it typically goes down: every car gets the red light, the lamp post repeatedly blasts a loud beeping noise for three minutes long just in case the person is a crawling toddler, the pedestrian struts on their runway of power DIAGONALLY across the intersection, and every driver promptly receives an unhealthy injection of road rage. It's the all-time slowest game of Red Light Green Light.

Since when did the walking with the direction of traffic become obsolete? Why should hundreds (dozens) of people sacrifice three of their precious minutes for the sake of one walker? It's unfair, I tell you. Maybe it's the Westport in me.

Which (finally) brings me to Zack Greinke, he of the 2.19 ERA. The always funny, never wrong @KenTremendous tweeted earlier today, "Greinke probably won't win an award for being the best pitcher because his team can't hit. Is that fair in any way, shape, or form?" No, it's not fair and I couldn't have said it better myself... in less than 140 characters.

In its purest sense, the Cy Young Award should be treated differently than the MVP award because the "V" part of the latter warrants some tricky subjectivity that analysts love to waste time arguing the definition of "value". The Cy Young Award, on the other hand, is given to the league's best pitcher of the year. That's it.

Unfortunately, sportswriters aren't very good at evaluating the best pitcher of the year. Why? They're addicted to the win-juice. In the spirit of Ken Tremendous, I'll refer to FJM's glossary for a definition of what a "win" is:

Wins
1. The only stat that matters. The only way to pick a Cy Young winner. The thing Billy Beane can't get in the playoffs, no matter how many fancy computers he hires to play baseball for him.
2. A simply awful pitching statistic that should be swallowed up by the earth itself, personified, given ears, and forced to listen to a tape loop of Bermanisms for all of eternity. The reason being – and again, you know this, intuitively, even if you have never quite expressed it to yourself – if Carl Pavano gives up nineteen runs in five innings but the Yankees score 20 runs, and they hold on to win, and Pavano gets the win, is Pavano a good pitcher? No he is not. (This scenario is assuming he ever comes back and actually pitches, btw.) If Francisco Liriano throws 9 innings of no-hit ball, but gives up a run on four consecutive errors by Terry Tiffey and gets a loss, is Francisco Liriano a bad pitcher? No he is not. Wins stink to high heaven as a way to value pitchers because they are in very large part dependent on the actions of the other guys on the team.

Of course, according to Joe Morgan, "Wins and losses are how you measure pitchers" (Baseball For Dummies, p. 289).
Zack Greinke is clearly the best pitcher in the game but he has just 13 wins to his name with about 21 games to play. Since he pitches for the worst team in the league, he will likely end up with 14, maybe 15 wins on the season. How many AL starters have won the Cy Young with less than 16 wins? Zero. It matters to voters. But in the case of the great Zack Greinke (and any case really), it shouldn't.

A pitcher can't record a win if his teammates don't score a run. For the Royals, this happens a lot. It's downright crazy that the best pitcher in the league has the worst run support in the league. Fact: on average, the Royals score 3.5 runs per Greinke start, fewest among qualified AL starters. For perspective, the Angels score on average 6.5 runs per Joe Saunders start, most among qualified AL starters.

Joe Saunders, 13-7, 4.81 ERA.
Zack Greinke, 13-8, 2.19 ERA.

This is why the win statistic as a measurement of pitching value sucks. A guy having a terrible year who pitches for a good team has a better record than a guy who is having one of the best seasons of all time on a bad team. You know how many pitchers have had at least a 200 ERA+? 21 including Cy Young himself. Mr. Greinke has a 200 ERA+ as we speak. Here's a Poz comparison for you:

2003 Pedro Martinez, 29 starts, 186.2 IP, 14-4, 2.21 FIP, 210 ERA+, 206 K, 42 BB
2009 Zack Greinke, 29 starts, 205.1 IP, 13-8, 2.33 FIP, 200 ERA+, 216 K, 47 BB

Pedro finished third that year in the Cy Young with zero first place votes. Let's hope Greinke doesn't share the same fate this year. It's only fair.
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