“There are three kinds of lies,” the age-old adage goes, “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
While Sabathia’s poor outing (5.1, 10-7) against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night probably put an end to his AL Cy Young Award aspirations, the Hernandez vs. Sabathia debate was certainly a fascinating one while it lasted. It all seemed to boil down to which statistic is more important: Felix Hernandez’ 2.31 ERA or C.C. Sabathia’s 20 wins?
The most fascinating element of this debate was that the statements out of both sides were, for the most part, all true: "Baseball is about winning (duh)," "AL pitchers don't contribute to run support, but can control their ERA," "Hernandez is an outstanding pitcher," "Sabathia knows how to win," "On a better team, Hernandez would have more wins."
All of these arguments are worth making. Hernandez, I really feel for the guy, can’t do much more to help his win-loss record than post a 2.31 ERA over 33 starts and 241.2 innings. There is naturally a strong correlation between low ERA and wins, but Hernandez has discovered the cruel reality that ERA can’t directly affect wins at all because it doesn’t come with its own built-in run support.
It’s not all offense that has collected Sabathia’s 20 dubyas, either. Over his 20 wins he’s posted a tidy 2.14 ERA. That said, the Yankee offense really get behind their ace. In 12 of his 20 Wins, he’s pitched at least one inning with at least a four-run lead.
In fact, during his 20 wins, he’s had at least a four-run lead 40 percent of the time he takes the mound. But how does it affect his ERA?
In innings with a four-run lead or more, Sabathia has a 2.57 ERA. That’s compared to a 1.97 ERA in the same games when he’s pitching an inning with less than a four-run lead.
Obviously, those runs shouldn’t be discredited, they are earned after all, but every pitcher in the Majors pitches different with a four-run lead: throwing strikes, challenging hitters, and, occasionally, giving up runs. They play differently because they want to win, the offense has done their part, and the starting pitcher does his.
I’m not blaming the Yankees' offense for Sabathia’s ERA being what it is, or suggesting that Sabathia couldn’t have a 2.31 ERA because of it. It’s possible that every single one of those runs in innings with a four-run lead would’ve been scored anyway. Still, a 0.60 (30 percent) increase in ERA is significant, and most likely because Sabathia (like any pitcher) pitches to the scoreboard.
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? A low ERA doesn’t produce wins like it should (just ask Felix), and yet for C.C., run support seems to negatively affect his ERA, though he collects a bucket load of wins.
If Hernandez played for the Yankees this season, I’m sure he’d be around the 20-win mark, but I wonder what the run support would do to his ERA.
I don’t know the answer, but maybe it can’t be found in statistics after all.