The differences between Sabathia and Verlander

He’s the hometown candidate, so we all want him to win. And since he leads AL pitchers in many categories, he has a good chance. But the prevailing narrative seems to shove aside CC Sabathia as a Cy Young Award candidate. Justin Verlander currently owns the spotlight to such a degree that he’s gaining traction in the MVP race, one that is typically exclusive to position players. That would appear to preclude all other candidates from the Cy Young talk. But despite the narrative, Verlander isn’t the hands-down best AL pitcher this season.

A quick look at the AL pitcher leader board should dispel any notion that Verlander has broken away from the pack. Sabathia currently owns a better xFIP, FIP, and WAR than Verlander. In fact, he leads the AL in all three. That suggests that he has fared best in terms of the events over which he has the most control. That doesn’t tell the whole story, but it certainly tells a significant part of it.

It’s when we get to the more traditional stats that Verlander takes the lead. He has 21 wins, two more than CC, and 223 innings, 4.2 more than CC. He has more strikeouts and an ERA 0.60 points lower. These are the numbers that play best with the voters. It’s understandable, then, that Verlander commands most of the Cy Young Award consideration. In a world where ERA, pitcher wins, and strikeout totals rule, Verlander is working on a sweep.

There is also the what have you done for me lately factor. Since August 1st Sabathia has a 4.35 ERA, despite pitching into the eighth and allowing just two runs in the first and last starts in that series. Really, it was just a pair of bad starts: a bad inning against Boston and the five solo homers against Tampa Bay. But they still taints his recent numbers. Verlander, on the other hand, has recorded a win in each of his last nine starts. He’s also been on an absolute tear since Tampa Bay lit him up on May 24th; in those 19 starts he has 1.75 ERA.

Instead of kowtowing to the traditional stats and anointing Verlander, let’s take a closer look at the myriad factors that play into a pitcher’s effectiveness. Maybe then we can look beyond the surface of traditional numbers, and even the computations of advanced numbers, and come up with an actual case for the AL Cy Young Award.

Workload: Both Sabathia and Verlander have made 30 starts this year, but Verlander has thrown 4.2 more innings. That’s a relatively insignificant difference, amounting to half an out per start. Sabathia, however, has faced 36 more batters than Verlander. To put that in perspective, Sabathia has recorded one out for every 1.37 batters faced, while Verlander has recorded one for every 1.28 batters faced. So while they bear a similar workload in terms of total outs, and outs per start, Verlander has been a bit more efficient at retiring hitters.

Strikeouts: While CC has already struck out more hitters this year than in either of his previous two seasons with the Yankees, he still falls a bit behind Verlander. In fact, among the qualified AL starters only Michael Pineda and Brandon Morrow have a better strikeout rate than Verlander. Verlander leads the AL in total strikeouts with 224, while Sabathia is second at 211.

Walks: Sabathia is currently working on his best walk rate since 2008, at 2.10 per nine. Yet Verlander is just a hair better, walking just 1.98 per nine. If we take that a step further and do it as a percentage of batters faced, both have walked 5.7 percent of the batters they’ve faced. Since they’re within two walks of each other, this one is pretty much a wash.

Home Runs: This is where Sabathia shines. He has allowed just 15 homers this year, or 0.62 per nine. (This is even more impressive, considering five were solo shots in the same game.) Verlander has allowed 20 home runs this year, good for a 0.81 per nine rate. Verlander does allow a few more fly balls than Sabathia, but a far greater percentage of them are infield fly balls. But in any case, Sabathia does keep the ball on the ground more, which appears to give him some advantage in limiting home runs. Few have done it better this season.

BABIP: DIPS theory says that a pitcher loses control over a play’s outcome once a ball enters the field of play, but that takes the issue a bit too far. Some pitchers are better than others at inducing poor contact. No pitcher, however, can consistently limit opponents to a .238 BABIP, as Verlander has done this season. But that just makes the accomplishment all the more impressive. It’s not necessarily the defense behind him that makes the difference; the Tigers rank 19th in the majors in defensive efficiency, just one spot ahead of the Yankees. Sabathia, on the other hand, has allowed a .310 BABIP, which is a bit higher than his career .290 mark. That could have something to do with his 23.3 percent line drive rate, which is the second highest among active starters. Then again, that could merely be a batted ball classification issue — Alexi Ogando, who has the highest line drive percentage in the league, has a .270 BABIP.

(The point: BABIP is a complicated issue, and it doesn’t come with any stock implications. Please don’t pretend that a high BABIP equals poor luck and a low one equals good luck.)

Clutch Pitching: While the idea of clutch usually doesn’t provide predictive information, it can enhance context when choosing award winners. Verlander has come through big in high-leverage situations, recording a 1.05 FIP against the 47 batters he’s faced in those situations. Sabathia isn’t far behind, with a 1.45 FIP in high leverage situations. Of course, when a starter faces a high leverage situation it’s typically of his own doing. But that doesn’t make the act of wiggling out any less important.

Runs Allowed: As a value measure, ERA falls a bit short. It debits pitchers only for earned runs, and the rules dictating what is an earned and what is an unearned run are convoluted, to be kind. Simple RA isn’t perfect, either, but at least it doesn’t make pointless delineations. To that end, Verlander has a 2.58 RA, while Sabathia is at 3.30. That’s probably the most significant difference we’ve seen between them yet.

Run Support: Old school types love to cite two things when arguing for a pitcher: his wins total, and his ability to pitch situationally. For instance, Buster Olney gave Verlander credit in a previous start where he allowed a bunch of runs, because his offense staked him to a big lead. Using that logic, and the logic behind pitcher wins, run support should absolutely play a role in Cy Young Award consideration. Sabathia has received six runs of support per game, fourth most in the AL, while Verlander has received just 4.7, 24th most. That does make Verlander’s win total seem more impressive.

Quality of Opponents: (At the restest of commenter MattG.) CC Sabathia has faced opponents who have hit .265/.340/.424 on the season. That .754 opponent OPS is the 11th highest mark in the AL among pitchers with 150 or more innings. The hitters who have faced Verlander have a .263/.327/.412 line on the season, which is 31st in the AL. That is, CC has faced tougher opponents than Verlander. (These numbers, to be clear, are the numbers for hitters against all pitchers.)

Given the criteria laid out above, it does appear that Verlander has the more compelling case for the AL Cy Young Award. It’s not a landslide by any means, even if the prevailing media narrative makes it seem so. In fact, Sabathia and Verlander are close enough at this point that September could end up making a huge difference. It will take some significant movement, since the media has apparently already anointed Verlander. But don’t count out CC. He’s just a monster month away from changing everything.

The Russell Martin Appreciation Thread

The regular season is slowly winding down, and the Yankees are just any combination of 14 wins or Rays losses away from clinching a postseason berth. With 23 games to go, they’re sitting in a pretty great spot, and it’s time to start paying homage to those that helped get them here.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

A little less than a year ago, the Yankees had a choice to make. Actually, it was probably more than a year ago, but the exact time from is not important. Jorge Posada was no longer a viable everyday catcher as he approached his 40th birthday, so for the first time in more than a decade, the Yankees had a hole behind the plate. They could have handed the job to Frankie Cervelli or Jesus Montero, but they instead opted for some experience, inking Russell Martin to a one-year deal worth $4M after the Dodgers non-tendered him.

Martin started the season on absolute fire, hitting six homers with a .333/.410/.722 batting line through the team’s first 16 games, more homers than he hit during the entire 2010 season. The Yankees’ new backstop kept hitting through mid-May (.270/.367/.511 on May 24th), but then he fell into a slump that saw him hit just .147/.261/.200 heading into the All-Star break. Martin was elected to the AL All-Star Team despite his .220/.323/.384 first half performance, but he did not play in the game and it seems like the three days of rest helped rejuvenate him.

In 49 team games since the break, Martin has hit a very respectable .264/.327/.464 with seven homers in 156 plate appearances. He’s already gone deep more times this season than he did in 2009 and 2010 combined (12), and he’s just two away from his career high of 19, set in 2007. With his season batting line sitting at .239/.326/.418 (.331 wOBA), Martin has been middle of the pack offensively among all backstops with at least 300 plate appearances. He’s made up for the lack of average by drawing walks (10.5% of plate appearances) and hitting for power (.178 ISO) while also chipping in on the basepaths (8-for-9 in stolen base attempts).

Furthermore, Martin’s been something of a revelation behind the plate. Granted, our defensive standards for catchers probably weren’t all that high after watching Posada for all those years, but I think Martin has been better than expected at blocking balls in the dirt and especially at framing pitches. Max Marchi ran some numbers at The Hardball Times earlier this year and found that Russ is one of the best at framing pitches, improving the chances of a borderline pitch being called a strike by roughly 20%. Add in a 30.8% success rate of throwing out basestealers (the highest by a Yankees starting catcher in a long, long time), and you’ve got a rock solid, all-around catcher at the bottom of the order.

Last week’s go-ahead double against the Red Sox was almost certainly the biggest moment of the season for Martin, but it was hardly the extent of his contributions. He’s given the Yankees some production with the bat and some comfort behind the plate while fitting right into the clubhouse. I won’t even bother trying to quantify his effect on the pitching staff because I don’t think anyone knows how to accurately do that, but I think it’s safe to say he’s been a positive in that department too. Martin was not expected to be a savior coming into the season and he hasn’t been, but I think he’s exceeded expectations and been a surprisingly key contributor to a team that started the year with so many question marks.

Mariano Rivera and the quiet pursuit of history

Say your prayers... (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

As Yankees fans, we’re privy to seeing a lot of great things on the field and a lot of history being made. Just this year we saw Derek Jeter pick up his 3,000th career hit in a way only one other man has done (a homer), and last year it was Alex Rodriguez‘s 600th career homer. We’ve seen Roger Clemens get his 300th career win and Mike Mussina his 2,800th career strikeout in recent years, but one little piece of history seems to be flying under the radar late this season: Mariano Rivera is closing in on the all-time saves record.

Yesterday’s win gave Rivera his 38th save of the season and 597th of his career. Only the great Trevor Hoffman has closed more ballgames in his time, a total of 601 career saves. Lee Smith is a distant third on the career saves list at 497. With 23 games left to play and the Yankees piling up the wins down the stretch, there’s a pretty strong chance that Mo will become the second member of the 600 save club and even surpass Hoffman as the all-time saves king before the season ends. It’s not a lock, but it’s certainly possible.

Perhaps the lack of buzz surrounding Rivera’s pursuit of the record has to do with saves being a silly stat on a micro level (like wins or RBI). On a macro level though, over the course of an entire career, they do bear some meaning. For one, a saves total of that caliber indicates longevity in an occupation that rarely has any. We see it every year, closers come and go at a moment’s notice, losing their jobs to the next big thing who eventually loses his job to the next big thing, and so on. The heightened awareness of the ninth inning in today’s game puts any closer meltdowns in the national spotlight, so teams are quick to make a change. Longevity and durability in the role with perhaps the greatest turnover in the game is impressive.

On the other hand, perhaps it has to do with the fact that we already know Mariano is the greatest closer of all-time, with or without the saves record. With all due respect to Hoffman, Mo has allowed 73 fewer earned runs and walked 33 fewer batters despite throwing 113.2 more innings (in a tougher division) in his career. That doesn’t even count postseason heroics, which are obviously influenced by the teams they played on. Add in Rivera’s 42 career playoff saves, and he’s at 639 compared to Hoffman’s 605. But again, you can’t hold the fact that Hoffman played on a generally bad to mediocre team against him.

With any luck, Mariano will pick up those last five saves to surpass Hoffman’s all-time record at some point before the end of the season, just so we can watch the celebration and all the recognition that comes along with it. If he doesn’t get it this year, well that’s fine too, because we already know that Mo is the greatest reliever of all-time and don’t need the extra validation. I would like to see him get the record in the coming weeks because Rivera is perpetually humble and always team-first, and I want to see him get honored and celebrated for his accomplishments. Like Jeter and his 3,000th hit, it’s okay for Mo to sit back, soak it all in, and make it all about himself for once.

Montero homers twice as Yanks win fifth straight

Freddy Garcia sure picked a good day to have his worst outing of the year. The bats showed up for both teams on Monday while the pitchers apparently decided to take the day off in observance of our nation’s workforce. Let’s recap the win…

  • Obviously, the big story of the day is Jesus Montero‘s first two career homeruns. Both came off a pretty good reliever in Jim Johnson, who came into the game having allowed just three homers all year (0.35 HR/9), one off a righty. The first one was a fifth inning solo shot on a fastball up that gave the Yankees a 9-8 lead, the second a seventh inning two-run job on a fastball down that extended the lead to 11-8. Both were opposite field out to right (not cheap either), making Montero the first 21-year-old to hit two homers in a game since Manny Ramirez. It was quite fun to watch, I must say.
  • Garcia got bounced after just 2.2 IP, after allowed nine hits and seven runs. Both Nick Markakis and Mark Reynolds tagged him for homers. Not a particularly great day for the starter, who gave way to Scott Proctor. Proctor allowed a game-tying solo homer in Robert Andino in the fifth, his only real blemish in two innings. Then came Aaron Laffey (0.2 IP), Luis Ayala (1.2 IP), Boone Logan (0.2), and Cory Wade (0.1 IP), all generally effective. Joe Girardi said after the game that both David Robertson and Rafael Soriano were unavailable due to their recent workloads, so it was a good day to have some September call-ups lying around.
  • Lost in Montero’s day was Robinson Cano‘s third grand slam of the season, perhaps the most predictable grand slam of all time. I’m not quite sure what Matt Wieters and Chris Jakubauskas were thinking throwing him seven straight 91 mph fastballs, but hey, I’m not complaining. That bomb turned a 5-4 deficit into an 8-4 lead. Mark Teixeira chipped in a solo homer, Curtis Granderson a two-run double, and Andruw Jones a run-scoring single. Every starter had a hit except for Brett Gardner. No nonsense day for the offense, that’s for sure.
  • Things got a little sticky for Mariano Rivera in the ninth, when he gave up two hits and hit a batter (one run), but he stranded the tying and go-ahead runs at third and second, respectively, by striking out J.J. Hardy on a cutter away. Mo’s 38th save of the season is number 597 of his career, so he’s still got a decent shot to tie (or top) Trevor Hoffman’s record of 601 career saves before the season ends.
  • Brett Lawrie and the Blue Jays walked off against the Red Sox, so the lead in the AL East increased to 2.5 games and three in the loss column. The Rays beat the Rangers thanks to yet another Jamie Shields complete game, so the lead on the wildcard spot remained at 9.5. The magic number to clinch a postseason berth dropped to just 14. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights for those that missed Montero’s homers. FanGraphs has some other stuff, and ESPN offers the updated standings.

The Yankees have won five straight (undefeated in The Montero Era!) and will look to extend it to six against the Orioles on Tuesday evening. Phil Hughes will give it a go against Tommy Hunter, and RAB Tickets can help get you in the door if you want to attend.

Nothing but wins on the last day of the season

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Buffalo) they finished the year at 73-69 and in third place in the International League North division
Kevin Russo, LF: 1 for 4, 1 R
Ramiro Pena, SS: 2 for 4, 1 R – gotta figure he’ll be in the Bronx tomorrow
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 3, 1 R – good to see him get his feet wet in AAA at the end of the season
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K – finishes the year with a franchise record 32 homers, also more homers than walks (30) … 83 big leaguers have done the more HR than BB thing over the last 50 years
Jordan Parraz, RF: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 K – he’s on his way to New York
P.J. Pilittere, DH: 0 for 3, 1 K – might be his last game ever as he begins the inevitable transition to coaching
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 3, 1 E (throwing)
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 8 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 11-4 GB/FB – 66 of 109 pitches were strikes (60.6%) … probably his best start of the year, on the last day of the season of the course
Logan Kensing, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 14 of 24 pitches were strikes (58.3%)

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Open Thread: Labor Day

Mitre with the photobomb. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

On the day in which we celebrate America’s workforce, the pitchers sure labored in this afternoon’s game. Twenty-one runs and 29 hits between the two teams combined, including Jesus Montero‘s first two career homers and Robinson Cano‘s third grand slam of the season. Scott Proctor even made his glorious return to pinstripes. Fun game to watch on the unofficial end of summer.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. The Mets are playing the Marlins, and MLB Network will carry a game as well (teams depend on where you live). Feel free to talk about whatever your heart desires here.

Golson, Noesi, Pena and Kontos heading to New York

The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees finished up their season with a win today, and Donnie Collins reports that the quartet of Greg Golson, Hector Noesi, Ramiro Pena and George Kontos are heading to New York to join the big league team. We’ve seen Golson, Pena and Noesi before, but Kontos will be the new face. The righty reliever struck out 91 and unintentionally walked just 25 in 89.1 IP this year, his first full season in the bullpen following Tommy John surgery. Kontos would have been Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, and the Yankees will have to make room for him on the 40-man roster.