Re-Evaluating How We Evaluate Players

As a semi-obsessive baseball fan, I spend much of my time looking through various statistical databases or browsing blogs around the internet, and a lot of the time, I find something worth writing about.  While perusing through baseball-reference, I came across an interesting bit of information.

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Rk Tm W L W-L% GB vEast vCent vWest
1 MIN 94 68 .580 15-21 47-25 24-12
2 CHW 88 74 .543 6.0 17-18 32-40 24-13
3 DET 81 81 .500 13.0 17-22 38-34 15-18
4 CLE 69 93 .426 25.0 17-24 34-38 13-18
5 KCR 67 95 .414 27.0 17-18 29-43 13-24
Avg 79 82 .493 16-20 36-36 17-17
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/17/2011.
Rk Tm W L W-L% GB vEast vCent vWest
1 TEX 90 72 .556 19-25 25-18 32-25
2 OAK 81 81 .500 9.0 20-25 23-19 30-27
3 LAA 80 82 .494 10.0 15-27 19-26 35-22
4 SEA 61 101 .377 29.0 17-26 18-26 17-40
Avg 78 84 .481 17-25 21-22 28-28
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/17/2011.

What you see here are the 2010 standings for the AL West and AL Central. What I find most interesting is the “vEast” column of the table.  Not one team in the central or west owned a winning record against the AL East, not even the stronger teams of these divisions.  The Rangers, Twins and White Sox all came up short.  The rest of the American League was a combined 148-200 against the AL East!

I already knew that there was quite a disparity in talent between the AL and NL, and in the AL, the East was king, but this statistic in particular blew the extent of this imbalance out of proportion.  Just think about this for one moment;  a 148-200 record translates to a .425 winning %, roughly the same as the lowly Washington Nationals.

Teams play more games against other teams within their division than anyone else.  The Orioles will play roughly 70 of their games against the likes of the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays.  Think about how difficult this must be for individual players on one of these five superior teams, which brings me to my next point.

Reading various baseball blogs and forums around the web, I have found that non-Yankees fans and even some Yankee fans regard CC Sabathia as overrated.  And when posed with the question, “Who are the top pitchers in the majors?” most comments name guys like Roy Halladay,  Ubaldo Jimenez, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum, but most neglect to mention CC Sabathia.  I am not arguing that CC is the best pitcher in the game, but that he is in that upper echelon of pitchers with those six guys.

You may remember, CC was on top of the world when he hit free agency after the 2008 season.  He was talked about as perhaps the best pitcher in the majors.  He won the AL Cy Young award in 2007 with the Indians.  And take yourself back to 2008 after he was traded to the Brewers.  He was absolutely dominant, amassing an 11-2 record with a 1.65 ERA.  In ’07 and ’08, CC threw 494 innings and maintained a 2.95 ERA, good for a robust 148 ERA+.

Over the past two seasons, CC’s statistics have still been fantastic.  That said, they have not been quite as outlandish as they were in 2007 and 2008.  And while his statistics appear to have regressed, the majors as a whole has shifted to more of a pitcher oriented league than in years past.  So does this mean that CC Sabathia’s skill has declined?  Absolutely not.  It is a product of his moving into the American League East.

CC Sabathia is a victim of pitching in a dominant division, and as a result, is not rated as highly as his skill dictates.  The same can be said for Jon Lester, AJ Burnett, etc.  So when evaluating the statistics of certain players, it is important to take into account not only the league in which they are playing- that is already done, especially with pitchers- but also the division.

And this extends beyond the evaluation of statistics.  Whenever a Yankee prospect comes up and does not deliver immediate results, there is much unrest and clamor among Yankee fans.  It seems such unrealistic expectations are imposed on so many Yankee prospects.

Take Joba Chamberlain for example.  In 2009, his first full season as a major league starter, he threw 157.1 innings and had a near-average ERA+ of 97.  Yankee fans and the front office alike seemed seemed to bemoan his production.  But in reality, is a league average season from a 23 year old in his first season as a starter in the best division in baseball all that bad?  I fear that many will put similar expectations on top prospect Jesus Montero, expecting that he replicate the type of success that Buster Posey had in the AL West.

There is so much that must be considered when evaluating the performance of players, and the recent dominance of this certain division complicates matters even more.  But in order to be completely objective, one must not overlook the quality of competition which each player faces.

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12 Responses to Re-Evaluating How We Evaluate Players

  1. JoeYankeeFan says:

    While I agree with the notion I don't think it's nearly as drastic for a hitter(Montero)as it is for a pitcher(Joba). There are plenty of weak arms to feast on for young hitters and not so many easy outs for a young pitcher.

    Also ERA+ isn't the only baseball stat for pitchers is it ??

    Joba's WHIP that season was a terrible 1.54 and his BAA was also not good at all(.274)and he gave up a ton of long balls(21).

    Joba is where he belongs, in the bullpen.

    • Alex Taffet says:

      No, ERA+ is not the only measure, but this post was more of a look at the difference in divisions and in perceptions rather than an in depth look at each player mentioned. A million words could be written analyzing the age-old Joba debate, and I did not want to get into specifics. Further, I said nothing of where he belongs. That said, pitchers have had worse peripheral stats at 23 and succeeded. Obviously, growing pains should be expected.

      As for the greater effect on hitters- I'd have to take a greater look at more stats to make a definitive statement, but what you said sounds true. Though look at the type of pitchers he will be facing. The Blue Jays, Rays, and Red Sox all boast strong rotations. Maybe we fall for that same trap of underrating the skill of these pitchers. I'm sure Ricky Romero, Brian Matusz, James Shields and even Dice-k would all look better elsewhere; just look at Ian Kennedy. It seems to me that the level of competition in general is higher in the East, pitching and hitting.

      • JoeYankeeFan says:

        "As for the greater effect on hitters- I’d have to take a greater look at more stats to make a definitive statement, but what you said sounds true. Though look at the type of pitchers he will be facing. The Blue Jays, Rays, and Red Sox all boast strong rotations. Maybe we fall for that same trap of underrating the skill of these pitchers. I’m sure Ricky Romero, Brian Matusz, James Shields and even Dice-k would all look better elsewhere; just look at Ian Kennedy. It seems to me that the level of competition in general is higher in the East, pitching and hitting."

        Come to think of it Toronto and Tampa's staffs are rapidly improving and both could be very effective this year. Even Baltimore should be slightly improved this season. That being said I think it's fair to say that the staff's in the AL East(Balt,Tampa/Toronto)have been pretty weak at least up until 2008 regarding Tampa.

        One thing is for sure the middle relief on mostly all teams is where a lot of hitters pad their stats. I mean how many times do we see the Yankee's rally in the 6-7-8-9 innings ??

        Good relief pitchers are like QB's and good big men in college basketball, there just aren't that many.

        • Alex Taffet says:

          Yea, the quality of all AL East staffs (save for the Yankees of course) seems to be on the upswing. It will certainly make for some tough stretches for the offense in the next couple of years.

          And middle relief is bad pretty much across the board. There are obviously some good ones (Yankees, Brewers, among others) but for the most part, it is made up of failed starters. Relief pitchers in general are just so unpredictable. Praise be to Mo.

  2. David K. says:

    As much attention as the stats receive, for me, it comes down to seeing the player hit or pitch. For pitchers, you can tell after one inning the quality of their stuff. After three or four outings you have a good idea of their talent level. For hitters, you have to watch at least 50 to 100 at bats to get an idea. Stats often are very misleading. There is no subsitute for seeing the guy perform. After having watched C.C. for two years now, he is definitely a top pitcher – I'd take C.C. over Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum or Zack Greinke. Ubaldo Jiminez I haven't seen enough so I can't say.

    • Alex Taffet says:

      I'm more of a stats guy than a see with my eyes guy, though I certainly see the value in that. I am hesitant to call CC better than either Felix or Halladay, I mean Halladay has been absolutely dominant with both the Blue Jays and Phillies. It's certainly an interesting debate.

    • JoeYankeeFan says:

      @ David K

      Your crazy, Felix would of probably won 25-26 games for the Yankees last year. Felix, Halladay, and Lincecum are the 3 best pitchers in MLB hands down.

      • David K. says:

        Bec. of his #s, it’s easy to say Felix would have won “x” # of games for the Yankees, but it just doesn’t work that way. If he really were that good, he would have been a lot better than .500, and don’t give me that crap about lack of run support. There’s no way he wins 25 games for the Yanks last yr. Halladay and Lincecum pitch in that punchless league. They are really good but if you think they are in another class over C.C., you are overrating them.

        • Alex Taffet says:

          The run support notion is anything but crap. By all measures that Felix as a pitcher can control, he is with Halladay as the top in the game. As for Halladay pitching in the NL, he was just as good in '08 and '09 pitching for Toronto.

          • Alex Taffet says:

            I should clarify; I don't think that those two are in another class, but if I were to have to choose 2 pitchers in the game that I tink are the best, disregarding age,cost, etc., I'd probably choose Halladay and Felix. As for Lincecum, he's up there, but I wouldn't put him in the top 3.

          • JoeYankeeFan says:

            he would u put #3 ?

          • Alex Taffet says:

            I would probably have Cliff Lee as my #3. He has been incredible for the last three seasons. After that, it would be between CC, Lincecum, Josh Johnson and Ubaldo Jimenez.