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.
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.