Baseball BeatJanuary 06, 2007
Weekend Ramblings
By Rich Lederer

This weekend's column segues from one point to another, covering the Randy Johnson trade to Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy with a musing here and there along the way.

The theme of the first two bullet points is the following: "When you don't have a sound argument, fall back on the fact that you know better than everyone else because you have been around awhile."

  • Michael Kay, the play-by-play voice of the New York Yankees, wins one of the "I know more than you" prizes, pulling rank on a caller from his radio show about Johnson "pitching to the score." Never mind that the Big Unit led the majors in run support last year with nearly three-quarters of a run more than anyone else, he is a veteran pitcher who "knows how to win" (cough).

    With a tip o' the cap to Repoz at The Baseball Think Factory, here is an exchange between Kay and Chris from West Nyack (as transcribed by Ken at Fire Joe Morgan):

    Kay: Randy Johnson won 17 games last year in the toughest division in baseball...People say he didn't win in the playoffs. Neither did Mike Mussina and we signed him to a two-year extension. He's well worth the money he has on his contract....16 million. He won 17 games...please don't forget that.

    Chris: You keep saying that it's important that Randy Johnson won 17 games, but equally as important is, he had a five ERA.

    Kay: Why does that matter? Only thing that matters is the W.

    Chris: The win is the function of the team. But the ERA is more indicative of how he pitched.

    Kay: How come Mike Mussina didn't win 17 games?

    Chris: This isn't about Mike Mussina. How many pitchers in the AL would win 17 games if they pitched behind the Yankees. With that run support?

    Kay: But...but...It doesn't matt...I again I tell you I understand what you're saying that it's a function of a team but I also say it's a function to a...You're a Yankee fan right? They scored eight runs he gave up six...they won, so what....he's a veteran pitcher that knows how to pitch to the score so his ERA is going to be higher. It doesn't matter. All that matter is if he wins and loses.

    Chris: Any pitcher who gives up six runs a game under your scenario would win 17 games.

    Kay: Pitchers pitch to the runs they are given. Good pitchers do that.

    Chris: That's not true. Pitchers are going out there to give up the fewest runs possible.

    Kay: No. If the Yankees score 8 runs in five innings he's not going for the shutout!

    Chris: What about the year Jason Marquis won 15 games and had a 6.21 ERA. Are you impressed with that?

    Kay: No, not in the National League.

    Chris: What if he did it in the American League?

    Kay: Yeah. I would [be impressed].

    Chris: So you would take someone like that over Kevin Millwood in '04 who went 9-13 in and won the ERA title with Cleveland.

    Kay: I'm gonna tell you why, and you are bringing up good points so I am not going to say that you are 100% wrong here. I believe by watching baseball my whole life and being involved with it for 25 years is that there is nothing harder to do in sports than to win a game by a pitcher.

    [Ken inserts the following comments on FJM - "Nothing harder, save for the fact that in every major league game that has ever been played it has happened exactly one time."]

    Kay: That's why the era of the 300 win pitcher is going. It's not easy to win games. And there is an art to it. So if the art is to win 17 games and have a 5.00 ERA I don't care. All these sabermetricians get locked up with all of these stats and I don't. You know what stat I care about? Did he win the game?

    Would you rather have a guy really lose a good game. "Wow, he pitched well -- we only lost 2-1!" I always said this about those pitchers, "Oh, the Yankees only scored one, then you have to give up zero." In twenty years you're going to look back on Mike Mussina in game 2 against the Tigers...had a 3-1 lead and we lost 4-3....That's not that bad...yeah, it is bad! He gave up runs he shouldn't have given up!

    I don't care that his ERA was 5. It was good enough to win 17 games. Mike Mussina didn't win 17 games.

    [Kay closes the exchange with Chris, who has remained silent during the former's diatribe.]

    Kay: You are wrong in that sense...dead wrong.

    "Watching baseball my whole life and being involved with it for 25 years." Just precious. As a commenter asked at the BTF, I wonder why Johnson didn't "pitch to the score" in 2004 when he went 16-14 with a 2.60 ERA for Arizona? He must have forgotten how or perhaps the 43-year-old veteran of 19 big league seasons just learned this skill in the past two years.

  • Jon Heyman at pulled the "I know more than you because I saw him" stunt in a recent column, trying to explain why he did not place Bert Blyleven on his Hall of Fame ballot.

    15. Bert Blyleven, Stat freaks love this guy. It's true that his 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time) and 287 career victories are numbers that are generally good enough for enshrinement, but unlike a lot of those stathounds, I saw the entirety of his career and he was rarely one of the best. Had only one 20-win season at a time they weren't so rare and only four years with Cy Young votes.

    "I saw the entirety of his career." Well, bust my buttons, that's an expert of a different color. Gotta love the emotional attack on "stat freaks" and "stathounds." If you use stats and your name isn't Heyman, you're either a "freak" or a "hound." If you use stats and your name is Heyman, then it's OK because you were there.

  • Speaking of Blyleven, John Brattain of The Hardball Times is concerned that I may not have anything to write about next December if Bert gets voted in this year. Not to worry, John, I'll be spending my time and energy on The Hall of Fame Case for Tim Raines if that happens.

  • Staying on subject, Jim Caple of recently proposed expanding the voting body for the Hall of Fame, concluding, "The question really isn't whether baseball writers are doing a good job with their Hall of Fame vote. The question is whether we could do an even better job if the voting base was expanded to include other knowledgeable, passionate voters. And the answer is, yes, it would." In response to Caple's courageous column, Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts chipped in, "I'd be pretty quick to hand Rich Lederer, Rob Neyer and Jay Jaffe ballots, just for starters."

    I don't know, Jon. I never saw Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, or Walter Johnson play in person.

  • Comments

    "Chris" is right. Randy's Ws are extremely dependent on the Yanks' insane offense. If Randy pitches the same in 2007 as he did this year, with a 5-point-whatever ERA, but the Yanks' offense drops by a run or two per game, then suddenly Randy's W-L ratio doesn't look so hot.

    The reverse is true for Blyleven: if his offensive backing had been greater, then he might have hit 300 Ws and would be a shoo-in for the Hall.

    Why would you judge a pitcher's effectiveness by how many runs his team scores? That's like saying a terrible actor in an otherwise fantastic movie should still win an Oscar. Sure the actor's performance is boosted by the ensemble cast, but take the cast away (as you will have to do in the next movie) and you still have a terrible actor.

    ERA and other individual factors (such as strikeouts, in Blyleven's case) are much better indicators of how a pitcher will perform regardless of the team that is scoring runs for him. And that is how we should be judging pitchers - as individuals. (Sure, baseball's a team sport, but you can't induct an entire team into the HOF, and you can't sign a single contract for an entire team.) Johnson is a fantastic pitcher and first-ballot HOFer, and his sub-par performance with the Yankees (which would be golden anywhere else) shouldn't necessarily be grounds for dismissal. But Kay is erroneous to hold up Johnson as the Second Coming.

    If you hypothetically wanted to meet Michael on his level, I think one could easily look at Johnson's game logs and see how many times he actually did pitch to the score. In other words, was he only allowing big runs with a lead? Or was he winning some games 6-3, while getting blasted in some other games in which the Yankees needed him to keep the score down. If it's a mix, I think that means that he wasn't pitching to the score. He was just a guy pitching well some days and not others, but ultimately getting 17 wins with the help of good run support. In other words, how much of a correlation was there between the runs Johnson allowed and the runs the Yankees scored in each game.

    Of course, then you can get into BABIP and all that stuff, but I don't want Michael's head to explode.

    I'm not too good at doing what the people at Baseball Prospectus does, but I did figure out that Johnson had a 3.50 ERA in his 17 wins, a 6.39 ERA in his five no-decisions, and a 6.96 ERA in his 11 losses.

    He's given up 3 or more runs in 7 of his wins. Of those 7, he's had leads of at least 5 runs in three of those games. In another game, he was actually losing by two before the Yankees scored six runs in their half-inning to give Johnson a 4-run lead.

    Interpret all that as you wish. :/

    I wouldn't mind if Michael Kay's head would explode. I think I'd be far enough way from the blast to be safe.

    Michael Kay is a moron? No way!

    I haven't listened to a game he's done in more than 2 years, which is tough considering I watch all the Yankee games. I tried to give him another shot last season, but during the first FREAKIN' game of the year, Kay said "Frank Thomas isn't a Hall of Famer". I had to shut the volume off once again. The guy is an idiot. The end.

    Well argued, Rich. I look for RJ to be less than .500 for the Diamondbacks -- maybe much worse. His ERA may be better than in the AL, but not much. I'll be watching to see who does better, Marquis or Johnson.... We can go overboard on some stats, but ERA, like batting average and RBI, isn't one of them. I've been following baseball pretty closely for more than 50 years--but that hardly gives me the authority to dismiss incntrovertible statistical evidence.

    In this column, Heyman is a good example of a guy who knows just enough to be dangerous. Stats are deceiving in Blyleven's case, and those of us who are swayed by them can be easily dismissed. But I suspect most of us would be able to tell him that, in Jack Morris' case, winning the most games from 1980-1989 is no more germane as a HOF qualification than winning the most games from 1977-1986. If he's willing to make the latter a qualification for Ron Guidry, then I will make the former one for Morris.

    Also, just once, I would love to hear one of Morris' defenders explain why being first in wins in the '80s is a qualification while being SEVENTEENTH in ERA is not a disqualification. (That's among pitchers who logged 1567 innings, one for every scheduled game of the decade. Raise it to 1620 innings and Morris is 15th.) In fairness, Morris is third in strikeouts ... albeit three full seasons' worth behind Nolan Ryan.

    Finally, 14 Opening Day starts is a pretty cool stat, but how much of a HOF indicator can that be when first-ballot HOFer Jim Palmer only had six?

    Speaking of Blyleven, John Brattain of The Hardball Times is concerned that I may not have anything to write about next December if Bert gets voted in this year. Not to worry, John, I'll be spending my time and energy on The Hall of Fame Case for Tim Raines if that happens


    Great call.

    Heck, you'll be seeing me froth at the mouth if Raines doesn't make it. At BTF in the Andre Dawson thread I posted:

    Player         OPS+    RCAA    PA     Outs
    Tim Raines     123      516   10359   6670
    Andre Dawson   119      216   10769   7621 

    If Dawson is "borderline" then Raines is a bloody slam dunk-plus.

    So expect some company in "Can't Reign In Raines."

    Best Regards


    With respect to Raines, he's arguably the 2nd best leadoff guy in the last 40 years of MLB, to leave him off the ballot would be tragedy of Shakespearean levels. Expect more support for this one.

    Michael Kay and Jon Heyman are like the managers in meetings who make sure to remind everyone that they went to Stanford or Harvard while making lame suggestions.

    I saw Blyleven pitch for all of his career. And for most of his career, I thought he was one of the best pitchers in the game. He just pitched for some bad teams and lost a lot of 2-1 and 1-0 games, games in which he would pitch all nine innings and strike out 13 while walking 2. I guess he just wasn't very good at pitching to ths score, except when he pitched for championship teams.

    Here is my piece on Raines and the Hall of Fame.


    Good job, Mike. I played APBA and had Tim Raines on my team during the early '80s as well. Gotta love those 11s and 14*. :)

    "Had only one 20-win season at a time they weren't so rare and only four years with Cy Young votes."

    So, the same group of idiots who don't vote for him now also didn't vote for him for Cy Young in a bunch of seasons where he got hitters out but didn't get 'wins'? Great point, but perhaps not in the way ole Heyman intended.

    Look Raines is the man, but don't crap all over my boy "Hawk" Dawson.

    Dawson: more than 1000 extra base hits, arguable for the Gold Glove in his first 5 years in CF. It would be unprecedented for the HOF to leave him out based on established patterns (they love CF and they love XBH)

    It will be a battle to get Raines elected, but the nimrods will die out, and he'll get in eventually.

    Regarding Blyleven and the commonness of 20-game winners, it's interesting that he got started in 1971, when there were 14 such pitchers, but four years later, there were only seven, and the number has been in single digits ever since. Hayman's comment doesn't stand up to scrutiny for the vast majority of Blyleven's career.

    Er, Heyman.

    Blyleven took a step back with the addition of Ripken and Gwynn on the ballot, polling only 47.7% :(

    Keep the faith Rich. He'll get there. Keep pluggin' away.

    I'll look after Rock Raines for 2008.

    Best Regards


    Look Raines is the man, but don't crap all over my boy "Hawk" Dawson.

    I'd never do that. I'm an old Expos fan remember? :-)

    Best Regards