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April 6, 2011

The BP Broadside

Thanks to Soriano, CC will Finish with 299 Career Wins

by Steven Goldman

This morning finds me a bitter man, because I watched last night’s Yankees game. My sermon will be short and have the flavor of fresh almonds and peach pits. My anger comes in three varieties: I am vexed at Joe Girardi that Rafael Soriano, perhaps a grudging set-up man, was in a sleepy 4-0 game; I am vexed at Soriano himself for doing his Eddie Cicotte ’19 impression in the game; most of all, I am vexed by those reactionary boneheads who believe that pitcher wins can tell us a damnable thing about a pitcher’s quality.

For those who didn’t watch the action, a quick recap: CC Sabathia started for the Yankees, Brian Duensing for the Twins. The Yankees quickly got to the Minnesota lefty, scoring three in bottom of the first on Mark Teixeira’s fourth home run of the season and tacking on another in the next frame on an Andruw Jones solo shot. The Yankees stopped hitting after that and Duensing was able to get through seven innings, uncharacteristically striking out seven batters, but it seemed as if the four runs would stand up thanks to Sabathia’s dominance.

No matter how many innings you put on Sabathia’s bulky body, he never seems to falter. Granted, the 2011 Twins may present about as much of a challenge to a top pitcher as the 1911 Senators would, but he showed Gardenhire’s lads something extra on Tuesday. He allowed just two hits, both in the top of the second, and no runs, walking one and striking out six in seven innings. It was an ace-quality start from an ace pitcher.

With the Twins looking as if they had been rocked to sleep and the temperature dropping, Joe Girardi pulled Sabathia for the eighth; 104 pitches is plenty on a cold night in the first week of the season. David Robertson had been warming up. A man without a role since Girardi identified Chamberlain and Soriano as the seventh- and eighth-inning pitchers, Robertson, owner of a career rate of 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings, could have used the work. Nonetheless, the call was for Soriano, the bridge to Mariano, even though Rivera would not be pitching in such a lopsided game. The concept of leverage flows like quicksilver through Girardi’s mind, never stopping to define itself.

Despite the initial score, Soriano did everything he could to make the bridge necessary. He opened the eighth by walking Danny Valencia. Justin Morneau followed with a lineout to right, but Jim Thome drew another walk, and Denard Span singled to load the bases. Tsuyoshi Nishioka whiffed (something he’s already done seven times in 20 at bats) for the second out, bringing Joe Mauer to the plate. Perhaps in an alternate universe, Girardi pulled the plug right there and went to Robertson, or even his spot lefty Boone Logan—Mauer did hit only .272 against lefties last year, versus .365 against righties (his career mark against same-side pitchers is .302). No, I wouldn’t have gone to Boone Logan either, because (A) who the hell is Boone Logan, anyway (No, you had it right the first time—they’re not saying “Boone,” they’re saying “Boo.”), and (B) like many spot-lefties, he’s wild enough that there’s only a 50-50 chance he’ll pitch to the batter the manager aimed him at.

Girardi made no move. Mauer walked on five pitches to force in a run: 4-1. Now he called for Robertson to face Delmon Young. Young worked the count to 2-2, then lofted a dying quail to shallow right field, along the line. As Russell Martin said after the game, Robertson had done his job, inducing weak contact, but the ball was placed perfectly, and it dropped in just beyond the reach of the infielders and a sliding Nick Swisher. The runners had been off with two outs, and the bases were cleared: 4-4. After Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, Logan finally came in to pitch the top of the tenth  and allowed the Twins to score the winning run without retiring a single batter. After, Soriano seasoned an already bitter loss with a hint of cowardice, ducking the reporters in the clubhouse. Nothing like phoning one in, or looking like you did, and then failing to take responsibility.

But Soriano’s silent sayonara is not the thing that gets me as much as the way his inept performance threw away a great performance by Sabathia—something that happens with regularity to starting pitchers in an age without complete games. This is as it should be—what matters is if the team wins or loses, not an individual pitcher’s record. However, despite Felix Hernandez’s Cy Young of last winter, individual wins still have their incoherent advocates.
Sabathia has 157 career wins, and I have no idea if he will get to 300 or not, but if he comes close and doesn’t quite make it, there will be some fool voters ready to lump him in with Tommy John and Jim Kaat, and yes, Bert Blyleven, who just barely made it after a fan uprising that could have toppled a Middle Eastern dictator. A man’s career will be judged on the basis of a statistic that tells us nothing about how the pitcher actually did.

Last night’s game provides a perfect example of why pitcher wins are so useless and how the many rationales deployed against the Hernandezes and Blylevens of the world—a great pitcher can overcome a bad team, a good pitcher just knows how to win, will somehow sense how many runs he can allow without putting the game in danger (a concept that flies in the face of causality and chronology), is just somehow able to not-lose—are so much bunkum. Sabathia came away with a no-decision last night, but what did he do wrong? He left leading 4-0. Short of pitching a perfect game, there wasn’t much more he could have done to put his team in a position to win. Yet, when it comes to count up his positive contributions, in the eyes of some this game just won’t have happened. Since he didn’t get a win, the game is invisible.

As I suggested above, embracing the idea that a pitcher can “know” just what it takes to win is to accept that pitchers have a supernatural ability to anticipate just how many runs are going to be scored in a game. If he allows a run in the first and his team goes on to lose 1-0, he failed to use this sense. If he allows three runs and his team scores only two, he’s not a hard-luck loser, he’s just a loser, because he didn’t know that the bats wouldn’t be there that night. And dumb ol’ Bobo Newsom, when he went 16-20 despite an ERA 23 percent better than league average in 1934, failed to anticipate that he should have been signed by the Yankees instead of the Browns. As for Sabathia, he didn’t deserve a win last night because he failed to foresee that he should have broken Joe Girardi’s arm before it could be raised to call Soriano to the mound.

Alternate strategies that would have gotten Sabathia a win included running out to the mound before Mauer’s at-bat and eating it, thus preventing Soriano from pitching to the decisive batter. It sounds extreme, but so was the loss, which represented not only the punting of a contest, but also the loss of confidence in a costly reliever and a missed opportunity for a great pitcher to add a point to a number that satisfies lowest common denominator fandom. A pitcher has a finite number of starts in his career; scratch a good one for Sabathia.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Rafael Soriano,  Boone Logan

40 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


But really, isn't this all balanced by the fact that it's a good thing for baseball when the Yankees lose?

Apr 06, 2011 04:16 AM
rating: 17

Steve, you are clueless about the quality of the Twins offense. Do the reading before the writing. Thanks.

Apr 06, 2011 05:29 AM
rating: -3
Nils J

I don't quite understand the totally dismissive attitude towards the Twins either. Yankees fans bother me on so many levels.

Apr 06, 2011 07:14 AM
rating: 2

It's not just Steven: Has anyone else seen the commercials in which the Minnesota TV stations go to New York and ask people on the street how the Twins will do?

Apr 06, 2011 18:02 PM
rating: 0

Didn't (don't?) most Yankee fans think the same regarding the Red Sox? "We've been playing these guys for 80 years. They're never gonna beat us." - Yogi Berra. I hated the common Yankee fan dismissiveness until 2004. Now I think it is hilarious.

Apr 07, 2011 05:04 AM
rating: 0
Shaun P.

Its a small sample, of course, but the Twins have scored 16 runs so far this year in 5 games (3.2 R/G). That puts them 12th in the AL in runs scored. They're tied for 11th in OBP, 12th in SLG, 13th in OPS+, 12th in AVG, tied for last in HR. Its only 5 games, but the performance has so far been subpar.

Sabathia is a fantastic pitcher, and as a lefty, naturally nullifies five of the six best Twins' hitters: Mauer, Morneau, Thome, Kubel, and Span. Steven's line comparing the '11 Twins to the '11 Senators when facing an ace was reasonable, in my opinion.

I'm also not sure how Steve is "clueless about the quality of the Twins offense" just by your saying so.


What worries me most about Girardi is that he called Soriano his "8th inning guy" and Joba his "7th inning guy". That kind of rigid inflexibility is what got Torre into trouble so often. You have more than 3 good relievers, Girardi - use them wisely, not just based on what number you see under "INNING" on the scoreboard. Think, man, think!

Apr 06, 2011 07:35 AM
rating: 1
Nils J

"Sabathia is a fantastic pitcher, and as a lefty, naturally nullifies five of the six best Twins' hitters: Mauer, Morneau, Thome, Kubel, and Span."

I don't care how "fantastic" CC is (I could argue against that too, considering 3.77 and 3.63 xFIP's over the past 2 years) you don't just nullify Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau, or for that matter, Thome, Kubel or Span. Like Steven said, Mauer has hit over .300 against lefties and Morneau has started to hit them very well the past few years.

And as far as the comparison, does not make much sense at all considering the Twins scored the sixth most runs in the league. (I might be taking this comp wrong, cause I know nothing about the '11 Senators besides what I see on B-Ref)

Apr 06, 2011 07:55 AM
rating: 1
Nils J

*Sixth most runs in the league *last year*

Apr 06, 2011 07:59 AM
rating: 1

"You don't just nullify Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau, or for that matter, Thome, Kubel or Span."

Career lines for those five guys versus Sabathia:

Joe Mauer 34 PA: .194/.265/.258
Justin Morneau 46 PA: .154/.261/.282
Jim Thome 33 PA: .143/.273/.571
Jason Kubel 11 PA: .100/.182/.100
Denard Span 13 PA: .231/.231/.308

Apr 06, 2011 09:16 AM
rating: 2
Nils J

You should be ashamed of yourself! Pitchers don't own hitters, and also, small sample sizes. What would the authors of Baseball Between the Numbers say?

Apr 06, 2011 10:17 AM
rating: -1

Nice work!

Apr 06, 2011 19:44 PM
rating: 0

Small sample sizes don't bother you? So let's have a look... You also believe that Gardner's OBP will be .176 this year? At least you're consistent.

Apr 06, 2011 08:52 AM
rating: 0

(Goes back and researches 1911 Washington Senators)

Team OPS+ of 83?!? What?!?

(Though I do tip my cap to the brand of insult that requires third-party verification)

Apr 06, 2011 09:03 AM
rating: 0

I'm not qualified to condemn the Twins offense as a whole, but Nishioka has looked terrible. A totally powerless swing that also managed to be contactless. I dropped him from my fantasy team after watching 2 PAs. The 3 PAs I've seen since haven't led me to regret it...

Apr 06, 2011 09:13 AM
rating: 0
Nils J

Amen, Nishi has been awful. He looks totally overmatched at the plate. He hasn't been very good in the field either though, he has fine range, but his arm is terrible. I didn't think it was possible to have a worse arm than Casilla, but I guess Nishioka pulled it off.

So I can't stand up for him, at least, not yet

Apr 06, 2011 10:52 AM
rating: 0
Kyle E.

A decent number of Nishioka's whiffs have been looking. I'd delay judgement on his ability to make contact until he gets a little better feel for MLB strike zones.

Apr 06, 2011 16:48 PM
rating: 1

Anyone else remember Ichiro's first spring and first April? He was an automatic out (4-3) and couldn't get the ball out of the infield.

Apr 06, 2011 22:05 PM
rating: 1

No, you had it right the first time—they’re not saying “Boone,” they’re saying “Boo.”

I thought they were saying "Boo-urns".

Apr 06, 2011 05:31 AM
rating: 5

This game was a perfect example of why pitcher wins are not a good measure of pitcher quality, but your frustration about Girardi's ignorance of leverage and Soriano's performance itself don't have much to do with it. You yourself said 104 pitches on a cool night early in the season is "plenty," and Soriano is the second best pitcher in that bullpen. If anything, bringing him in should have made the Yankees more likely to win, even if it was bad 'pen management. The man had a bad day against quality major league hitters and the Twins, with a little luck, took advantage of it. It happens every day. Writing about how you're upset with the outcome of the game makes you sound like a beat writer or even a blogger, not what I expect from BP.

Apr 06, 2011 07:25 AM
rating: 15

Hear, hear. I read Stephen's essay wondering the whole time whether his ire was at the concept of "wins" or the inability of Soriano to throw a shutout inning.

It's really a mixed message. Sounds mostly like frustration over losing a game that could have been won. Players are human and the evidence offered that Girardi made a mistake is unconvincing.

Apr 06, 2011 08:22 AM
rating: 6

Your comments on King Felix reminded me of how so many at the Worldwide Leader were incensed that the Cy Young would not almost automatically go to the pitcher with the most wins, and why I prefer the baseball analysis here to there. Thanks.

Apr 06, 2011 07:34 AM
rating: 0

Great article showing the luck involved in pitchers wins. Demeaning the Twins was not the point here at all, just the silliness of applying so much importance to pitchers win totals. If the "dying quail" had occurred with less than two outs the tying run would not have scored and Sabathia may have gotten the win. Yeah, this kind of stuff happens in this great game, but it still underscores how much luck there is in it.

Apr 06, 2011 08:36 AM
rating: 0

Delmon's bloop hit was with a full count, accounting for Mauer scoring from first on a short hit.

Apr 06, 2011 08:47 AM
rating: 0

The count doesn't matter---the number of outs is what matters. The runner still would have had to hold up somewhat at first to make sure the ball would drop in for a hit before running. Therefore he would not have scored.

Apr 06, 2011 09:07 AM
rating: -1

Both matter. 3-2 with 2 outs means runners run as soon as the pitch is thrown. As opposed to 2 outs- run as soon as ball is hit or 3-2 less than 2 outs in which one can use different strategies depending on the situation.

Apr 06, 2011 09:26 AM
rating: 8

I'm glad to see the disgust in some of the reader comments, and I'd like to join the crowd. "Yankee whining" is so unbelievably offensive to most true baseball fans, and I'm really disturbed to see it here. Now if you included this article with 29 other baseball blogs representing every other team in MLB, then fine.

So far, we're seeing too much "waaaah, Yankees" and "What's Wrong With the Red Sox?" stuff here in this early part of the season. Sure, those two teams have huge fan bases and many subscribers here, but I'd bet those folks don't have any problem hearing those stories from lesser and more mainstream media.

Apr 06, 2011 09:09 AM
rating: 3

If that's what you took away from the article than you completely missed the point. Allow me to break it down: last night’s game distills why "wins" is a ridiculous measurement of a pitchers performance; it can make a terrific performance magically disappear.

Apr 06, 2011 09:31 AM
rating: 3
Nils J

...In the context of more Yankee whining

Apr 06, 2011 10:55 AM
rating: -1
Rusty Pecker

The lowest common denomenator fan blast is by far my favorite. This also includes the guy who thinks the orioles were bad 2 years ago because "mora was positioned too close to the line" and the guy sitting behind me at the nats last year who was pissed that "brian harper" wasn't on the field ( he hadn't signed yet), Jim Riggleman had the infield positioned wrong for a double play (that they turned the next batter) and that he missed "stephen strasburger" the night prior. Well his i guess his "date" was impressed with his knowledge. RACK ME!

Apr 06, 2011 09:54 AM
rating: 1

What bothered me about Girardi's bullpen management was that the Yankees do not have an off day in the next week, and are facing their first series of the year in Boston. Robertson and Boone needed the work; Soriano didn't. I do not think it is possible to pitch Soriano and Rivera in every single game you have a lead without blowing them out, and if you can't use a late inning reliever like Robertson in a late inning when it is not a save situation, when can you use him? The Yankee TV announcers (not that Michael Kay knows anything-- his harping on the historical ineptitude of the Twins at Yankee Stadium as somehow bearing upon the outcome of the game being played displays a complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of the individual game and pitching match-ups) noted how Soriano's presentation on the mound -- rushing through his pitches, lack of command-- suggested a different approach on this night. It could well be that Soriano resented at some level being asked to "mop up" in a victory that should have been well in hand in the eighth. Leaving aside the armchair sports psychologizing, the fact is bringing in Soriano backfired big time, leaving Girardi open to deserved second guessing.

Apr 06, 2011 10:34 AM
rating: 0

Poor CC - Lord knows he hasn't received much run support over his career.

Apr 06, 2011 10:40 AM
rating: 3

As much as I hate W/L as a stat myself, no single game makes the case, any more than one wind-assisted homer renders HR a meaningless stat. If everyone gets screwed like Sabathia did, in equal proportion, it's fine. It's the fact that the randomness in W/L does not balance out across a season, or even multiple seasons, that rules it out as reliable.

Apr 06, 2011 11:44 AM
rating: 3

look at these guys, it's like they haven't heard of a literary hyperbole before.

Apr 06, 2011 12:05 PM
rating: 2

Hyperbole is the greatest thing ever...

Apr 06, 2011 17:25 PM
rating: 7
Lou Doench

Listen, I hate the Yankees as much as any other Red blooded midwesterner, as it should be. But the the level of whiney douchebaggery in these comments is appalling. Grow the fuck up people. Just today there are articles on the Marlins, the Royals farm system, a bunch of fantasy stuff that has nothing to do with the Yankees or Red Sox. You people are imagining a bias that is simply not there.

That being said, I expect to see some stuff about the Reds hot start soon, or i'm gonna start thinking about joining the tinfoil hat crowd.

Apr 06, 2011 12:13 PM
rating: 9

+1 for "Whiny Douchebaggery", though I'm indifferent to everything else you wrote.

Apr 06, 2011 12:23 PM
rating: 0
Lou Doench

heck of a time getting that past the iPads autocorrect...

Apr 06, 2011 12:27 PM
rating: 3

I think Girardi made even a worse gaffe though we never got to see it play out. He pulled Robertson for Mariano. Robertson looked great in his 15 pitches and clearly could have went another inning. This would have allowed him to save Mariano for the tenth. This would have been even more noticable if the game extended to the 11th or 12th as Colon would have been called to finish the game, regardless of innings. Basically, he could have put off calling on Boone had he sticked with Robertson a little further.

Apr 06, 2011 12:56 PM
rating: 0
Travis G.

Girardi's mistake was not bringing in Rivera to face Mauer. But noooooo, he had to save his BEST RELIEVER for the magical 9th inning (instead of the Game-on-the-line moment), because, after all, he's a "9th inning guy."

Apr 14, 2011 21:56 PM
rating: 1

Steven, in your entirely-correct rant against those Luddites who can't separate the wheat from the Chass, you somehow neglected to mention the argument they would've used against Sabathia on this night: "He should've finished what he started like they used to! Why, the old-timers were expected to go 9 innings or more every time out...they never turned it over to the bullpen..." Blah blah blah, ad nausea.

Apr 18, 2011 13:47 PM
rating: 0
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