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September 7, 2010 at 12:17 PM

Numbers don’t support contention that C.C. Sabathia “knows how to win” better than Felix Hernandez

NOTE 5:36 p.m.: I changed an earlier stat for Sabathia. He’s had five games of three runs or fewer support and is 1-4 in those games. I’d previously written he was 1-2 in three such games.
Came across this blog post by longtime Hartford Courant baseball writer Dom Amore, who covers the Yankees. Amore’s a good guy and knows his stuff. But I think he’s wrong in his contention that Felix Hernandez should be dropped from Cy Young consideration because he doesn’t “know how to win” when the chips are down.
On the other hand, Amore lauds C.C. Sabathia of the Yankees for this ability in the following blog passage:
“Sabathia doesn’t have 19 wins by accident. He has them because he holds leads, finds ways on nights when he doesn’t have it, such as in Chicago last weekend, and goes deep into games, deep enough to allow his team to bypass shaky middle relievers and get right to the closer.”
No argument there. But by the same token, Hernandez also goes deep into games. Heck, he’d be leading the league in complete games if the Mariners weren’t protecting his arm and pulling him early. He already leads the league in innings pitched, despite the limits the M’s have put on him — which tells you he goes at least as deep as Sabathia does. In fact, no other pitcher in the AL has as many quality starts as Hernandez does, so that’s telling as well.
But let’s get to the meat of Amore’s argument. That Sabathia has shown he knows how to win better than Hernnadez has.
The numbers, quite simply, do not back this up.
Photo Credit: AP

Hernandez has received the second-lowest run support in the league this season. Amore’s argument is that Cy Young Award caliber pitchers — like Sabathia — have to be able to overcome this.
OK, then, let’s try to prove this. Let’s see how Sabathia has done in relation to Hernandez when it comes to overcoming a major setback like no run support.
We all know a pitcher — any pitcher — can win games when his team scores five runs or more.
But it’s not so easy to win when your team scores four runs or fewer. The league average for runs per game by a team is above four. So, it stands to reason that, if you score only four, your team will likely lose at least as often as it wins.
So, it takes a good pitcher to overcome that.
Let’s look at the number of wins registered by Hernandez and Sabathia when their teams score four runs or fewer:
Hernandez — 8
Sabathia — 6
How about the number of wins when their team scores three or fewer:
Hernandez — 2
Sabathia — 1
Two or fewer?
Hernandez — 1
Sabathia — 1
So, Sabathia has not been able to win any more games than Hernandez in any of the situations I’ve outlined above.
Also, when it comes to no-decisions, Sabathia does not have a single one of those in games in which his team has scored four runs or fewer.
Hernandez has five no-decisions, three of those won by his team, in games that have seen the M’s score four or fewer. Hernandez has three no-decisions, two of them wins by Seattle, in games in which the M’s have scored three runs or fewer.
Unlike Sabathia, Hernandez has not lost a single game this season in which the Mariners scored at least four runs.
Yes, Hernandez has lost many more games than Sabathia when his team has scored three runs or fewer. But that’s not a sign of anything better on Sabathia’s end. It’s simply a lack of opportunities for Sabathia to lose games.
Sabathia has made just five starts all season in which his team has scored three runs or fewer, winning one of those, 2-1, while losing four others.
Hernandez has been in 16 such games. No, that’s not a misprint.
In those 16 games, Hernandez has gone 2-10 with four no-decisions — two of them won by Seattle.
How many of those games would Sabathia have won? We’ll never know, because he gets so much run support, he has not been put to the test. All we can say for sure is, he’s gone 1-4 in such cases — a .200 winning percentage. It’s an apples and oranges comparison when Hernandez leads 16-5 in appearances in games in which “knowing how to win” is put to the ultimate test. But I didn’t make this argument. It should not be up to me to demonstrate what Sabathia could or could not have done.
All we have are the facts in front of us:
When it comes to run support of three or fewer per game, Sabathia has not been tested enough to make a point either way.
At four runs or fewer, Hernandez has more wins. Sabathia may have won a higher percentage of such games, but Hernandez has appeared in far more of them, so again, there isn’t a great enough sample to say Sabathia “knows how to win” more.
Let’s do one last thing.
How about won-loss records when a team scores four runs or more?
Hernandez — 9-0, 5 no-decisions
Sabathia — 18-1, 5 no decisions
Yes, Sabathia has generated twice as many wins, due largely to having 10 more opportunities and a whole bunch of additional runs scored for him when he’s on the mound. But what’s interesting is he has one more loss and just as many no-decisions as Hernandez. So, the argument that he “knows how to win” more, just isn’t substantiated here either.
Because when you take away games in which the Yankees scored six runs or more, Sabathia’s record dips to 9-5. That’s still good. But it doesn’t dominate Hernandez in “knowing how to win”.
Let’s take one final look at how both guys do when their team scores either four or five runs in a game. No blowout by the pitcher’s team, or shutdown of the pitcher’s hitters by an opponent. Just a plain old “average” game of offense generated.
Hernandez — 6-0
Sabathia — 8-3
So, again, I ask you, where is it proven that Sabathia “knows how to win” more than Hernandez? Because he doesn’t do it at a greater rate when he gets league average support.
I’ll submit that it hasn’t been shown. That it’s a myth. And that, for the purposes of the Cy Young Award race, the fact that C.C. Sabathia notched half his wins because of an offense scoring six or more runs per game should not be held in his favor. That this whole “knows how to win” notion should be tossed aside in this case and other numbers looked at.
Things like ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, etc.
Sabathia does well in all of those categories and that’s why I believe he’s a top two or three Cy Young guy. But he doesn’t do any of them as well as Hernandez. The only thing Sabathia is better at than Hernandez is winning games when his offense piles on an opponent.
And to me, that shouldn’t be enough.



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