WINNERS WHO HAVE LOSERS

By Murray Chass

September 5, 2010

This column is dedicated to A. J. Burnett because he is responsible for it. More precisely, his won-lost record gave me the idea for it. The idea centers on a question: how can a starting pitcher on a winning team have a losing record?

Burnett, whom the Yankees lured to New York with an $82.5 million contract for the 2009 season, has a losing record, 10 wins and 12 losses. With four weeks left in the season, he has been the losing pitcher in 24 percent of the 50 losses the Yankees have.AJ Burnett3 225

By comparison CC Sabathia has been the losing pitcher in 10 percent of the team’s losses. Sabathia has also been the winning pitcher in 22 percent of the Yankees’ victories while Burnett has received credit for 11.6 percent.

I asked Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager, how Burnett could have a losing record with a team as good as the Yankees have been. At the start of the week, they continued to have the major leagues’ best record.

“He’s earned it,” Cashman said of the pitcher he pays $16.5 million each season. “He had a good stretch, then he had a bad stretch, an extremely bad stretch. He’s earned it.”

After his first six starts this season, Burnett had a 4-0 record and a 1.99 earned run average. Even after May, Burnett had a good 6-2 record. The Yankees’ euphoria, however, quickly evaporated.

Burnett lost all five of his starts in June and had a 0-4 record in five starts in August. In June, July and August, Burnett staggered to a 3-10 record.

Burnett, though, is not the only starter with a losing record for a team with a winning record. He has plenty of company. In fact, seven of the eight division and wild-card leading teams are in those positions despite having pitchers with losing records, and the eighth team has a pitcher with a .500 record as a starter and recently picked up another loss in a 13-inning game.

The Atlanta Braves, who have been in first place in the National League East since Memorial Day, entered the weekend with three starters with losing records: Derek Lowe 11-12, Tommy Hanson 9-10 and Kenshin Kawakami 1-10.

General manager Frank Wren is only grateful that other starters, most notably Tim Hudson (15-6), have built good records.

“I can only say in the case of Kawakami,” Wren said, “it seems every team has a pitcher who doesn’t get support, and he’s that guy for us. I don’t know how to explain that but in his case he didn’t get support. Two years ago it was Jair Jurrjens for us. He’d give up one run and get beat, and he’d give up two runs and get beat.”

Indeed, according to Elias Sports Bureau, Kawakami, before his most recent start, last Friday against Florida, had one of the weakest run supports in the majors, 3.47 runs per game. But run support can be misleading.

Kenshin Kawakami 225In that game, his first start since June 26, the Braves scored only one run, but Kawakami left after giving up 5 runs in 3 innings.

Kawakami, who had spent some remedial time in the minors, started that game because Lowe was having trouble with a bone chip in his right elbow

Wren noted that since June 7, a span of 14 starts, Lowe had not allowed more than four runs in a game. His record in that time, though, was 3-7.

“Sometimes I think it’s who you match up against,” Wren said. “There are times a team doesn’t score.”

He also pointed out that the Braves have won a lot of games late – they lead the majors with 23 victories secured in their final time at bat. “Our bullpen wins a lot of games late,” he said. “That takes away from the starters’ wins.”

The team that has been doggedly chasing the Braves, Philadelphia, has one starter. Cole Hamels, under .500, and two starters, Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer, at .500.

The 47-year-old Moyer, out since July 20 with an elbow injury, began July with a 9-6 record but lost three successive starts. Blanton lost 5 of his first 8 starts while winning only once and has been playing catch-up just to get to .500 ever since. He got to 6-6 Aug. 28, but he has won only 3 of his last 13 starts.

This is the kind of season Hamels has had. He lost three successive starts last month, dropping his record to 7-10, and two of the losses came by 1-0 decisions to the Mets six days apart. He has won his last two decisions for a 9-10 record.

His record is similar to the one he finished last season with, 10-11.

Three other starters who have losing records are duplicating their 2009 performances. Barry Zito of San Francisco had a 10-13 record last year and has an 8-11 record this season. Kyle Lohse of St. Louis, 6-10 a year ago, has a 2-6 record now.

Nick Blackburn had an 11-11 record for Minnesota last year and has an 8-8 record as a starter this season. But that changed to 8-9 when he relieved in the 13th inning against Detroit last Thursday and gave up a home run to Gerald Laird.

The West Division leaders have both had lengthy stays in first place, San Diego since June 17, Texas since June 1, and both have achieved their status with starters who have losing records.

Wade LeBlanc, who replaced the injured Chris Young in the Padres’ rotation April 18, has an 8-12 record.

Kevin Correia, who has been in the rotation from the third game of the season, had an up-and-down experience, reaching August with a 7-7 record. But then he won his first three starts in August, giving up only 4 runs in 18 innings.

That was definitely an up experience. But then came the down. He lost his next three starts, allowing 20 runs in 12 innings, and falling to 10-10. He had a 12-11 record last year.Cliff Lee Rangers 225

Then we have the Rangers, who have had the largest lead of the season. Just before the All-Star break, they traded for Cliff Lee, figuring he would not only clinch the division title for them, but he would also play a major role in the post-season. Before the trade he had an 8-3 record and 2.34 e.r.a. in 13 starts with Seattle. In 11 starts for Texas, Lee has a 2-5 record and 4.69 e.r.a.

Colby Lewis began his major league career with Texas in 2002, but before he returned to the Rangers as a free agent this year he also played for Detroit, Oakland and Hiroshima in Japan. Now he has a 9-12 record for the Rangers, losing his last seven decisions and winning no games since July 16.

Scott Feldman, with 17 wins, was a pleasant surprise for Texas last season, but now he has a 6-9 record and with no wins in six starts since his last win June 18 is in the bullpen. Rich Harden replaced him after recovering from a back ailment that knocked him out for seven weeks. Harden has a 5-5 record.

The other division leader, Cincinnati, has its own loser. That would be Aaron Harang, who is back with his 6-7 record after missing all of July and all of August except for the last day with a back ailment.

Some other losing starters on winning teams:

  • Tim Wakefield, Red Sox, 3-9 as starter, 3-10 over all
  • Gavin Floyd, White Sox, 10-11
  • Aaron Cook, Rockies, 5-8
  • Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers, 10-11

 

MORGAN PLOWS NEW GROUND

Nyjer Morgan3 225Players have been suspended for 50 games under Major League Baseball’s drug violation disciplinary program, but no player is believed to have been hit with the penalties levied against Nyjer Morgan for on-field incidents.

“Nobody has been that out of control a week apart,” said Bob Watson, baseball’s disciplinarian.

Morgan, Washington’s leadoff batter and center fielder, was issued two suspensions, one for seven games, then another for eight games for incidents that occurred within a 12-day span. The second suspension covered three incidents that occurred within the space of five days.

“Man, they threw the book at me,” Morgan told mlb.com

Morgan didn’t do himself any favors by incurring the suspensions so closely together. It is highly unlikely that he will be permitted to serve the suspensions concurrently, meaning he will have to serve them consecutively.

There’s probably not enough time left in the season for Morgan’s appeals of the suspensions, for decisions to be made and for Morgan to serve the suspensions, whether all 15 games or some reduced number, meaning Morgan may miss some games early next season.

“What did I do?” Morgan complained. “I feel I haven’t done anything.”

Morgan earned the first suspension by throwing a baseball that hit a fan in Philadelphia. The second suspension resulted from these incidents: “unnecessarily” running into the Cardinals’ catcher (and separating his shoulder in a separate incident), making “inappropriate” comments to fans in Florida and charging the mound and igniting a benches-clearing brawl as well as making “inappropriate gestures and comments” to fans as he left the field.

 

AP SCORES ON PIRATES

Last week’s column about the disclosure of financial reports of half a dozen major league teams inadvertently had a major omission. The Associated Press had a comprehensive article about the Pirates’ report a day before it and reports of five other teams were posted on Deadspin.com.

How both outlets had the reports so close to each other is not known, and it is also not known why the AP had one report and Deadspin had six. The AP, however, gets credit for doing a far more thorough presentation than Deadspin because unlike the AP, Deadspin did no noticeable reporting.

That, however, is one of the major differences between a legitimate news organization and a tabloid-like Web site.

 

MAKING MVP, CY VOTERS OBSOLETE

As secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association, Jack O’Connell is responsible each year for finding 240 BBWAA members to vote on the four awards the association gives each November. As the number of newspapers dwindles and their impact fades, O’Connell finds his task increasingly tougher.

But now comes a feMath Formulallow who is not only going to make O’Connell’s job easier, but he will also eliminate it altogether.

His name is Sean Forman, and he is the creator of the Web site, Baseball-Reference.com. He also has a method of selecting the most valuable players and Cy Young award winners that he believes is far more reliable than the writers’ voting.

Forman presented his system in two articles that ran on consecutive Fridays in The New York Times, which apparently is jumping on the statistics bandwagon as a way of trying to lure younger readers to the fading newspaper.

Without getting into details, Forman presents a formula by which m.v.p. and Cy Young candidates can be ranked. The result is a number that is assigned to each player – Robinson Cano 6.3, Evan Longoria 6.2, Miguel Cabrera 6.0, using A.L. m.v.p. as an example.

Integral to those numbers is something called WAR, which stands for wins above replacement. What replacement? A replacement player, of course, but he’s mythical.

Statistics zealots apparently love to deal with mythical or hypothetical players. The problem for those of us who prefer dealing with reality and actual human beings is we can’t buy into the idea of using mathematical formulas instead of real players.

However, given that many BBWAA voters seemed to buy into the formula stuff in the Cy Young voting last year, it may not be long before they vote for all of the awards on the basis of WAR (no intangibles needed). But if they are going to vote on the basis of WAR, who needs voters?

O’Connell can simply ask Forman to e-mail him the final WAR numbers, and then he can stand on the dais at the New York baseball dinner each January and present the m.v.p. and Cy Young awards to a computer.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.