A Simple Kind of Fan. Still the Year of the Narv Dog– 8.2.11
Chris Narveson has exceeded expectations throughout the 2011 season. Many loyal readers will recall that I wrote a piece back on March 1st predicting a big year from the lefthander. In fact, I said that by the end of the year, Narveson would no longer be considered the fifth starter. I stand by that prediction and I would like to offer some evidence to support this claim.
According to Fangraphs, the Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation is having a good year. Using WAR, I find it interesting that Narveson is in the middle of the pack for the rotation: Greinke 2.2, Gallardo 2.0, Narveson 1.9, Marcum 1.9, and Wolf .9. Randy Wolf may be getting paid the big money, but Narveson is the lefthander producing. When looking at the surface numbers, such as a 7-6 record and a 4.39 ERA, it would seem that Narveson is having just an ordinary season. However, I think if we dig a bit deeper, we will find a different picture that begins to come into focus.
I believe Narveson is a victim of bad defense and bad luck. FIP does a great job of illustrating both of these points. The Narv Dog sports a nifty 3.58 FIP, which is actually 26th in National League (between Ubaldo Jimenez and Shaun Marcum). The Milwaukee defense has been poor all season and it really shows when comparing Narveson’s 4.39 ERA versus his 3.58 FIP. That .81 difference between ERA and FIP is actually the ninth highest difference in the NL. When using the benchmark of a 110 inning minimum, some interesting things begin to emerge.
|Stat||Narveson’s NL Ranks|
|WAR||1.9 – 29th|
|FIP||3.58 – 27th|
|HR/9||.78 – 29th|
|BABIP||.307 – 20th|
|Strikeout %||19.1% – 26th|
I would consider this impressive for a fifth starter. FIP eliminates all things the pitcher can’t control such as Runnin’ Ron Roenicke trotting out a putrid lineup for the Sunday finale against Houston. Having Counsell, Yuni, and Kotsay in the same lineup is bad, but having Kotsay start in center is downright criminal. Imagine where Narveson would be if he was a bit luckier with his BABIP or if his defense played a bit better. I would take these numbers from any 5th starter, especially one as durable as Narveson.
Last year the Narv Dog had his struggles with the first inning and it appears as if he has solved that dilemma. Now it seems as if the only thing separating him from even more success is the tendency to give up a big inning out of nowhere. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes Narveson will be cruising along and suddenly he will give up a few hits and get himself in trouble with a walk or two. Is this simply a lapse in concentration that can be corrected? I tend to think yes, because he continues to produce and slowly improve as he gains experience. It only seems logical that consistency will be the last trait that Narveson acquires. I look for things to continue to improve for the Narv Dog heading down the stretch of a potential playoff season.
A Season You Have Probably Forgotten About By Now
In 1992, the powerful A’s won the AL West, but subsequently suffered defeat in the ALCS at the hands of the eventual Champs, The Toronto Blue Jays. Both teams had identical 96-66 records. Without a ‘Superstar’ having a Big year on either team to easily hand the MVP and CY Young awards, sportswriters were not given an easy choice that required little thinking. Instead of looking at every team and determining which player had the best overall season, this languid group of men went ahead and gave both awards to the best player on the best team, like they almost always do. This choice is the laziest route to solve a problem. It seemed once again that being on a winning team was more valuable than being the best player. The voters BLEW this call outright and I will be happy to prove why they did.
Dennis Eckersley had a tremendous 1992 season. He was the preeminent closer in the game with a league leading 51 saves. The Eck was nasty again in ’92, as evidenced by a 1.91 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP in 80 innings. As a result, he won the Cy Young award for his efforts and I suppose I could have lived with that unfortunate decision. However, sportswriters then did the unimaginable and made Eckersley the 3rd reliever ever to win the MVP award and the Cy Young in the same season. Good God, what an awful decision.
I know why the sportswriters did it. I watched Eckersley that season and I know he was on a different level than his peers. He allowed three blown saves, eleven walks, and five home runs while facing 309 batters. My problem is that relievers are not nearly as valuable as starters. In my opinion, sportswriters got caught up in how good Eckersley was, and forgot that they were voting on which player was most valuable.
When discussing value, Roger Clemens has a season in 1992 that was exceedingly more valuable than The Eck. You must remember, Eck only pitched in 80 innings and faced 309 batters. Clemens pitched in 246.2 innings and faced 989 batters and also threw eleven complete games for the Red Sox. Let’s take a look at those eleven complete games against Eck’s complete season:
|Stat||Eckersley 1992||Clemens 11 CG|
As you can see from the chart above, the numbers are fairly similar. Eck pitched less innings and had quite a few more strikeouts. Neither player looked like much fun to hit against, but in all I would say that Eckersley has the superior numbers on his entire season versus Clemens and his eleven complete games in 1992. There is one problem though. What about the other 149.2 innings Clemens pitched in 1992?
|Stat||Clemens rest of 1992|
|Record||11 – 7|
These seem to be some pretty valuable numbers. In fact, when using just the numbers here, the results are impressive. Roger’s 2.90 ERA was lower than all but six pitchers in the AL and only thirteen had more than 136 strikeouts all season! Clearly when taking the entire season Roger Clemens had in 1992 into account, he was much, much more valuable than Dennis Eckersley. This is abundantly obvious if using the statistic WAR, where Clemens (8.5) easily dominated Eckersley (3.0).
Relievers simply are not as valuable as starting pitchers. There is a specific reason why teams are ALWAYS looking for quality starting pitching: it is in scarce supply. In most cases, teams draft pitching prospects and give them every chance to succeed as a starter before moving them into the bullpen. Relievers can be found anywhere, exhibit A: bartender John Axford. The voters of the 1992 AL MVP made a blunder of preposterous proportions by not remembering this simple philosophy.
Why did Eckersley win? In my opinion, there are two reasons Clemens was shunned. First, he played for a last place team with a 73-89 record. It is a ridiculous adage to lessen the value of a player because of the quality of teammates he plays with, unless that player is also the General Manager of the team. Clemens was dominant and that is what should be recognized. Secondly, I feel that Clemens was shunned because he was an asshole to the media. Indeed he certainly was, but that is irrelevant.
These baseball writing professionals, who frequently claim a level of baseball knowledge superior to that of your typical Simple Kind of Fan, blew both awards in 1992 by giving them to a reliever who appeared in only 80 innings. They let their personal feelings affect how they voted for the awards, and that is unprofessional. They not only overlooked the tremendous years Kirby Puckett and Frank Thomas had, but they also used personal feelings to overlook a superior Clemens.
The next time someone brings up how much more valuable a reliever is than a starter, please remember the 1992 AL awards race travesty. Specifically, how Roger Clemens got screwed in what is surely a season you may have forgotten about by now.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
August 22, 2011. The Brewers are in Pittsburgh for four games in three days. Need I say more?
August 31, 2011. The real trade deadline.
Shameless Self Promotion
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Are you traveling or will you miss an upcoming Brewers game because of a MLB black- out? No worries, the PocketDoppler is here for you. Brian has you covered with a nightly ‘250 words or less’ summary of what happened for the Brewers. It is a quick and convenient way to stay on top of the team when the social calendar fills up in the summer.