Friday, September 6, 2013


[EDIT: See below for update.]

The rancid, rock-hard crust of the Tango Love Pie™ is wafting through the early September breezes again, inducing a slew of innocent bystanders to reach for clothespins, gas masks, Haz-Mat gear.

This year's bogus ideological pincushion isn't new: it has been on the hysterical, lapsed empiricists' hit lists for quite awhile now...

It's "the win."

Not satisfied to simply downgrade pitcher's wins (and won-loss record, and WPCT) to a lesser position in the minds of the fans, the miscreant masterminds of the Love Pie Brigade want to stomp the win to death.

Frankly, they sound like the type of lunatics who all too often get shipped to some Third World country where brigands get paid to terrorize villages and lay the groundwork for military juntas--and, what's more, they're proud of it. Just like Elmer Fudd in What's Opera, Doc?, they've got the "magic helmet."

Except--when one puts on this "magic helmet," a disturbingly unpleasant brown substance starts to dribble down one's face. One thing that substance is not is "curiously refreshing"...

Once again, they are rattling their tarnished sabers over the Cy Young Award. Once again, it's the American League. Back in 2010, Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher in the AL despite having a 13-12 record. He won the Cy Young Award. He deserved it. Most measures other than wins and losses confirmed this, including our own Quality Matrix (QMAX).

It seems that the Love Pie™ Brigade wants to take the theoretical notion that a pitcher can have a losing record and still be the best pitcher in the league and ram it down the public's throat. That wouldn't be such an objectionable thing--if the pitcher in question was actually the best in the league.

What bothers these usual suspects is that the leading candidate for the AL Cy, Max Scherzer, has been unusually lucky in run support and won 19 of his first 20 decisions. (He's now 19-2). Even though Scherzer leads in many rate stats, the idea of him winning the Cy with such a potentially spectacular won-loss record is worse than flouride in drinking water. It's a symbol of accelerating moral rot. It's a blight on those for whom truth, justice and the shards of the American way have been lodged in a tangled, tortuous world of capricious counterintuitivity.

Who's the man who puts the corn meal in the crumbly crust of the Love Pie Brigade? It's Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. Chris is having a fine year, but the Pale Hose are even paler than usual and they have scored only 3.25 r/g for him this season. As a result, he's only 10-12.

Since his ERA is close to Scherzer's, and since the WAR system suggests that Sale is not all that far behind (WAR, of course, resides somewhere between "protean" and "trickster" in the lexicon of "advanced" stats that have been transmogrified by the slice'n'dice of the Love Pie™ Brigade...), then it's an adrenaline-filled no-brainer for them to trash Scherzer in favor of Sale.

It's blatant, puffed-up, pie-eyed self-interest, self-promotiion disguised as "expertise," and another giant leap into the sodden crust of counter-intuition.

QMAX, of course, doesn't bother with ideology. It doesn't look at actual wins or losses. It has its own semblance of counter-intution--the difference, however, is that it doesn't try to massage the numbers to produce a desired result. It just takes the pitcher data, calculates hit and walk prevention, combines it, synthesizes it, and puts it against the probabilities--all of which provides as objective a measure of quality as possible.

So what does QMAX say? Well, you've seen the charts that have floated by as we've stuck our fork into what is the most inedible crust yet produced by the Love Pie Brigade. QMAX tells us that Max Scherzer is, as of this moment, the best starter in the AL.

Max's Quality Winning Percentage (QWP) is .689.

Chris Sale's is: .641. The Mariners' Hisashi Iwakuma, the crafty finesse pitcher from Japan (bet you couldn't tell that unless I told you...), is third at .629.

Now there's still enough time for this to change. Scherzer is the best, but it's not s slam dunk. If he falters, and Sale picks it up, the rankings could change.

And trust us...if Sale had the best QWP, even with losing record, we'd be right there letting you know that. But we wouldn't be spinning the numbers and trying to cram an obsessive strain of counter-intuition down people's throats.

Right now, the "tango" being danced by the Love Pie Brigade is just a goose-step of hot air and bullying tactics. Right now, Scherzer is the AL Cy winner.

So feel free to stick that fork in the place it will do the most good. And if you've been partaking of the Tango Love Pie™, by all means keep those antacid tablets handy.

[UPDATE: As circumstance would have it, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale hooked up last night as the Tigers came to Chicago. Umpire Brian Gorman interjected himself into the game with undue force by tossing Miguel Cabrera out in the middle of his first at-bat. (The call he'd made--that Cabrera had swung at a pitch that veered sharply and hit him below the right knee--was questionable at best.)

Advantage Sale. He pitched a great game, four hits and run in eight innings--a 1,1 in the QMAX ledger. Max may have been affected by what happened in the top of the first: he gave up a couple of runs and would eventually leave after four innings, having surrendered five runs. It was one of those erratic, mixed-signal starts that were much more common from him in earlier seasons. His QMAX score for the night: 6,4,

So that tightens up the race between Scherzer and Sale...Max's QWP drops to .678 while Sale's rises to .652. Sale has edged ahead in a couple of the QMAX range measures: "success square" and "elite square," while Max still holds leads in top hit prevention games (S12) and in avoiding "hit hard" games (HH).

As we noted above, if Chris Sale takes the QWP lead by season's end, he would be our #1 choice in the Cy Young vote. Right now, he's still #2, but things have closed up after that odd night in Chicago.

Hisashi Iwakuma had a middling night last Friday, registering a 6,3 game (8 hits in 5.2 IP) against the Rays. As a result, QWP dropped to .621. He'll pitch again on Friday.

There's a potential irony that's looming: Chris Sale has four, maybe five starts remaining. He's now 11-12, and there's a solid chance that he might wind up over. 500 by season's end. The "principle" being fought for by the crusty "Kill the Win" cadre might well curdle up like whipped cream left languishing on an abandoned piece of Tango Love Pie.™ Stay tuned...]