Analytics are great. They've revolutionized the game. They've helped bridge the gap between big markets and small markets. They've made baseball more of a chess match. They've allowed talent evaluators and executives to view players differently and find value where they previously wouldn't have.
Though the topic has been one of contention among New York Yankees fans because of the organization's over-reliance on whatever bad analytics practices they have in place, almost everybody can agree here that this specific instance has taken things too far.
Over at Forbes, the pot was stirred in regard to the AL Cy Young "race." Why in quotes? Because it's no longer a race. Gerrit Cole should be the winner. The debate starts and ends with him. Even ESPN's Cy Young predictor thinks he's far and away the best starter in the AL.
This Forbes writer, however, argued for somebody who nobody is even thinking of as a top candidate: Twins starter Pablo Lopez. The right-hander has a 3.61 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 121 ERA+ and 1.15 WHIP with 228 strikeouts in 31 starts (189.2 innings).
Pretty good! But not close to Cole's 2.75 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 159 ERA+ and 1.02 WHIP with 217 strikeouts in 32 starts (200 innings). Cole has 23 quality starts to Lopez's 20 on top of besting him in every major category with the exception of strikeouts. So what's the debate?
Writer proves analytics have gone too far with Yankees' Gerrit Cole Cy Young debate
Here's what Tony Blengino wrote in his latest piece for Forbes:
"His raw stats don’t stand out so much, as he’s been unlucky on all batted ball types (114 Unadjusted vs. 77 Adjusted Fly Ball, 96 vs. 90 Line Drive, 120 vs. 98 Ground Ball Contact Scores) - his overall Unadjusted Contact Score is below average at 106. But his 86.6 mph average exit speed allowed is 2nd only to Eflin, and his Adjusted Fly Ball and Line Drive Contact Scores are better than any pitcher discussed today. He’s allowed just 7 105+ mph flies (same as Gray, Cole has 15) and zero 110+ mph liners (Cole has 5). One of the primary objectives of advanced stats is to remove as much context as possible and isolate what players actually control."- Tony Blengino
Yes, in a perfect world, if we could remove any and all factors from a given scenario and boil it down to the individual, the metrics say Lopez is "better," and you can tell that just by looking at their Baseball Savant pages.
But just because Lopez has gotten "unlucky," which has adversely affected his raw numbers, doesn't mean he's the winner. If a team in the postseason has a number of unlucky bounces but technically played a better series, do we advance them to the next round? "Well, the expected batting average on that game-winning hit was .127, so actually ..." The context cannot be removed. If anything, Cole should maybe get a leg up for things he can't control because his offense failed to give him run support far too many times. The Yankees outright lost seven of Cole's quality starts where he allowed a total of eight earned runs.
Cole's season is objectively better. The introduction of metrics that aren't even considered when evaluating a pitcher's everyday performance can't change that. Seeing that Lopez has gotten a tad unlucky is helpful -- it lets the Twins know that there's a good chance he's even better next year, or it can help them with postseason matchups. But it doesn't skip him to the front of the line in the Cy Young argument. The fact he's given up softer contact (he averages 2 MPH less on his fastball than Cole) doesn't tell a larger story we're missing. It's just part of what happened during this baseball season.
And if you want to talk "unlucky," Cole's already gotten hosed once with advanced metrics on his side -- back in 2019 with the Astros when he led the league with a 2.50 ERA, 326 strikeouts, a 185 ERA+ and 2.64 FIP, only to lose to teammate and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.
Someone with an underwhelming body of work like Lopez isn't about to make it a second time.