I don’t overestimate what we do here. Baseball-Reference isn’t going to reach out to Al and me one day for permission to snap up the “Heroes and Goats” statistic and turn it into one that is tracked for teams. What we do here is a novelty and meant to be fun. It gives us a platform to talk about the good and the bad from the game before, with as much emphasis on the positive as we can muster.
But, I do get mad when people are totally dismissive of an objective statistic. The easiest example in modern baseball is the pitcher win. As the game of baseball continues to morph, it holds less and less value. If I took the list of the 10 pitchers with the most wins in baseball and said they were the 10 best pitchers in baseball, you’d laugh at me. Certainly we don’t have to go far to find recent work by Jacob deGrom to show how incredibly misleading pitcher wins are as a statistic.
That is, if I’m trying to identify the best pitchers using pitcher wins. There are a whole barrel of statistics you’d turn to in comparing pitchers before you’d go to the win. That said, you wouldn’t pull those top 10 in wins and say “here are 10 lousy pitchers.” In any given year, we are going to expect to find 10 pretty good pitchers. Sure, there are going to be at least one or two guys who just play on offensive dynamos and maybe even one that doesn’t but gets great run support. We might lose some really good pitchers because they suffer from some combo of bad run support and bad bullpen support.
For the sake of discussion, those 10 pitchers are: Justin Verlander, Tony Gonsolin, Kyle Wright, Carlos Carrasco, Tyler Anderson, Julio Urias, Dylan Cease, Jose Urquidy, Framber Valdez and Alek Manoah. So what do we have here? Besides three-fifths of the rotations of the Astros and Dodgers? Carrasco and Urquidy look at a glance like guys who are here because they are on really strong teams. The other guys? They are gonna draw a good number of Cy Young votes amongst them.
Sandy Alcantara just misses the bottom of the list and he may statistically be the best pitcher in baseball this year. Of course, he does not play on a good team. Max Fried also just misses even though he is on a pretty good team. Max Scherzer misses because he doesn’t have a full body of work due to injuries. But again, no slouches on the list. And not too many huge omissions. And in the case of Alcantara and Fried, the might actually be in the top 10 when the season ends.
So what is the point of this? I’m not overselling Heroes and Goats. You can be on one of the podiums more or less as an innocent bystander caught in a drive by. You ended up on a Hero podium because you had a hit in the top of the first before the bottom dropped out on the team. We’ve seen players have multiple hits and even homers and end up a Goat because of bad timing in a rout.
But, if we trot out the top five and bottom five, the guys at the top have made pretty significant contributions to the success of the team. The guys at the bottom have generally been albatrosses. David Robertson, Nico Hoerner, Scott Effross, Christopher Morel, and Patrick Wisdom. You probably wouldn’t say those were the five best Cubs this season. But those are definitely five of the biggest contributors. Willson Contreras checks in at six. Keegan Thompson at 12. The only significant outlier in my eyes is Ian Happ way down at 36th place. But he spent most of the year in the top 10 before hitting the wall, which is a real thing that we’ve all seen.
This is a long way of getting to Justin Steele who just picked up his second straight Superhero. Steele is now tied with Contreras for sixth. And, of course, it is ironic that I drew this comparison utilizing the pitcher win. Justin’s W/L record is only 4-7, kind of an unsightly number. One big factor there is that Justin only has nine games with more than five innings pitched after Sunday’s start. I checked to see if run support was another. The Cubs have average 4.7 runs per game behind Justin. That’s actually not bad at all. Of course, small samples: The Cubs did score 15 runs in one of his starts, but in 11 of them they scored three or less, including Sunday.
So, Heroes and Goats isn’t telling us that Justin is an undiscovered star. But, it does represent Justin better than a 4-7 record does. Justin went into Sunday’s start with 2.4 fWAR and that certainly isn’t going down. Of course, part of what fWAR gives us is a lot of credit for guys with a heavy workload. Simply by making his 23rd start of the year, he’s built some of that number. But then, his 113⅔ innings of work aren’t among the top 50 in baseball.
So what do I see? I see a guy who took a big step forward in his major league career as a starter. What can he be? Too soon to say. He’ll have to learn to do some things to stay in games a bit longer. Perhaps as he continues to grow and develop he’ll do those things. He was very good on Sunday against a team with legitimate playoff aspirations.
Let’s get to three positives from Sunday’s loss.
- I didn’t spend over 900 words on Justin to not give him the top spot. 20 batters faced, 18 outs recorded, nine of them by strikeout. Justin may actually be one of those pitchers that needs to learn to try to induce weak contact in mundane situations to conserve the pitches that his strikeouts eat up. But I’m never going to say it’s a bad thing to be able to put major league hitters away.
- Seiya Suzuki put up a three-hit game that included a home run and a double. After a dynamic April, Seiya has battled injuries and inconsistency. But maybe he can finish the season on a high note. He also walked, reaching base in all four plate appearances.
- The Cubs only had five hits on Sunday. So I’ll give the nod to Ian Happ whose solo homer produced the other run they scored on a rough Sunday afternoon.
And now we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from Sunday’s loss.
Game 120, August 21: Brewers 5 at Cubs 2 (52-68)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Justin Steele (.346). 6IP (20 batters), 2H, BB, 9K
- Hero: Seiya Suzuki (.151). 3-3, HR, 2B, RBI, R, BB
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.060). 1-4, HR, RBI, R, 2K
- Billy Goat: Rowan Wick (-.194). IP (4 batters), H, BB, R, 2WP (L 3-6)
- Goat: Brandon Hughes (-.181). ⅓ IP (3 batters), H, R, 2K, WP
- Kid: Kervin Castro (-.122). IP (5 batters), H, BB, 2R, K
WPA Play of the Game: The Cubs were leading 2-1 with two outs in the seventh when Keston Hiura hit the first of his two homers to tie the game. (.201)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Ian Happ homered with two outs and the bases empty in the first to put the Cubs on top. (.103)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Somebody else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- David Robertson +22.5
- Nico Hoerner +20.5
- Christopher Morel +18
- Scott Effross +17
- Patrick Wisdom +12.5
- Daniel Norris/Frank Schwindel -9.5
- Yan Gomes -10
- Jason Heyward -15.5
- Rafael Ortega -16.5
Up Next: The Cardinals come to town for five games in four days. The Cardinals are the hottest team in baseball with seven straight wins. That ran their record to 69-51. They are five games clear of the Brewers atop the NL Central.
Jordan Montgomery (6-3, 3.29) starts for the Cardinals. Drew Smyly (5-6, 3.67) starts for the Cubs. The Cubs last lost a series August 2-4 when the Cardinals swept a three-game series in St. Louis. That streak will be challenging to continue, but the Cubs were 4-4 against the Cardinals prior to that last series. So it’s not totally unprecedented to hang with them.