Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Ban The Win Petition--A Lesson in Democracy

If you don't already follow MLB Network's Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) on Twitter I highly recommend it because, unlike me, he can make a point briefly and with great humor and understatement. I've written before on his quixotic #KillTheWin movement (to be precise, here, here and here)--in fact, the final one was just posted last Saturday and might have been missed over a busy holiday weekend. Kenny's primary point is that the win is a terrible measure with which to measure pitcher performance in general and award the Cy Young in particular. He's the latest in a long line of people to make that point, but how he makes it is still enjoyable to observe.

On Friday night Kenny put out this tweet:
Since I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball history I had to look up Nolan Ryan's numbers for 1987:
1987 40 HOU 8 16 .333 2.76 34 34 0 0 211.2 154 75 65 14 87 270 4 2 10 873 142 1.139 6.5 3.7 11.5 CYA-5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

The Astros were not good in 1987, dropping from 96 wins and a playoff appearance in 1986 to 76 wins. I will never defend an 8-16 record but his numbers certainly suggest that he pitched better than that, leading the NL in ERA, ERA+ and strikeouts with a ridiculous 11.5 strikeouts/9 innings--not bad for a 40-year-old man. I made a few pertinent contributions via tweet but generally just sat back and watched the interplay as I rewatched Season 5 of "The Wire."

It was on Saturday that I had my revelation. A week or so ago it was announced that Ben Affleck would portray Batman in the next installment of that blockbuster franchise. Whenever an announcement like that is made there will be those who think it's a terrible idea (remember the hue and cry when Jennifer Lawrence was announced as Katniss for "The Hunger Games"?) and someone showed their ire by doing what any sane-thinking American would do--placing a petition at We the People, a White House-sanctioned operation that promises any petition that receives 100,000 signatures in a month will be reviewed by the President. Who WOULDN'T do that--forget about Syria, the IRS and NSA discussions, we're talking BATMAN and continuing the proud lineage from Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale. Alas, the petition was eventually taken down.

But the kernel was planted in my mind--why didn't I establish a petition to right the grievous wrong that is the win? That's what I did, and it looked like this:
The win is an ineffective tool in pitcher evaluation, far outliving its usefulness as pitchers no longer pitch complete games. Focusing on wins as a method of pitcher effectiveness gives a distorted and inaccurate picture:
1. Pitchers can perform well and receive a loss or no decision through lack of run support or poor team defense
2. Pitchers can perform at a subpar level and receive a win if their team has excellent offense
3. Relief pitchers can record just one out and receive credit for a win.
Eliminate the win and develop more effective statistics to measure pitcher performance.
I figured I could marshal my Twitter Follower Army of 1,000+ strong and leverage it into a plan of action. I started with Brian Kenny and received this ringing endorsement in reply:

"Why not?"--movements have been built on less, and this isn't a movement, it's a CRUSADE. It took off slowly, but it was a Saturday on a holiday weekend, so I took the 8 signatures (including mine) as a sign--if we could maintain that momentum the petition would cross the 100,000 signature threshold in approximately 12,500 days, or sometime around November 21st, 2047, just a bit past the official deadline of September 30th, 2013.

I was watching the Cubs games on Sunday as they defeated the Phillies 7-1 and was slightly dozing when all of a sudden I heard words that were oddly familiar--it was Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper (@LenKasper) reading my petition on the air! His partner Jim Deshaies seemed less enthused, but publicity is publicity. That burst of publicity drove the number of signatures up to 34, making the new breakeven date September 19th, 2021--one  mention by Len and the day was dropped by over 26 years--maybe, just MAYBE this thing had a chance.

On Sunday evening I noticed that the signatures had creeped up to around 70 or so, moving the date to sometime in July 2019. Having no idea how that could have happened, I googled "Ban The Win" and saw this at Hardball Talk--a brief article referencing my petition (I tried to include a picture but it looks terrible--click the link if you want to read it). To say I was stunned is an understatement, and the interesting thing was that an item that had been posted at around 11 pm on a holiday weekend Saturday evening had already generated around 20+ comments.

As Labor Day Monday dawned I allowed myself some cautious optimism--maybe this could become a grass roots movement that gained traction. It looked like there were around 90 or so signatures, and then I received this tweet:

Brought down by THE MAN! Just like that, my hopes and dreams were quashed, and cruelest of all, on a Labor Day--MY labors had been in vain. I received an email from We the People:

As I was watching the Cubs game on Monday, Len Kasper drove the final nail in the coffin as he updated the audience on the demise of the petition. For a brief moment I had felt like I could make a difference and was harshly reminded that I was just another cog in the machine, and just like that, the Ban the Win petition, nay, MOVEMENT ended not with a bang but with a form email. "The petition was outside the scope of We the People"--that's just code from win supporters who do WHATEVER IT TAKES to keep the win as a stat. Apparently they've made the leap from ESPN all the way to the White House.

Just in case my style of writing hasn't made it plainly obvious that my tongue was lodged firmly in check throughout this entire exercise, be so advised now. I took two things that are jokes (the win and these pointless faux populist petitions that are nothing more than free and extremely biased polls) and mashed them up as satire. Most people got the joke, some didn't and in the end, it gave me a brief chuckle. 

But in no way does this reduce the farce that the extreme emphasis on the win is--Clayton Kershaw is having a historic year (and I'm not being hyperbolic with that statement) and yet had his one of his worst outings of the year on Monday and still received the win. Absent a complete drop-off in the last weeks of the season, Kershaw should be the hands-down NL Cy Young but his "so-so" record of 14-8 will give some voters pause. I hope you enjoyed this brief side trip from my usual type of post and take it for what it is--an illustration of the skewed thought process that goes through my mind and my non-stop attempts to communicate through a wide variety of channels and styles.

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