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Could Felix Hernandez win the Cy Young for the wrong reasons?

Oct 5, 2010, 2:07 PM EDT

I’ve written more stuff about the American League Cy Young Award race than I ever wanted to, but the arguments keep going on, and I’m nothing if not a guy who likes to argue, so . . .

The latest incarnation is not about the award itself. It’s about the debates about the award (set phasers for “meta!”). Check out Tom Verducci’s awards column yesterday in Sports Illustrated in which he said:

will win this award fairly comfortably, a measurement of not only how
wins are better understood but also how fast and wide groupthink travels
these days.

To be clear: Verducci himself supports Hernandez, as he thinks he was the most outstanding pitcher. But he’s saying that many other voters who vote for Hernandez will be doing so — not because, like him, they decide he was the best pitcher — but because they’re easily manipulated people who were either tricked or brainwashed or browbeaten or shamed into doing so. 

I know a lot of you tire of the scouts vs. stats debates, but at least this is new wrinkle: Screw both the Sabtahia backers and the Hernandez backers! Only Tom Verducci and a few brave, like-minded men see things clearly here! You’re either wrong or are doing the right thing because you’re sheeple!

I hope Verducci is wrong about the groupthink thing. Because, really, I’d hate it if members of the BBWAA are so spineless that they can be forced into going against their own instincts simply because some statheads make fun of them. I disagree with the Sabathia/Price backers, but I’d hope they wouldn’t back down because they are worried about being ridiculed or something. Take your position and stand up for it, for God’s sake.

But I really hope he’s wrong because Verducci’s whole “I’m doing the right thing for the right reasons, but many will do the right thing for the wrong reasons” brand of commentary is kind of obnoxious. It’s certainly way worse than the whole “I’m right, you’re wrong, nyah nyah!” thing everyone has been complaining about.

  1. birdmancometh - Oct 5, 2010 at 2:18 PM


  2. NicoSamuelson2 - Oct 5, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    I used to like Tom Verducci, but now I don’t read him thatbecause his writing gets put down by writers like more, like Craig, Keith and Poz, and I would rather think what they want me to think. I think.

  3. NicoSamuelson2 - Oct 5, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    *missed a “much” between ‘that’ and ‘because.’

  4. Mark Armour - Oct 5, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    Of course Verducci is right. To some extent I think there has always been groupthink in awards voting. A couple of recent examples I can think of — Mo Vaughn and Ken Caminiti, players having good years who were swept to easy awards because a narrative developed late in the season. It was absolutely groupthink–not bunch of people independently arriving at the same answer.
    In the case of Felix, something similar is going on. The Felix bandwagon got going in August, long before the candidates were even finished accumulating their value. The difference between the top candidates is much less than many of Felix’s supporters acknowledge. I would support Felix, I think, though I would probably look into further than I have.

  5. Mark Armour - Oct 5, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    And Tom Verducci is a wonderful writer, in any way you might use the term.

  6. Chris Fiorentino - Oct 5, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    Now you are complaining about WHY they are voting?? So it isn’t enough to just vote for Felix Hernandez. You BETTER be voting for him for the RIGHT reasons…because all the “non-win” stats point toward him. Don’t you DARE vote for Felix because of the groundswell of support. If you like wins better, you had BETTER vote for CC because he had the most wins. Stop beating the dead horse already…it’s playoff time. Your boys made the post season. Relax, sit back, and eat a 5-way chili.

  7. zac - Oct 5, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    If you’re not paying attention, I can certainly see how it can seem like the debate has turned into a false dichotomy of Murry Chass types shouting “Wins are the only thing that matter!” and sabermetric types shouting “Anyone who thinks wins mean anything at all are troglodytes!” I for one wish both sides would consider the four or five good candidates other than Sabathia and Hernandez.

  8. Buccofan - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    I’m not sure if there are any chili parlors in Columbus. There was a Skyline on High Street near OSU, don’t know if it’s still there.

  9. Craig Calcaterra - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    There’s a Skyline a couple of miles from my house. Lots of them sprinkled in the ‘burbs, actually. I can’t stand the vile crap, however, so I never eat there.

  10. Craig Calcaterra - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    I just take issue with the frame game Verducci is playing here: “I’m voting for Felix because I have assessed his value an found him to be worthy. Others who do so are engaged in groupthink.” No winning no matter who you vote for, I guess.

  11. Mr. Heyward - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    You mean like Hernandez?

  12. IdahoMariner - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:21 PM

  13. Mark Armour - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    In the quoted material, Verducci seems to be saying that are two things going on–the devaluaton of the wins metric, and groupthink–and both of these things will get Hernandez the award. I believe Verducci is correct. Perhaps it would be better if someone else had said it, but I am pretty sure he is right.
    This debate is also not as new as people think. I recall (because I am old) when Ron Bryant won 24 games in 1973, the only NL 20 game winner. There was much hue and cry throughout the late summer (in SI and TSN) about this, and how he really didn’t seem to be pitching as well as Tom Seaver. Seaver won the award, and there were some protests from Giants writers I recall.

  14. IdahoMariner - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    okay, I meant to add to that link but got distracted…
    Poz took much the same exception…mostly along the lines of Craig’s “I hope they wouldn’t back down because they are worried about being ridiculed or something” take.
    Also, I don’t get the people who think supporting Felix is a dis on CC — most of the writers I’ve read and the people I’ve talked to acknowledge that CC (and the other close candidates) are in fact, having excellent years and are justifiably in the mix — but that Felix is the best pitcher of the group. that’s not a “loss” for the other pitchers.

  15. yuazda - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    IF that was the point Tom was trying to make, it would be no different than the sabermetric argument that the “good ol’ boy” groupthink that exists among sportswriter circles leads to an aversion to considering anything but traditional statistics (and if you try to claim that this is NOT an argument being made on a daily basis, you are lying or delusional).
    Anyway, I think what Tom was trying to say was that the general consensus among writers seems to have shifted from Sabathia/Price et al to King Felix in a surprisingly short period of time. I don’t think anyone who has paid attention to awards voting for the past few decades would disagree with there being massive groupthink every year (see the reaction to Law’s 2nd place Vazquez vote last year).

  16. Craig Calcaterra - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    I don’t have a problem with who’s saying it. Verducci is pretty sharp, I think. I just took the “groupthink” comment as an unfair swipe at the other voters. Can’t we allow for the possibility that a lot of mainstream people — maybe a lot more than the volume of the media debate suggests — actually think a lot more rationally about wins and stuff these days than they used to? The term “groupthink” means that people are subscribing to a certain orthodoxy than they may have if they thought rationally. Is that what he thinks is going on? Are the younger voters in the pool who support Hernandez unthinking minions? Are the older ones who do so spineless?

  17. Fecteau - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    If we’re talking about these three pitchers, I sure hope Felix Hernandez wins over Price or Sabathia… But if Felix doesn’t win, I have two words for you…
    Clay had an ERA just as good as Felix, (only .06 ERA difference) while pitching in a crappy league in a HUGE stadium. Clay did this in a smaller stadium in the AL East, the strongest division in baseball… With a 17-7 record, he deserves as much to be in the conversation as Price and CC… Price was a full .4 ERA higher and Sabathia was .85 higher…

  18. RichardInBigD - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    WHAT?!? One of my fondest memories of my time at UD was all the times we closed Timothy’s on Brown St. and loaded up on Skyline for the walk, er, stumble back to campus. A spaghetti with chili cheese and onions, and 2 of those cute little chili cheese dogs after drinking heavily and before going to bed would mitigate most hangovers at least a level or two (or so we thought). The only time it was vile stuff was when it didn’t make it all the way home still inside us…

  19. Mark Armour - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    I agree with what you say. When I read Verducci’s comment I thought he was suggesting both factors, groupthink being the one he mentioned second. Where I would disagree with Verducci is his implication that groupthink is new. I will not attempt to compare groupthink across eras, but I think there has always been a lot of it in the baseball media. One can make a case that Orlando Cepeda was the best player in the NL in 1967 (though it would not be easy), but the notion that 20 voters unanimously arrived at this conclusion independently is laughable.

  20. Panda_Claus - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    When Hernandez wins the award we’ll hear both sides continue to argue whether or not he should have one. I’ve reconcile that he will win it this year not because he deserves it, but you could argue he was ripped off last year. If nothing else, this is a “make up” for last year’s injustice. And maybe Price will get the award next year for this year’s injustice.
    I realize his season-long pitching stats make a great case for Hernandez to win, but it makes you wonder why Hernandez didn’t pitch his scheduled start on Sunday to cement down the award. 14-12 sounds better than 13-12 (the identical record to Jered Weaver, whom had very similar stats to FH in several key categories). Will this go down as another case of someone winning the award because he didn’t want to lose it on the last day of the season (how could a 13-13 record win, oh the humanity)? We’ve read about batting leaders that have sat down the final game or two so they wouldn’t lose their batting crowns. It just seems strange to “sit” on a 13-12 record.
    David Price also skipped his scheduled start on Sunday, but at least you can understand since he’ll be leading his team into the postseason. Maybe the Mariners just didn’t want to win any more games and jeopardize their draft position like they did in 2008 (Strasburg Sweepstakes).

  21. yuazda - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    Or how about Cliff Lee? A 2.58 FIP and an insane 10.28 K/BB ratio. His strand rate was also 10% lower than Felix. Yet the Felix camp steadfastly refuses to acknowledge any other candidates. That’s where the groupthink really sets in.

  22. scatterbrian - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    that stuff ain’t chili

  23. scatterbrian - Oct 5, 2010 at 4:04 PM

    Tom has a valid point. The line between CC and Felix was drawn in the sand back in August, which essentially became wins vs. peripherals/advanced stats. And most people who have championed advanced stats have backed Felix, but he’s certainly is not the clear choice. Cliff Lee has a comparable xFIP and a higher WAR. Liriano has a lower xFIP and his WAR is just .2 lower than Felix. Verlander has a higher WAR. Lester has a comparable xFIP and WAR. Weaver’s WAR was only .3 lower than Felix’s.

  24. scatterbrian - Oct 5, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    Felix pitched 249.7 innings and faced 1001 batters. Both of those numbers led the American League and established career highs for Felix at age 24. You’re seriously claiming that he pulled himself out in order to avoid that Murderer’s Row in Oakland and preserve his record? Had nothing to do with the M’s being precautionary? That’s nuts.

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