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It’s AL Cy Young day: Let’s get ready to rumble

Nov 18, 2010, 9:30 AM EST

Seattle Mariners Photo Day Getty Images

A lot of us went nutso with our Felix Hernandez vs. CC Sabathia vs. David Price Cy Young arguments back in September. Then the playoffs happened and we got distracted for a while. But today, at 2PM Eastern, the Baseball Writers Association of America is going to name the winner of the AL Cy Young Award, and the argument will be reinvigorated.

Viva chaos!

For those of you who are sane and didn’t obsess on all of this a couple of months ago, here’s the tale of the tape:

  • Felix Hernandez:  He led the league in ERA and innings pitched, held opponents to a league-low batting average, finished second with 232 strikeouts and third with six shutouts. Many more sophisticated pitching metrics also favor Hernandez over all other American League starters. Because the Mariners had the worst offense since the advent of the Designated Hitter, however, Hernandez had the worst run support in the American League and ended up winning only 13 games.
  • CC Sabathia: Finished behind Hernandez in every significant pitching category except one — wins — in which he led the league with 21. In contrast to Hernandez, Sabathia enjoyed more run support than nearly every other pitcher in the American League.
  • David Price: Like Sabathia, Price was inferior to Hernandez in every important statistical category other than wins. Price also had fewer innings and wins than Sabathia, but had a better ERA and a slightly better strikeout rate. He allowed virtually the same number of baserunners per inning as Sabathia. He too enjoyed far better run support than did Hernandez.

While the debate about which of these gentlemen should win the award has been protayed as a battle between stat geeks and traditionalists with all of the usual name-calling that entails, there haven’t been many people making complex statistical arguments in Hernandez’s favor.  That is, unless you consider ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched and run support to be complex statistics.  Which would be ridiculous, frankly, because those are statistics even the most crusty of old school writers are quite capable of understanding and using, and they do so often.

But not here. In this case, those who don’t support Felix Hernandez have abandoned even those measures they typically use to judge a pitcher’s merits, and have focused on a single metric: wins.  As in, CC Sabathia and David Price have more, ergo they’re the better pitchers. As in, even if we all agree that Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher this year, he only had 13 wins, and you can’t win a Cy Young with 13 wins, can you?  Such arguments, while highly annoying to me on the level of analysis, are quite amusing to me on another level: it’s usually the traditionalists who deride the sabermetric guys for focusing on a single statistic and claiming that it settles all arguments. Here they’re the ones doing it. How delicious.

But for all of the vitriol that has been exchanged in the run-up to this award — and will continue to be exchanged after the winner is announced — I have this gut feeling that the actual voting results won’t be terribly close or controversial.  The loudest and most idiotic voices in this debate are not actually voting on it.  And among those in the know, there is a sense that the real voters actually favor Hernandez.  I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he wins it relatively comfortably.

But no matter who wins, I predict a 99.3% likelihood of partisans on both sides of the debate saying ridiculous things afterward, and that will totally make it worth it.

  1. BC - Nov 18, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    Vote for Kevin Millwood!!!
    Yes we can!

    • Utley's Hair - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:13 AM

      WOHOO!!!!!!! KMill all the way!!!!!!

  2. sdelmonte - Nov 18, 2010 at 9:42 AM

    I thought Derek Jeter was a shoo-in for this.

    • Panda Claus - Nov 18, 2010 at 10:44 AM

      I knew someone would beat me to this. After being shutout in those NL awards, Jeter might come back strong today.

  3. sknut - Nov 18, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    It will be a sad day if King Felix doesn’t win, it will show writers are out of touch with individual award winner criteria and rely on something that doesn’t really reflect how good Felix was this year. I also wonder what would happen if CC and Felix stat’s were swapped, I suspect there is some bias since Felix was on the west coast and some writers didn’t see enough of his starts where as CC was always on ESPN, Fox Etc…

  4. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 18, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    CC Sabathia: Finished behind Hernandez in every significant pitching category except one — wins — in which he led the league with 22.

    Actually there was another statistic CC was better than Hernandez, CC was far better at sitting on his butt while his players scored runs for him than King Felix was :)

  5. Ari Collins - Nov 18, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    Though they have no chance in this, since the sabers have rallied around Felix, there’s just as good (maybe better) cases to be made for Lee, Liriano, and Lester. Not that anyone who’s a proponent of those three is going to be that upset if Felix wins. Sabathia, on the other hand…

    • spindervish - Nov 18, 2010 at 10:50 AM

      I haven’t actually done any serious analysis on this, but I’m pretty sure you’re dead wrong. There is zero case for Lester over Felix, and I doubt you could mount any significant case for Lee or Liriano either (or Buchholz for that matter). Over Sabathia or Price? Maybe. But Felix was far and away the best pitcher in the league this season. The only real debate is over second place.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:17 AM

        Depends on which metric you want to use:

        fWAR:
        Lee
        Verlander
        Hernandez

        xFIP:
        Liriano
        Lee
        Hernandez

        FIP:
        Lee
        Liriano
        Verlander
        Hernandez

        Hernandez is close in most categories, but the huge advantage he has in IP (almost 25 more than Verlander in the non CC category) should play a role in voting.

      • Ace - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:19 AM

        Although I would vote for Felix too, just thought I’d play devil’s advocate: Lee absolutely blew away the field in K/BB ratio, led all AL pitchers in WHIP, ERC, DIPS, FIP, and WAR, and was second in xFIP (behind only Liriano, and ahead of Hernandez).

      • Ari Collins - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:27 AM

        Again, I’m not saying I agree with it, but fWAR actually had Lee nearly a full win AHEAD of Felix.

        There was a really good article (I think at Fangraphs) making the case for Lee, but I can’t seem to find it.

      • spindervish - Nov 18, 2010 at 3:04 PM

        Interesting article, thanks for that. I guess it’s not as open-and-shut as I assumed. I think I personally tend to be impressed by things like BAA, K rate and GB rate, all areas where Felix is superior to Lee. I’ve never been big on Lee…honestly I’ve been waiting for the roof to cave in for like 3 years now. I guess I should probably have come around by now. I just don’t think his stuff is particularly impressive and his success is entirely dependent on his ridiculous control, and I’ve seen way too many starts where hitters repeatedly took third-strike fastballs that seemed to be right down the middle at 90 mph. When people start swinging away, he gets lit up (e.g., most of the second half of 2010 and also the WS). But he was pretty extraordinary this year and I guess he wouldn’t have been the worst choice for the award.

    • Mark - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:19 AM

      Lee’s really the only guy who’s got an argument for beating out Felix. Lester gets beat out by Felix in pretty much every meaningful stat. Liriano has a decent argument, but the fact he threw 190 IP while Felix threw nearly 250 is just too big a gap to ignore.

      I wouldn’t be disappointed if Lee won because you could make a pretty good argument for him if you tried. He was outstanding this year, and the main argument I’d have in favour of Felix would once again be the innings gap. Lee threw 212 innings, which is a bit better than the gap between Felix & Liriano.

      I just don’t see how CC beats Felix. CC gets beat by Felix in K/9, BB/9, GB%, ERA, FIP, XFIP, WAR, innings pitched…really the only stat Sabathia beats Felix in is wins.

      I’m not someone who believes that any one stat, be it wins, FIP, or WAR should decide who the better player is. I may take FIP or WAR more seriously than wins, but that doesn’t mean that just because Felix has a better FIP he should automatically beat Sabathia. What I do believe, is that because Felix has the edge in so many significant stats, he should beat out CC. I don’t think it’s particularly close either.

      It’s a shame that all the attention went to Sabathia/Felix, because you’re right, it should be more about Liriano/Lee/Felix and not Felix/Sabathia.

      • Ari Collins - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:41 AM

        Couldn’t find the article I wanted, but here’s a good one anyway: http://itsaboutthemoney.net/archives/2010/11/17/preview-al-cy-young/

  6. Jonny 5 - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    So if Felix doesn’t win? When does the Witch hunt start? I almost hope CC wins at this point. I haven’t ben entertained by things baseball in awhile, that should be a quick fix.

  7. Utley's Hair - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    Wow, Craig…how did the Wanker ATM buy an extra win for CC?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:13 AM

      Oops! Thanks. I must be so seduced by “TEH WINS!!” that I gave him even more than he earned.

      • Utley's Hair - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:23 AM

        I didn’t know if they shook out the car cover he calls a uniform and an extra win fell out of the pocket or something.

        But I was watching Hot Stove on MLBNet last night and I found a topic for you to tackle in these lazy days of winter—top instances of Harold Reynolds’ idiocy. CC deserves the Cy Young over King Felix since he wasn’t afraid to give up homers and runs when he had huge leads?!?!? Really??? What a moron.

  8. yankeesfanlen - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    Mention anything even remotely concerning the Universe aound here and watch the pens fly!
    Let’s do “if….Then” If beep-beep the Jete wins a Gold Glove, THEN……

  9. thehollar - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    For fun, I actually matched up Sabathia’s runs allowed against Felix’s run support in his corresponding start number. Mariner Sabathia finished 2010 15-17.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 18, 2010 at 11:53 AM

      Even more fun is if you take Felix’s losses/ND and change his pitching to line to a 9IP, 0R allowed for each game, he only gains something like 3 wins because the Mariner’s feeble offense was shut out as well.

  10. apbaguy - Nov 18, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    I saw some pretty good pitching this year in the AL & NL West, and had a chance to see Vallejo native Sabathia throw also. For what it’s worth, and fortunately the numbers bear this out, the toughest pitcher for guys to hit was King Felix. I missed Lee at his best, seeing him mostly during his back problem days at Texas. But just from an eyeball and old time scouting type perspective I had the top 5 guys in terms of difficulty to hit as:

    1) King Felix-best velocity spread between pitches, best control of movement, tremendous durability, real maturity on the mound after a baserunner had reached (ie pitched out of trouble most effectively)
    2) Matt Cain- generally when he misses he misses up and gets hit hard. This year he didn’t miss nearly as often, and as a result, was more effective. Still not as effective out of the stretch as the windup
    3) Brett Anderson- for you East Coast guys, imagine Jon Lester with 1-2 more mph and a sharper break on his slider. Needs to develop more determination like Lester has done.
    4) Cliff Lee-best command, but is 5-7 mph less than the top 3
    5) Trevor Cahill-the White Rabbit will never see a BABIP like this again, but for this year, every grounder was right at somebody. And with the A’s infield, that spelled an out.

  11. docconan - Nov 18, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    Sooo… stats don’t lie?!? Take a look at Cy Young winners and you will see that non-20 game winners are the exception, not the rule. All stats are not created equal, which is why most Cy Young winners are 20 game winners. The exception being, years there was no 20-game winner, or non-20 game winner completely blew the field away, all things being equal. In the case of King Felix, yes he had an incredible year for a incredibly horrible team. Teams play every team in there division 18 times. Anyone on here, who would say that he faced, night in, night out, as tough a competition as CC Sabathia or David Price is a moron. CC/ Price gave up more runs yes, but the AL East averaged 109.4 runs per team than the AL West. The AL East had two 90+ (Yanks-95; Rays-96) game winning teams, an 89 and an 85 win Team win team. The Rangers had the 90 wins, no other team in the AL West had more than 81 wins. Yes, 81!!! When the Yankees come to town, teams get up for them; who gets up for the Mariners?!? So if you’re going to rely solely on the stats, then ask yourself this question, would Felix have had those same numbers if he had to face, The Yanks, Sox, Rays 18 times per year? No way, no how a righty in the AL East puts up those numbers. That’s why the stats don’t tell the whole story. When was there pressure on Felix to produce? To come through against a division opponent with something on the line? It didn’t exist for Felix all year. I’m not saying that Felix won’t win, nor am I saying that his stats don’t “show” that he was the best pitcher. I’m saying that you shouldn’t assume it’s a forgone conclusion that a guy with a 13-12 record is going to be the CY winner. What I am saying is stats lie, which is why since 1967, when MLB split into the two leagues, there have been 11 pitchers whom have won the AL Cy Young with fewer than twenty wins; 2 of them had 19, and 4 of them were closers. That leaves you with 5 guys since 1957 with less than 20. BTW, from 1956 to 1966, there were no CY winners with fewer than 20 wins.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 18, 2010 at 12:48 PM

      Can’t answer all the terrible comments in this post, but here’s one:

      No way, no how a righty in the AL East puts up those numbers.

      ’10 Opponents:
      Red Sox – 7.1IP – 1ER – 9K/1BB – W
      Yankees – 26IP – 1ER – 31K/8BB – 3W
      Rays – didn’t face
      Blue Jays – 8IP – 1ER – 5K/4BB – L
      Orioles – 16IP – 2ER – 23K/2BB – W

      total – 57.1IP – 5ER – 68K/15BB – 0.785 ERA – 4-1 with 1 ND

      yeah, he’d be terrible in the AL East

      • Utley's Hair - Nov 18, 2010 at 12:59 PM

        How dare you let the facts get in the way of a good rant!!!!

    • billtpa - Nov 18, 2010 at 12:49 PM

      Just for fun, check out how Felix actually did against the Yankees, the best offensive team in the league (who, of course, C.C. didn’t have to face, but he did get to face the *worst* offense in the league, while Felix did not).
      As I read this, you’re basically “arguing” that Cy Young voters have traditionally voted for guys who got a lot of wins. I’m pretty sure nobody’s going to contradict that one.

      • billtpa - Nov 18, 2010 at 12:50 PM

        aw, COTPO did all the work for you…

    • hackerjay - Nov 18, 2010 at 12:56 PM

      Quality of opponent is definitely important, but you can’t jsut say that since Sabathia played in the AL East that he faced stiffer competition unless you actually look at the games he pitched in. It’s not like he had to face the Red Sox 18 times…the Yankees did. Also, keep in mind that Sabathia pitched exactly zero games against the best hitting team in the AL, the Yankees.

      So when you actually do the research, you will see that Felix had 22 starts agains teams with a better then .500 record versus 12 starts against sub .500 teams. Sabathia was 18 vesus 16. King Felix had 12 starts against playoff teams versus CC’s 7 starts.

      Also, stats don’t lie. They can be misused, but they can’t lie unless they were recorded incorrectly. They are just a record of what happens in each game.

  12. Lukehart80 - Nov 18, 2010 at 12:46 PM

    My votes goes to Felix, but Jered Weaver has been REALLY overlooked in all of this. I don’t see his name anywhere, he seems likely to finish in 7th or 8th place, if he gets any votes at all. I would take his season over any of the AL East guys.

  13. pbannard - Nov 18, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    Ok, looking at Cy Young winners to determine who should win the Cy Young is a flawed concept – the same mistakes have been made in the past as could be made this year, and wins were overvalued in the past just like they may be this year. Secondly, when you cite the different competition that they faced, keep in mind that Sabathia faced the best offense in baseball all of 0 times that year – that’s because they were scoring tons of runs for him. Meanwhile, Hernandez had to face the Yankees three times. Sabathia pitched three times against one of the worst offenses in baseball history (the Mariners), while Hernandez never got to face them. Take away the Yankees and the Mariners from your calculation, and the AL East teams averaged 37 more runs than the AL West teams – a far cry from the 109.4 more you cite. Did Sabathia pitch with the pressure of a playoff situation while Felix did not? Certainly, but I can counter that by saying that Sabathia pitched with the comfort of a league leading 5.89 runs supporting him on average, while Hernandez pitched with the pressure of a league worst 3.07 runs supporting him.

  14. kmccoy9999 - Nov 18, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    Alright Felix Hernandez is a great pitcher. And probably the best in the AL if not baseball. The thing I find hypocritical is the stat heads say he leads in almosty all of the major categories and therefore should win the CY Young. They seem to fail to mention that he pitches half of his games in a pitchers’ paradise, just ask Adrian Beltre. His home park adjusted ERA goes up about a half run. Next he plays for a bad team, that even when they are winning have a hard time scoring runs, something he knew when he signed the big money extension. It is dishonest to say a person should not win an MVP if their team is not in contention, because their stas are meaningless, then we turn around, and for the 2nd year in a row, want to give the award to a player who pitched “all” meaningless games the entire year. When I was growing up a great pitcher was called a stopper. Meaning he would stop long losing streaks and righ this team for one day. Apparently the perceived best pitcher in the league can’t even do that. Hypocrisy rules.

    • Lukehart80 - Nov 18, 2010 at 1:08 PM

      I don’t think the people arguing for Felix are the same people making the “a person should not win the MVP if their team is not in contention” argument. You’ve created a straw-man to argue against.

      • kmccoy9999 - Nov 18, 2010 at 1:38 PM

        Lukehart you are correct. First of all the stat heads are not the ones typically voting for the awards. The MVP criteria I mentioned comes from those who vote for the awards. The stats heads are engaged in cyber/stat/technology bullying, basically telling the voters they are stupid if they do not choose Hernandez. My overall point is that we should have similar criteria throughout the awards process.

        One of the things I have also noted is whenever Yankee playeris are involved the criteria starts shifting. Differently said people start scuffling for rationale. Great example Pedroia winning an MVP on personality and Jeter finishing second twice because he was not as strong statistically as other candidates.

        If there was any consistency, they would put Bert Blyleven in the hall tomorrow, but they complain he does not have enough wins. And while Hernandez’ season was great how many times have we eliminated pitchers from consideration because of their teams performance. Just think after 20 years the could conceivable vote for Hernandez wit a lifetime record of 260-240, with 10 CY Yound awards. He would never get in.

        You know the old Line, “I’d like to thank my teammates for helping me win this award by not playing well and not scoring runs.”

      • Lukehart80 - Nov 18, 2010 at 4:20 PM

        I agree kmccoy, the standards should not change year to year. I don’t recall if it was Posnanski or some other great writer, but someone wrote last year that the guys voting on these awards are writers, so they pull for the best story. Sometimes that’s the masher with big power numbers, sometimes it’s the defensive wizard, sometimes it’s the guy who got hot in September. Voters should have consistent criteria, and the debate should be over which criteria is truly relevant.

  15. Chris Fiorentino - Nov 18, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    One thing I have to say on it is…seriously…”WHO CARES!!!” I mean, we all know voting is an absolute joke. You have writers who didn’t even put Heyward or Posey on their rookie of the year ballots. There’s always some dipshit who doesn’t vote for a guy in the hall of fame for one reason or another. WHO CARES WHAT THE WRITERS THINK???? They are buffoons, whether they vote for King Felix, CC, Lester, Price, or whoever.

    The day people stop lending credence to what these idiots think is the day they will change the way they do the voting. What the system needs is to have all objectivity removed. Base the awards on stats. Get everybody in a room and fight out which stats are used, and how they are weighted. After a long weekend debate, that is it. Cy Young goes to the pitcher whose total Cy Young stat is the highest. What’s a Cy Young stat? Well, (x times xFIP + y times Wins + z times K/9 + a times K/BB, etc, etc, etc.) That’s why they made computers in the first place, isn’t it? To spit out the winners of the baseball awards.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Nov 18, 2010 at 1:36 PM

      have all SUBJECTIVITY removed…LOL. Epic Fail!!!

  16. brianmatusz17 - Nov 18, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    does that mean we actually have a voter who voted for brian matusz,lmao???

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