Purple Row Awards: AL Cy Young

So as you've seen, the Purple Row staff has all voted on the major BBWAA awards for the 2010 season. Because of all the in-site discussion we've had regarding the NL postseason (considering Ubaldo Jimenez' season and Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez' strong finishes), it was actually a pleasure to review the American League to see the cream rise to the crop.

Pitching, every year, is such a debacle. There's a million things to judge pitchers by, and a million things to gauge a pitcher's season by. I'd like to take way too many words and discuss some of these criteria.

There's the old favorite metric to judge pitchers by, Pitching Wins. It's a metric that holds its roots in history, starting back when pitchers were expected to pitch an entire game, and outdueling your opponent had far more meaning than it does anymore. Nowadays, more starters are on 100ish pitch counts, given ceilings on innings in a season, and when you factor in the impact of having a strong bullpen in the modern game of baseball, you basically don't have the same one-on-one impact that pitching wins imply. There's a lot of correlation between good pitchers and high win totals, but all too often we'll find that win totals can be inflated by a strong team. Regardless, a lot of people with voting influence still put a lot of weight into the pitching win.

The next obvious metric to choose for voting is ERA. Typically, ERA is a pretty decent metric by which to judge a season. Runs allowed tend to tell a story of a season. As with anything, there are caveats that can sway an ERA (park effects, strong defense, magic juju), but as a general rule, low ERAs tend to follow good pitching.

If you're not a fan of run metrics, there's always accumulated stats and peripherals too look at. Innings pitched can be a decent point to look at, because no terrible pitcher is going to really make it through the 6th or 7th inning 30 times a season. But Livan Hernandez and Kevin Millwood do in fact exist, and Dusty Baker is lurking out there somewhere, so IP obviously isn't the end-all. What about pure strikeout totals? Typically they'll run alongside a high strikeout rate (duh) and inning totals. Combine a low walk rate (which will help that innings pitched total as well as provide context for strikeout totals) and a low homer rate (which will help keep that ERA low), and you not only have yourself an excellent pitcher, but a convenient bridge to yet another means of evaluating pitching.

SABR stats! You guessed it, SABR stats. Whether or not the metrics I'll suggest here are actually put forth by the Society for American Baseball Research, they do fall into that category purely based on the fact that they're American, Baseball-related, well-Researched, and I suppose there's a Society involved there somewhere. Anyhow, I'll make this brief. There are a lot of analysts who don't believe that Wins tell much of anything and that ERA is too defense-dependent to really indicate who the best pitcher was. There's a lot of round-and-round debate over how these metrics should be used, but essentially speaking, FIP and xFIP (and by extension, WAR) take a combination of pitcher peripherals (strikeouts, walks, home runs, and innings pitched) and package them into a neat number that looks an awful lot like ERA. Some analysts will swear by them, others will use them as a barometer of how trustworthy an ERA is, and others still will dismiss them as voodoo and witchcraft.

Join us past the jump and we'll take a look at the AL Cy Young candidates and how they stacked up in these various categories.

The first category we'll touch on is pitching wins. Here is the leaderboard:

Name

Team

W

CC Sabathia

Yankees

21

David Price

Rays

19

Jon Lester

Red Sox

19

Trevor Cahill

Athletics

18

Justin Verlander

Tigers

18

Phil Hughes

Yankees

18

Clay Buchholz

Red Sox

17

Carl Pavano

Twins

17

Ervin Santana

Angels

17

Gio Gonzalez

Athletics

15

C.J. Wilson

Rangers

15

John Danks

White Sox

15

Matt Garza

Rays

15

Brett Cecil

Blue Jays

15

Francisco Liriano

Twins

14

Ricky Romero

Blue Jays

14

John Lackey

Red Sox

14

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

13

Jered Weaver

Angels

13

Shaun Marcum

Blue Jays

13

So far, it looks like CC Sabathia is the obvious choice for the AL Cy Young. David Price and Jon Lester aren't bad choices, and Trevor Cahill could make himself a strong case, accumulating 18 wins while playing for an offensively starved team. Hitting and breaking that 20-win mark is going to make a strong case for Sabathia, considering the weight of the pitching win in the mind of many a voter. It might be an inflated win total, given the Yankees were the run-scoringest team in the majors. Same goes for Phil Hughes. Let's try and back these cases up with some stronger numbers.

Name

Team

ERA

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

2.27

Clay Buchholz

Red Sox

2.33

David Price

Rays

2.72

Trevor Cahill

Athletics

2.97

Jered Weaver

Angels

3.01

Cliff Lee

- - -

3.18

CC Sabathia

Yankees

3.18

Gio Gonzalez

Athletics

3.23

Jon Lester

Red Sox

3.25

C.J. Wilson

Rangers

3.35

Justin Verlander

Tigers

3.37

Max Scherzer

Tigers

3.5

Dallas Braden

Athletics

3.5

Francisco Liriano

Twins

3.62

Definitely a change in the playing field there. Suddenly the 13-game-winning "King" Felix Hernandez leaps into the lead, with David Price, Trevor Cahill, and CC Sabathia bolstering their win totals with solid run prevention efforts. But as we talked about earlier, there may be more to the picture than simply wins and ERA. Tropicana Field played as somewhat of a pitchers park, Yankee Stadium roughly even, and Oakland as a slightly more extreme pitchers' park than Tampa. Those things can help deflate a pitcher's ERA, given large outfields and difficulty in launching a ball over the fence. Maybe we should look at peripherals.

Name

Team

IP

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

249.2

CC Sabathia

Yankees

237.2

Jered Weaver

Angels

224.1

Justin Verlander

Tigers

224.1

Ervin Santana

Angels

222.2

Carl Pavano

Twins

221

Zack Greinke

Royals

220

John Lackey

Red Sox

215

John Danks

White Sox

213

Cliff Lee

- - -

212.1

Fausto Carmona

Indians

210.1

Mark Buehrle

White Sox

210.1

Ricky Romero

Blue Jays

210

Jeremy Guthrie

Orioles

209.1

David Price

Rays

208.2

Jon Lester

Red Sox

208

Matt Garza

Rays

204.2

C.J. Wilson

Rangers

204

James Shields

Rays

203.1

Colby Lewis

Rangers

201

Gio Gonzalez

Athletics

200.2

Trevor Cahill

Athletics

196.2

Again, the picture changes. Sort of. Felix Hernandez has posted the lowest ERA in the American League and done it over the most innings as well. Nearly a run lower than the next highest inning load, CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez is starting to present a compelling case for himself. So what about strikeout rate, that's a big deal, right? Well, yes, but it's almost more important to put those strikeouts in the proper context, meaning a strikeout-to-walk ratio. Both are a big deal. Strikeouts are the most defense-independent means of producing outs, so pitchers who get those high strikeout numbers are typically more effective than their counterparts. However, some of those strikeout-getting pitchers also give up a lot of the free pass, nullifying some of their effectiveness. So strikeout-to-walk ratio is pretty important.

Name

Team

K/9

K/BB

Jon Lester

Red Sox

9.74

2.71

Francisco Liriano

Twins

9.44

3.47

Jered Weaver

Angels

9.35

4.31

Justin Verlander

Tigers

8.79

3.08

Colby Lewis

Rangers

8.78

3.02

Max Scherzer

Tigers

8.46

2.63

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

8.36

3.31

James Shields

Rays

8.28

3.67

David Price

Rays

8.11

2.38

Cliff Lee

- - -

7.84

10.28

Scott Baker

Twins

7.82

3.44

Gio Gonzalez

Athletics

7.67

1.86

Shaun Marcum

Blue Jays

7.6

3.84

C.J. Wilson

Rangers

7.5

1.83

CC Sabathia

Yankees

7.46

2.66

Well, just looking at K/BB, Cliff Lee is the absolute Mack Daddy of the American League. That 10.28 K/BB is the kind of number reserved for relief pitchers, for example, Rafael Betancourt or Edward Mujica, the only two PITCHERS in BASEBALL to have a higher K/BB than Cliff Lee - at least as far as qualified IP shows. That isn't to say that a K/BB of over 10 is necessary for a pitcher to be absolutely dominant, but it should be noted that in baseball HISTORY, no starter who started over 27 games has posted a K/BB higher than Cliff Lee. In fact, only 5 other pitchers, PERIOD, posted a higher single-season K/BB higher than Cliff Lee. Observe:

Rk 

Player 

SO/BB 

Year 

Tm 

1

Dennis Eckersley

18.33

51

1989

OAK

2

Dennis Eckersley

18.25

63

1990

OAK

3

Mariano Rivera

12.83

64

2008

NYY

4

Edward Mujica

12

59

2010

SDP

5

Rafael Betancourt

11.13

72

2010

COL

6

Koji Uehara

11

43

2010

BAL

7

Cliff Lee

10.28

28

2010

SEA/TEX

Not only is Cliff Lee the only starting pitcher to post so high of a K/BB, it speaks to how strong of a "Year of the Pitcher" 2010 was, considering that 4 of the top 7 pitchers in K/BB who appeared in 27 or more games were this year. Words cannot describe. What's amusing is if we drop the search criteria to over 10 K/BB, only one additional pitcher adds his name to the list: Wilton Lopez of the Houston Astros posted a 10.00 K/BB over 67 innings in 68 appearances in the 2010 season. If we drop the criteria again to a K/BB over 9.00 and keep the minimum appearances requirement, the list expands to 15, and we add another starter to the list (Curt Schilling, 2002, 35GS, 23-7, 259.1IP, 3.23 ERA, 9.58 K/BB; how that man didn't win the Cy Young is beyo- oh right Randy Johnson).

Part of me wants to hand the award right over to Cliff Lee, just based on this unprecedented dominance, but Jered Weaver's 4.31 K/BB is still downright elite, and posting a 3.00+ K/BB is pretty great still. If we raised the bar of efficiency-based dominance to a K/BB over 9, there would be 2 pitchers in history who could REALLY win the Cy Young award, right? There has to be more to the voting.

Last metric, FIP. There's some debate on whether to use FIP or xFIP when evaluating pitcher performance over a season. For the sake of this evaluation, I'm going to use FIP. I feel it's a strong evaluator of "this is what the pitcher did" as opposed to "this is the level we can expect of them going forward". I know I'm oversimplifying the intricacies of xFIP, but this article has gone on long enough and we're hungry for results.

Your AL FIP leaderboard:

Name

Team

ERA

FIP

Cliff Lee

- - -

3.18

2.58

Francisco Liriano

Twins

3.62

2.66

Justin Verlander

Tigers

3.37

2.97

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

2.27

3.04

Jered Weaver

Angels

3.01

3.06

Jon Lester

Red Sox

3.25

3.13

Zack Greinke

Royals

4.17

3.34

David Price

Rays

2.72

3.42

Gavin Floyd

White Sox

4.08

3.46

CC Sabathia

Yankees

3.18

3.54

Given the emphasis on strikeouts, walks, and homers in FIP's formulation, it makes sense that Cliff Lee would be at the top of the board. What is also interesting is the ERA-FIP discrepancies. Most of the pitchers represented by this leaderboard have an ERA inflated from their FIP, which can be the product of once again, defense, poor batted-ball luck, park effects, and of course magic juju. The real standouts though are Felix Hernandez and David Price (and to a lesser extent, CC Sabathia), who have ERAs well deflated from what their FIP would suggest. Blame the ballpark, blame the defense, whatever, but these guys probably didn't pitch QUITE as well as their ERA suggest. Maybe somewhere halfway between FIP and their actual ERA, I don't know. It could be an interesting discussion point.

So finally, the actual winners of this award. Excellent work, reader, slogging through all of these 2000 words. The reason I attempted to break all of these metrics down was not to build to the "SABR perfection" as it could appear, given my known slants and such, but rather to illustrate some of the major elements that should be taken into account when attempting to pick one player above the rest. I'm sure that the 7 staff members voting on the AL postseason took any number of metrics and criteria to mind when making their decisions, and I'm sure we all voted in different directions. Sort of.

Your final tally for the AL Cy Young Award:

Name

Votes

Felix Hernandez

21

Cliff Lee

8

David Price

4

CC Sabathia

4

Francisco Liriano

3

Justin Verlander

1

Jered Weaver

1

So congratulations to Felix Hernandez, who, by Purple Row's voting standards, wins the 2010 American League Cy Young Award.

Ed: Full Voting

 

Russ Jeff Fish Mart Bryan Silverblood Greg
Hernandez Hernandez Hernandez Hernandez Hernandez Hernandez Hernandez
Lee Lee Sabathia Lee Price Price Lee
Liriano Verlander Liriano Weaver Sabathia Sabathia Liriano
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