Earlier this week, I took a look at the races for the Most Valuable (offensive performance by a) Player (who is not a pitcher) Awards for both leagues, and where my votes would go if BBWAA had remembered to send me a ballot.
Now, on to the Cy Young Awards for each league. Only pitchers need apply. And for crying out loud, don’t you dare look at the Cy Young Predictor at ESPN. Yes, I know it was created by Bill James. Bill James wanted something that predicted the way that voters actually voted: using wins, saves, and ERA (Like, LOL!). Surely even Da Vinci drew a picture of a clown at some point.
By the way, Cy Young ballots actually only have three places on them, but I prefer the MVP-style 10 man ballot. Anyone know why there’s a difference?
How do we determine value in a pitcher? Well, let’s start off with Baseball Prospectus’ VORP ratings for pitchers. Then, let’s look at the three things that a pitcher can control: walks and strikeouts (K/BB ratio) and home runs (HR/9 innings). Finally, even though it’s not a good idea to do this, let’s look at win probability added (WPA) by each pitcher. The problem is that WPA for pitchers says that everything that happens on the field is the responsibility of the pitcher, leaving out the contributions of the defense, but it’s a decent rough marker.
Let’s look at who’s in the Top 10 on more than one of these lists.
C.C. Sabathia, Johan Santana, Fausto Carmona, Josh Beckett, Erik Bedard, Roy Halladay, Rafael Betancourt, J.J. Putz, Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria (yeah, that’s right, Joakim Soria). Others who will get consideration for all the wrong reason include Daisuke Matsuzaka (because he’s Japanese, which writers often confuse with “good”), Chien-Ming Wang (plays in Yankee Stadium), and Kelvim Escobar/John Lackey (because apparently the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim, California near Los Angeles made the playoffs, and thus, need to have a representative… not that those two have been bad pitchers mind you…)
Betancourt isn’t one of those magical “closers” which apparently means that he’s not a good pitcher, so he won’t get more than a handful of votes. Betancourt is second overall in WPA (behind Putz), 9th in home runs allowed, and has the best K/BB ratio in the AL among those with more than 60 IP. What’s (tragically) funny is that Betancourt’s teammate Joe Borowski, who has been far inferior to Betancourt this year, will get consideration based on leading the AL in saves. Pardon me while I bang my head on the desk.
Staying on the Indians kick, VORP has Carmona in 2nd, with C.C. in first. (Side note as an Indians fan getting ready for the playoffs: Awwww yeah….) In K/BB ratio, Sabathia trails only Betancourt, Mariano Rivera, and J.J. Putz.
Speaking of Putz, he’s 2nd in K/BB and 1st in WPA, but comes in 26th in VORP (which admittedly is unkind to relievers because they face fewer batters… Betancourt is 23rd). Putz also comes in 34th in HR rate. (In fairness, Sabathia comes in 17th and Carmona is in 28th.)
This is a tight one, and I can see an honest first-place vote going to Putz. But, in a tight race (C.C. vs. J.J.?), my bias is toward a starter that breaks into the top ten of a category, K/BB, usually dominated by relievers. The fact that the most logical choice plays on a team that I’ve spent 20 years of my life rooting for never hurts. My non-existent first place vote goes to C. C. Sabathia.
Santana won it last year, and I must repeat, he is not having a bad year. Yes, he’s gone 15-13, and that’s near .500. If you were thinking of using that argument, please read this. It’s the same reason that Josh Beckett shouldn’t be handed the award just because he has 20 wins. Bedard and Halladay are both having fantastic years on irrelevant teams. Putz, Papelbon, and Nathan are elite relievers. Soria probably surprised some people by his inclusion. He gives up very few HR (5th on that list), and is 8th on the WPA charts. He’s another guy who is not the best pitcher in the American League, but maybe deserves a little love from the voters since they have to pick a top ten. He won’t get any because he plays in Kansas City.
My ballot: Sabathia, Putz, Carmona, Beckett, Santana, Bedard, Betancourt, Papelbon, Nathan, Halladay, and an 11th place honorable mention to Soria.
Let’s round up some candidates, shall we? Same method as above.
Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Brad Penny, Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Roy Oswalt, Aaron Harang, Chris Young, Brandon Lyon, Carlos Marmol, Heath Bell, Takashi Saito. Others who will get consideration for all the wrong reasons include Carlos Zambrano (after all, he signed that big contract) and Francisco Cordero (because he collected a lot of saves), and Billy Wagner (ditto).
Peavy is first in VORP, first in WPA (by a lot!), 13th in K/BB, and 10th in HR allowed. Jake Peavy is running away with the NL Cy Young. The trophy should be sent over to the engravers now.
Penny is 2nd in VORP, 6th in WPA, and 9th in HR allowed, but his K/BB is in the middle of the league. Webb is just behind Penny in VORP, WPA, and HR, but carries a higher K/BB. Hudson is generally slightly behind Webb. Smoltz and Oswalt are generally behind Hudson, with the notable exception of Smoltz still having an excellent K/BB ratio.
If you want to see something fun, go to Google and type in “Aaron Harang” “Cy Young”. Harang is one of those guys who makes a fantastic Roto league pick. Last year, he led the NL in strikeouts and wins and didn’t get a vote for the 2006 CYA. This year, the residents of Cincinnati are campaigning to get Harang a little recognition. I sympathize with a really good pitcher whom no one knows exists among general baseball fans, and Harang is top ten in VORP, WPA, and K/BB, but I’m not on the “Aaron Harang is the best pitcher in baseball” bandwagon. He’s in the range of “really good”, and if the Cy Young had ten ballot places, he would be in one of mine. But, he’s not quite that good. Again, I know he’s 16-4, but won-loss record isn’t much of a barometer of pitcher quality. It tells me much more about a team’s quality than anything. Sorry Cincy.
Chris Young’s BABIP this year is .242. He’s gotten lucky.
And now the relievers. Lyon. Bell. Marmol. The number of saves that those three have combined for this year? Five. Two for Lyon, two for Bell, one for Marmol. Yet, of the four relievers that my method has identified, only one of them (Saito) collects saves for a living. Bell and Marmol rate ahead of Saito in VORP. All three set-up guys are top 10 in HR allowed. Saito isn’t even Top 30. Saito does kick butt on K/BB (1st in the league) and is second to Peavy in WPA (Bell is 3rd, Lyon is 8th, Marmol is 9th). It’s at least in the realm of reasonable statements to say that the NL’s top reliever is not a closer at all, and depending on where you want to put Saito, maybe the top three! Saito’s BABIP is a ridiculously low .219, which means that his uppance shall come. I’d put Bell in front of Saito, with Lyon and Marmol trailing closely behind, but feel free to re-arrange as you see fit).
My ballot: Peavy, Penny, Webb, Bell, Saito, Hudson, Smoltz, Oswalt, Harang, Marmol.
So StatSpeak endorses Jake Peavy and C.C. Sabathia. Let’s see how many voters read StatSpeak.