My 2008 Cy Young ballot

Last week, we talked about the MVP award and I made clear my preference that MVP voting not include pitchers.† They have their own award.† Here it is.† Not everyone agrees with that, but res gustae non deliberandae sunt.† (Matters of taste need not be argued.)† So, we turn now to the question of who has been the best pitcher in each league.
Like with my MVP ballot, I’m going to be using statistics that are a bit more advanced for pitchers.† Right now, in the AL race, people are swooning over Cliff Lee’s 20 wins and K-Rod’s five billtion saves.† We’re going to go a bit deeper than that.† So, like my MVP ballot, I’m using four categories: VORP, WPA, WPA/LI, and K/BB ratio as my benchmarks.†††In order to be on the short-list you have to†be in the top ten on two of those stats.†
(Note: I realize that this is a little unfair to relievers, because VORP is heavily dependent on playing time.† Starters who pitch 200 innings have an advantage over relievers who pitch 70.† Then, there’s the fact that most good relievers make their living off of high leverage situations, so deflating their WPA contributions by dividing by LI is robbing them of some of their mojo.† However, relievers generally dominate K/BB and can leverage a great deal of WPA out of their short stays in a game.)
Let’s see what happens, first in the American League.† And the nominees are:
Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Ervin Santana, John Danks, Justin Duch… the guy from the A’s, James Sheilds, Jeremy Guthrie, Mariano Rivera, Josh Beckett, Joakim Soria.
Let’s start out with the obvious.† Francisco Rodriguez is not on the list.† I know, he had all those saves.† But saves don’t tell you much more than when a pitcher pitched and what sort of team he pitched for.† Note that I’m not anti-reliever.† Mariano Rivera and Joakim Soria make the ballot.† A note on Rivera.† He leads the league in K/BB and it’s not even funny.† He’s striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings and walking fewer than one for a K/BB ratio in excess of 12!† Jonathan Papelbon, who sadly doesn’t get nominated, at least should get a mention for being just beind Rivera in this category with the same basic profile.
It’s pretty well understood that the real AL Cy Young will go to Cliff Lee.† (side note: yay!)† But should it?† Lee leads the league in VORP and raw WPA.† But, he’s behind Roy Halladay in WPA/LI (RH is first, Lee 2nd) and K/BB (RH 4th, Lee 5th).† And Halladay is second in the league in VORP and raw WPA.† In other words, they are neck and neck.† I find it funny that while Lee is considered a runaway winner, Halladay isn’t really getting much mention.† Yes, Lee won 22 games on a team that might make it to .500.† That’s pretty impressive no matter how you slice it.† Halladay’s problem is that he didn’t win 20 games (which makes one a much better pitcher than winning 19) and that because he’s been†putting†up amazing numbers†for the last 4-5 years, he’s not a “story” like Lee.† Halladay deserves better.† Lee’s FIP is slightly lower, and on that tie-break, I’m giving him my first place vote.† But please, this is not Cliff Lee smashing the competition.† This is Lee just eeking out.† Halladay should get more press for his season and if justice (or at least Terry Pendleton) is served, a few first place votes as well.
Ervin Santana is the only one to make all four charts beside Lee and Halladay, so he gets third place.† Three players make three top-10 lists: James Shields (take that Scott Kazmir!), Mariano Rivera, and Joakim Soria.† Rivera gets the top spot in this tier (4th†overall)†because of his amazing K/BB work and because he’s Mariano Rivera.† Soria vs. Shields gets into the debate of whether†a good starter or a good reliever is more valuable.† (Hi there, Joba!)† Yes, starters face more batters, but relievers face more important batters.† I still err on the side of going for the starter, for the reason that I think that the reason that there’s the “cult of the savior” is that closers pitch more anxiety ridden plate appearances.† Anxiety makes everything look bigger than it is.
Among the rest, Danks, Duke, Guthrie (really?), and Beckett… well there are only three slots on the Cy Young ballot (but ten for MVP… someone please explain), so the voting would never get down this far.† What went “wrong” with last year’s this-is-an-outrage-he-should-have-won-it candidate, Josh Beckett, this year?† His K and BB rates are nearly identical to last year, but he’s given up a lot of line drives this year.† Order them however you like.
In the National League, the nominees are: Lincecum, Santana, Sheets, Dempster, Hamels, Haren, Peavy, Webb,† Sabathia (the NL version), Kuo.
Tim Lincecum leads in three of the four categories, and the one that he doesn’t lead (K/BB) has more to do with his walk rate than anything.† He’s over 10 K’s per nine innings (but also over 3 walks).† For the curious, C.C. Sabathia leads in K/BB.† More on him in a minute.† Tim Lincecum†should win the†NL Cy Young, although I could see a stray vote going to Johan Santana.† The sad thing is that Brandon Webb will get several votes based on the fact that he leads the NL in the single most important pitching statistic out there: wins.
Johan Santana gets my second place vote (2nd in VORP, 3rd in WPA and WPA/LI), despite the fact that he had a “disappointing season.”† I mean, the guy’s just no good any more.† He didn’t win 20 games.† He didn’t “dominate” NL hitters, and if I’m not mistaken, he didn’t yet cure cancer.† (There’s still a bit more of the season to go.)
Then, there’s a pack of guys who are running neck and neck with each other.† Unlike the AL where there weren’t many guys who appeared on three (or four) lists, but in the NL, it was the same six basic guys who were taking up most of the spots in the top 10 lists (Webb, CC, Dempster, Sheets, Peavy, and Hamels.)† Since the Cy Young ballot has three spaces, I need to pick a winner of the third place vote.† Remember how we were only considering C.C. Sabathia’s NL stats here.† What if we allowed him to have the benefit of the days when he was in Cleveland?† Suddenly, he outclasses the rest of that pack in WPA, WPA/LI, and K/BB, but is below all of them in VORP.† Sounds like he wins the third place vote.†
Then it becomes a free-for-all.† None of these guys are really involved in the K/BB sweepstakes, so I tried doing a bit of a round-robin type tournament to see who-beats-whom more consistently.† I ended up with a scenario where Dempster is ahead of Sheets in two categories, Sheets ahead of Hamels in two categories, and Hamels ahead of Dempster in two categories.† But all three beat Peavy in two out of three categories, and then everyone (including Peavy) goes 2-out-of-3 on Webb.† To break the three way tie between Dempster, Sheets, and Hamels, let’s go to FIP.† Right now, Sheets leads Dempster leads Hamels.† Seeing that it’s a fourth place vote at stake and there’s only three spots… does it matter?
So to recap the NL ballot, Lincecum, Santana, CC, then SheetsDempsterHamels, Peavy, Webb, Haren, Kuo.
Congratulations to StatSpeak Cy Young winners Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum, and for what it’s worth to some very worthy runners up in Roy Halladay and Johan Santana.† The trophy is in the mail.

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10 Responses to My 2008 Cy Young ballot

  1. dan says:

    I read the whole AL portion waiting for you to say “just kidding” on Guthrie, and it never came.

  2. dan says:

    And I don’t think he deserves to win it, but Mussina had a much better year than Guthrie in almost every way possible. More than doubled the K/BB ratio (not that doubling it really means it’s twice as good, but whatever), lower home run rate, more innings pitched. Same exact ERA, but Mussina has a lower FIP.
    I know you went with the top-10 in a few categories thing, but he deserves mention. And he’s a great story on the way to 20 wins, so he must deserve it, right?

  3. Matt says:

    Lee has 22 wins, don’t sell him short at the beginning or your article. How many losses does Halladay have on a better team than Cliff is pitching for……..
    Who is one of a select few to win 22 of their first 24 decisions?
    Who is having the best season since Ron Guidry…….

  4. Pizza Cutter says:

    Guthrie shocked me that he snuck in there. Frankly, I was waiting for the just kidding myself… but he was top 10 in a couple of categories. He did lead all rookies in VORP last year, and maybe it’s just one of those things that because he’s in Baltimore, and if a tree falls in the woods and no one cares…

  5. Pizza Cutter says:

    As much as I love what Cliff Lee has done this year, (I work up the street from Jacobs/Progressive Field!) win/loss record isn’t a very good metric. Sure, a 20-game winner has to be doing something right, but it’s far too team dependent for my tastes. That’s why I didn’t use it as one of my criteria.

  6. Zack says:

    This is actually a joke of an article (aside from the part where you say saves don’t mean anything)…Guthrie has no business being on that list…and Lee is FAR AND AWAY the best pitcher of the year in any league let alone the AL…Lee statistically leads in every important statistic aside from your joke stats like replacement value and wpa which is the biggest joke of a stat ever…and Pizza Cutter, you are also an idiot…wins don’t mean anything? ok sounds good, joe blow had 20 wins but only but jon doe had an AMAZING wpa i want that guy! The only competant thing about this article is the fact you ended up choosing Lee in the end…I don’t know how I got to this page, but I won’t be back

  7. Pizza Cutter says:

    Well you’re certainly welcome to your opinion, but consider this: suppose a pitcher gives up seven runs in five innings, but his team goes crazy and scores 11, while his bullpen picks up four scoreless innings. He gets a win. Now consider that a pitcher who throws 8 innings over two runs, but happens to pitch in front of a team that can only score one. Which pitcher had the better game? Which one gets the win?
    That doesn’t happen every time, and certainly, most often when a pitcher throws a good game, he gets a win, and when he’s awful, he gets the loss. But, do you want to put your faith in a stat that can be bent like that? It’s not that win-loss is horrible/terrible/awful. It’s just that we can do better. I encourage you to take a look at WPA and VORP with an open mind.

  8. Zack says:

    so you would be refering to another indians pitche years ago…kevin millwood who had a downright awesome era but a .500 record to show for it, it, which I will admit happens, but very rarely is a team going to come out and give one pitcher with a great era no run support while supplying a poor pitcher with many…and if a pitcher is giving up 7 runs in the first 5 innings I doubt he would make it a full 5 innings to be eligible for the win…For starting pitchers the most telling statistics are wins, era, and innings pitched…for relief pitchers I can agree that wins and losses are ultimately meaningless

  9. Philip says:

    Pizza Cutter says:
    “win/loss record isnít a very good metric. Sure, a 20-game winner has to be doing something right, but itís far too team dependent for my tastes. Thatís why I didnít use it as one of my criteria.”
    How true. I followed the Game Day Play by Play of the Diamondback-Cardinals game today (9/22). Brandon Webb got his 22nd win, but this was the first time I truly realized the difference between being dominant (Lincecum) and just good enough to pick up the win (Webb). Webb’s “fastballs” were all just in the high 80S. Of course he was good enough to get out of jams but I was certainly not overwhelmed by his pitching. It would be a shame if voters only dwell on the win total and ignore the truly important criteria for a Cy Young worthy pitcher.

  10. Darryl says:

    I don’t understand. You obviously didn’t even look at Red Sox Pitching. How in the world would you consider Josh Beckett, and ignore Dice-K and Lester? I wouldn’t argue for Lester (post-season doesn’t count), so Beckett really deserves no mention at all; he was clearly not in Boston’s top two starters this year. Dice-K is another story. Yes, he got run support & he walked a bunch, but his 18-3 record is stellar (bested only by Lee at 22-3), which tells me he was very good at leaving those BBs on base – he didn’t let them hurt him. Matsusaka did not pitch nearly as many innings as Halladay, but his 2.9 ERA is comparable. Lee is the clear winner, with DIce-K and Halladay tied for second; Mussina fourth. I wouldn’t even consider a reliever unless he combined K-Rod’s saves with Rivera’s ERA, i.e., having a year like Gagne’s or Eck’s CY peformance.

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