My 2008 Cy Young ballot
September 21, 2008 10 Comments
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.