Thursday, November 18, 2010

AL Cy Young Award: Stat Geeks Declare Victory!

I have to admit it.  I screwed up.  I was supposed to write this article before the award was announced, so I apologize.  That said, I'm to continue on as if the award hasn't been announced.  Either way, I'm down right giddy.  King Felix won.  It's a great day for stat geeks everywhere.  Take that Murray Chass!

Anyway, if I had a vote, here's how I would've voted:

Fifth Place - CC Sabathia - 21-7, 3.18 ERA, 3.78 xFIP, 7.46 K/9, 2.66 K/BB, 50.7% GB, 5.1 WAR

This is easily going to be the most controversial part of my ballot.  How can I put Sabathia at the bottom of my ballot?  Well, it wasn't easy.  Sabathia had a very good season, but it wasn't a great season.  His K/9 rate is down for the second season in a row.  His K/BB rate is down for the third season in a row.  He allowing significantly more contact, while inducing fewer whiffs.  While these are not reasons to not vote for him, my problem with him is that he did nothing to distinguish himself in any category outside of wins.  For instance, Sabathia finished first in wins, but only seventh in ERA, tenth in xFIP, fifteenth in K/9, fourthteenth in K/BB, and eighth in WAR.  Like I said, he had a very good season, just not a Cy Young worthy season.

Fourth Place - Jon Lester - 19-9, 3.25 ERA, 3.29 xFIP, 9.74 K/9, 2.71 K/BB, 53.6% GB, 5.6 WAR

Lester was my favorite for the award going into the season.  He put together nearly the kind of season I expected, except he struggled with his control at times.  This led to a lower than expected K/BB ratio, which probably cost him third place on my ballot.  Still though, Lester finished the season second in wins, ninth in ERA, fourth in xFIP, first in K/9, thirteenth in K/BB, and sixth in WAR.  Despite higher finishes in nearly every significant category, Lester always seems to fall below Sabathia on everyone's Cy Young ballot.  Can anyone explain this to me? 

Third Place - Francisco Liriano - 14-10, 3.62 ERA, 3.06 xFIP, 9.44 K/9, 3.47 K/BB, 53.6% GB, 6.0 WAR

Here's my second controversial decision.  Liriano third place?  Yes.  If you're asking this question, it's because you put too much stock in wins and ERA.  As I've discussed in other posts, wins are largely reliant on the strength of a pitcher's offense and bullpen.  ERA, on the other hand, is defense dependent.  While Minnesota carried a league average defense (per defensive efficiency rating) in 2010, Liriano's .340 BABIP indicates that he was plagued by poor luck.  Upon reviewing his batted ball rates, and calculating his xBABIP, I found that Liriano was, in fact, unlucky.  His expected batting average on balls in play was .303, which means he allowed 12 more hits than he should've been expected to allow.

When you look beyond the traditional stats, you begin to see how good Liriano really was.  In 2010, he was  first in xFIP (second in FIP), second in K/9, fifth in K/BB, and fourth in WAR.  These are unbelievable rankings.  When you factor in that Liriano also gave up the fewest number of home runs per nine innings (0.42), this only solidifies his position in the top three of the AL Cy Young race.

Second Place - Cliff Lee - 12-9, 3.18 ERA, 3.23 xFIP, 7.84 K/9, 10.28 K/BB, 41.9% GB, 7.1 WAR

Yeah, this one was tough for me.  I have not made it a secret that I have a huge non-sexual man crush on Cliff Lee.  How can you not love this guy?  This season, he became only the second pitcher in major league history to put up a K/BB ratio higher than 10!  The other guy?  Brett Saberhagen in the strike shortened 1994 season.  That's impressive.  Normally, that alone would do it for me.  Unfortunately, Lee (ever so slightly) faded down the stretch, which left the door open for the eventual winner.  Lee finished up the season sixth in ERA, second in xFIP (first in FIP), tenth in K/9, first in K/BB, and first in WAR.  Lastly, he completed seven of his 29 starts, and averaged 7-1/3 innings per start.

Winner - Felix Hernandez - 13-12, 2.27 ERA, 3.26 xFIP, 8.36 K/9, 3.31 K/BB, 53.9% GB, 6.2 WAR

The AL Cy Young Winner was announced today, and I can state with all certainty that the right man won the award.  For the second year in a row, the BBWAA turned a blind eye toward a low win totals, and voted for the best pitcher, not the one that had the most offensive and bullpen support.  Yes, King Felix only went 13-12, but that's mostly because his team scored a major league low 513 runs all season.  Can we really penalize him for playing on a team with an anemic offense?  Well, the BBWAA has done it to pitchers in similar situations in the past, but it's not really fair.  From start to finish, King Felix was the best pitcher in the American League.  He led the league in ERA, batters faced, innings pitched, hits per nine, and wins probability added.  He finished seventh in K/9, seventh K/BB, third in xFIP, third in WAR, and third in complete games.   

Either way, he won, and that's a pretty big deal.  It signifies a huge shift from an organization (BBWAA) mired in a traditional, outdated mindset to one that is much more friendly to modern statistical analysis.  That's a great thing.

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