I’ve whittled the list to include just the four pitchers discussed so far:
|LgAvg per 180 IP||10||10||.503||4.15||74||180||83||20||64||136||101||1.348||6.8||2.11|
If you covered the W/L columns with your hand, there’s little doubt who has been the best pitcher in the AL this year. There’s no doubt who you’d pick if you had to win one game. The guy with the best K/9, highest K/BB ratio, the horse with the most IP, the guy who puts the fewest runners on per inning. And unfortunately, that same guy, due to the pop-gun offense that’s “supporting” him, has just 11 wins to his name.
In 2009, Zack Grienke won the AL CY with “only” 16 wins, ahead of, ahem, King Felix, who posted 19 wins (as did Sabathia and Verlander). Tim Lincecum won the NL CY with a mere 15 wins, ahead of Chris Carpenter’s 17 wins (against only 4 L’s) and Wainwright’s 19 wins.
The lowest win totals for non-closers in Cy Young voting (non-strike years) since each league was awarded their own Cy Young winner (in 1967):
- NL: Tim Lincecum, 2009, 15 wins
- AL: Zack Grienke, 2009, 16 wins
You see, big wins totals headline the Cy Young voting since the award started. Now, it’s generally difficult to get to 20 wins with mediocre stats, but as Felix is proving and others have claimed for a long time: the Wins totals are a fickle stat. I won’t call them “overrated” since the point of every pitcher is to get a win, but they are indeed fickle. Steve Carlton provided the blueprint on how to post ridiculous wins totals on a bad team by winning 27 in 1972 for the 59-win Phillies, earning him a unanimous Cy Young title.
The knock on CC is that he pitches for the high octane Yankees lineup. And ya know what, it’s absolutely true. With a minimum of 140 IP, CC ranks 4th in terms of Run Support/game with 7.59 runs. And leading all of the AL: Phil Hughes at 10.02 (and 16 wins with a 4.29 ERA). Care to guess who has the lowest RS for all pitchers with at least 140 IP? Just take a random guess.
Yep, King Felix ranks #1 in terms of lowest run support, at just 3.90. If you double his RS, you’d be in the same range as CC and in all likelihood, so would Felix’s wins totals. Just put Felix (and his same productivity) in pinstripes and he’d probably be a unanimous Cy Young. He might have won 25 games this year.
I’ve always been a fan of “game scores“, a better way at snapshotting the pitcher’s game performance than the awful “quality start” stat. It’s defined as:
Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James to determine the strength of a pitcher in any particular baseball game. To determine a starting pitcher’s game score:
- Start with 50 points.
- Add 1 point for each out recorded, so 3 points for every complete inning pitched.
- Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th.
- Add 1 point for each strikeout.
- Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed.
- Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed.
- Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed.
- Subtract 1 point for each walk.
AL leading game score average: King Felix, with 63.0. Next is Cliff Lee with 59.4. Buchholz, Price and Sabathia check in at 58.1, 58.0, 57.9, respectively, ranking 5, 6, 8 overall. Said differently, the difference between #1 and #2 is roughly the same difference between #2 (Lee) and #10 (CJ Wilson).
Do you need more stats? ESPN uses DIPS (defense-independent ERA) and ranks Felix 3rd, behind Francisco Liriano and Cliff Lee. And according to FanGraphs (140 IP min), Felix also ranks 3rd in FIP at 2.95 (CC and Buchholz each clock in at 3.61 FIP; Price is at 3.47). I think you get the point.
And if you like handy little prediction devices and tools, ESPN’s Cy Young predictor shows the following:
RK PLAYER TEAM CYP
- CC Sabathia NYY 169.0
- David Price TB 143.7
- Rafael Soriano TB 142.0
- Clay Buchholz BOS 133.8
- C.J. Wilson TEX 133.4
- Felix Hernandez SEA 130.3
I referenced an article earlier but wanted to dive deeper on it because it, to me, beautifully illustrates what the voting masses tend to believe in when it comes to voting for the Cy Young. The author, Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant.com, is not voting this year, but weighs in heavily:
So who gets it? First, I am going to eliminate King Felix Hernandez from the pack, although, if I were building a team he might be my first pick. Hernandez’s numbers are impressive – a 2.38 ERA over 211 innings with 200 strikeouts – but he is nonetheless 10-10. He got ripped off last year, in my opinion, with a 19-5 record he should have been the Cy Young winner over Zach Greinke. Not this year.
Wins matter. The most important thing a starting pitcher does is win games, and though a starter has less control over his decisions than he used to in the days of complete games, he still has a lot to do with it. Sabathia doesn’t have 19 wins by accident. He has them because he holds leads, finds ways on nights when he doesn’t have it, such as in Chicago last weekend, and goes deep into games, deep enough to allow his team to bypass shaky middle relievers and get right to the closer.
For this reason, I have usually used three wins as a benchmark margin. If Pitcher A has three more wins than his nearest competitor, I am likely to go with him for the Cy Young if the other numbers are reasonable close. In comparing starters, innings pitched is a big stat for me, too, because a pitcher throwing 230 innings has pitched through fatigue and helped his team, for the aforementioned reasons, more than the guy who has averaged six innings per start and throws, say, 190 innings. The ERA can be misleading – some pitchers win 8-0 and lose 3-2, others win 8-4 and 2-1. It’s when you give up those earned runs that makes the difference in winning and losing. Pitching isn’t like a golf tournament where the lowest aggregate score wins, it’s Match Play – the job of a starting pitcher is to match the other guy on each given time out. This is why a great pitcher can win a ton of games for a bad team, like Steve Carlton in 1972, while others, no matter how talented, seem to find their way to .500 no matter what kind of team they’re on, such as A.J. Burnett.
This is one guy’s thought but I suspect he’s far from alone in his beliefs and biases.
So what do we know, what do we believe?
I believe Felix is the best starting pitcher in the AL this year.
I also believe that unless he can win 4-5 more games (he’s already at 30 GS) while CC, Price and Buchholz don’t win more than 1-2 more, he will finish 2nd in the Cy Young voting for the second year in a row. If the gap between the wins leader is any greater than 5, I can’t see Felix winning. If the gap is 9 or 10, there’s no chance.
King Felix will be the AL’s best pitcher in 2010 but will not win the Cy Young.