Preview: AL Cy Young

Justin Verlander

A whole 0.8 fWAR behind Lee is Verlander. After 224 innings and an FIP of 2.98, Verlander notched 6.3 fWAR. His 3.08 K/BB is better than CC but worse than Lee’s, and while his 5.6% HR/FB is low, it’s only 2% lower than his career mark. He’s good, but he prevents home runs at nearly the same rate as Lee, had nearly identical GB/FB rates, had a much, much lower K/BB, and only threw 12 more innings than Lee. There’s no way I can justify picking Verlander over Lee.

Felix Hernandez

I thought about putting Hernandez second, but I didn’t want to put this exactly in order, thus forcing you to read more (though I guess you could have just skipped Verlander). I thought about putting him last, but that’s just rude. Hernandez was awesome this season, and he deserves to be mentioned here. His 3.31 K/BB is really good, but it’s nowhere near Lee’s. His 249.2 IP, however, trump Lee’s 212, big time. Felix gets a lot more ground balls (1.81 to 1.04), but Lee is better at preventing home runs. Then, there’s the bWAR issue in which Hernandez blasts Lee, but I have two issues with that. The first is what I mentioned above, and the second is that Hernandez’s ERA is almost 0.8 points lower than his FIP (limiting the amount of runs he gave up in B-Ref’s measurements). I don’t really know how to make such an adjustment, so I’ll stick with fWAR. And Lee’s 10.78 K/BB is just amazing and so much better than anyone else’s. Does it make up for 35 innings? I’m not sure, but FanGraphs already did the math and said Lee was a whole win better. I can’t argue enough for Felix to make up for that.

Francisco Liriano

Liriano is what the Twins need—an ace starting pitcher to headline for the strike throwers—but he’s not better than Lee and didn’t even pitch more than Lee. The K/BB is lower, the FIP is higher, and the home run rate is 4% below his career mark. Liriano was awesome and had an amazing year, but he wasn’t as good as Lee. Move along.

Jered Weaver

Weaver is essentially Justin Verlander with a slightly higher FIP due to the fact that he gives up more home runs. You have to love the K/BB ratio of 4.31, but he’s not Lee.

My guess is that the big debate will be CC versus Felix, and I’ll also guess that Felix has received enough media attention to wrestle what will be a tight race away from CC. The thing is that Lee deserves just as much attention. If Felix wins the award, people will cheer and champagne the year that the voters finally did away with wins. The thing is that they haven’t. If Felix wins, it will be because the voters “who vote by wins” will be able to stomach Felix’s 2.27 ERA, which is almost a point lower than CC’s, and his additional 12 innings. It won’t be the beginning of a new era. It’ll be the same ole thing it’s always been because voters have always voted by ERA and IP (not to mention Felix’s 40 more strikeouts). They’ve never voted purely by wins. They’ve always weighed the different statistics in the way that I’ve just weighed other statistics for you (though these statistics are more accurate descriptions of pitching performance), and though they sometimes get distracted by shiny wins and may even give them significant weight, there are no more ignorant voters that blindly follow wins than other analysts that default to their own metric of choice. Lee should win, Felix will win, and CC will come in a close, boisterous second.

7 thoughts on “Preview: AL Cy Young

    • Jason's correct. All his record really indicates is that he was a good pitcher that got some run support, and even that is somewhat ambiguous as you don't know how good or how much run support. As with anything, you need to dig deeper and search for things that indicate how good of a "pitcher" CC and the rest were, and hopefully, you'll find things that leave team-dependent items out.

    • …not the only, but winning is still the first point, being the best is not how the award has been given unless the powers that be make the decision to change it. You may not agree but the rules rule…the tripple crown is defined though many would not agree on that either.

      • I'm not sure the voting procedures say that wins, ERA, and strikeouts are the only ways to decide on who should win the award. I think the idea has always been to choose who has been the best pitcher (which can be different from value–innings play a big role in value but may not tell you who the best pitcher is; in this case, however, Lee's 10.78 K/BB ratio speaks volumes to his effectiveness), and I don't think there's a specific guideline to choose that. As for winning, it is the objective of the game, but Pitcher Wins involve more than just the pitcher. People say, "numbers don't lie", and they don't. But words and humans do. Numbers did not give us the term "Win". Humans did. Humans then erred in attributing the numbers to something they do not actually describe. They didn't intentionally do it, but it did happen. Now, we're trying to rectify it. Stats have always been around, and we've always used them. But we're trying to be more precise on calculating numbers and attributing names to them that actually indicate what the numbers are trying to say.

  1. How did you ignore David Price? 19-8, much better ERA than CC, only a smidge behind Felix in a much tougher division and in a much less pitcher-friendly ballpark.

    • I didn't ignore Price. Well, I did, but I was aware of ignoring him. His 2.38 K/BB ratio is just above-average, not outstanding, he's a fly-ball pitcher (which increases the number of home runs given up), and his HR/FB is a little low (we don't have enough evidence to know if he's that good at preventing home runs). In addition, he only pitched 208 innings, which is much lower than any of the people I named. To me, there was no way he was a Top 5 pitcher. The arguments for him are his record, which contains too many outside influences other than pitching for me to directly give him credit for it, and his ERA received from help from some questionable home run, left on base, and batted ball rates. He certainly did an excellent job, and he's a Top 15, maybe Top 10, AL pitcher. But he's not Cy Young material, yet. It's not an insult to him, either. He's just not up there with those other guys when you consider only what he was responsible for.