Will the real Cy-Young winner please stand up?
Ah, October. It is the epitome of fall. For many it means it is time to start raking leaves. For others the time is upon us when you can dress up like someone else, go to houses of those you do not know, knock on their doors, and scream at them to feed you: Halloween.
To others October means the end of the Major League Baseball season. If you are lucky your team is one of the eight advancing to the playoffs, but if not you are going to be stuck waiting around until next March for another feeling of optimism as you believe your team has to be the best team in baseball. Yes, the regular season is over, and that means the time to give awards to extraordinary players is here.
There is always plenty of debate near the end of the major league season as to which players should receive the prestigious personal awards. The main three are the Cy Young Award, the Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, and the Rookie of the Year Award. The Cy Young Award goes to the best pitcher, the MVP goes to the best player, and the Rookie of the Year Award goes to the top rookie.
This year there has been a particularly noticeable split on the American League Cy Young Award. The split is basically between two different groups in the baseball community. The baseball traditionalists believe that CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees is an easy choice for the award based on the fact that he leads the American League with wins with 21 victories.
Conversely, those who believe in Sabermetrics, or analyzing what happens on the baseball diamond, especially using statistics, believe that those who think that Cy Young Award should go to the athlete with the most victories are woefully ignorant. They believe that there are more important statistics to look at to see how well a pitcher performed other than wins.
I imagine you may be wondering how this can be true. The pitcher who pitched the best won the most games, right? Wrong. Wins are a very flawed statistic because they are affected just as much by your team’s offense as well as the way you pitch. Consider Sabathia pitches for the Yankees, who have scored the most runs in baseball. Would he be any worse of a pitcher if he pitched for the Mariners who have scored roughly 60 percent of the runs the Yankees have? No, he wouldn’t. But he wouldn’t have 21 victories, that’s for sure.
Did I mention it’s tough to rack up victories for the Seattle Mariners? Tell that to Felix Hernandez. There are many statistics to show how much better “King Felix” pitched than Sabathia. One way of seeing how well a pitcher pitched is looking at how many runs he’s given up. This is done with earned run average (ERA). As with most of the ratio statistics in baseball, ERA is per nine innings pitched. Sabathia has an ERA of 3.18. Not to say that this is a bad ERA by any means. It is very good, but Hernandez has an ERA of 2.27.
And it’s not just ERA that Hernandez leads Sabathia in. He leads him in nearly every meaningful category except for wins. He leads him in strikeouts, 232 to 197. He leads in innings pitched, 249.2 to 237.2. Sabathia even trails him in the ability to keep guys from reaching base. In the stat that shows this, walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP), Sabathia has a mark of 1.19 while Hernandez’s is 1.06.
There is a number that takes many statistics and figures out how well players have really performed. This statistic is called wins above replacement, or WAR. Take note, this is not how many wins they add to a team, but rather how many more they add than a replacement-level player. A replacement-level player is a player who can be easily obtained. Think of a minor league player or a free agent who nobody signs except in an emergency. Hernandez has a WAR of 6.4 while Sabathia has a WAR of 4.8. Those 1.6 additional wins may not seem like a lot, but if the San Diego Padres had that extra 1.6 wins, they would have made the playoffs rather than ending their season one game out of the wild card.
In the National League there is much less controversy on who should get the NL version of the award. Most everyone agrees that the award belongs to Roy Halladay. Not that I disagree, but I think it should be much closer than it appears. Adam Wainwright is neck and neck with Halladay in nearly every statistic, and Josh Johnson has pitched much better than either of them, albeit in many fewer innings. Also, Ubaldo Jimenez deserves consideration as well.
Halladay leads all of them in victories with 21, Wainwright has 20, Jimenez has 19, and Johnson has 11. Johnson’s ERA is 2.30, Wainwright’s is 2.42, Halladay’s is 2.44, and Jimenez’s is 2.88. Halladay has the most innings pitched at 250.2, Wainwright has 230.1, Jimenez has 221.2, and Johnson has 183.2. Halladay leads them in strikeouts with 219, Jimenez has 214, Wainwright has 213, and Johnson has 186.
Do not be mislead though. Johnson has pitched less and he strikes out a higher percentage of the batters he faces. Johnson strikes out 9.11 per 9 innings, Jimenez 8.69 per 9 innings, Wainwright 8.32 per nine, and Halladay 7.86. Halladay has the lowest WHIP of the bunch at 1.04, Wainwright has a mark of 1.05, Johnson’s is 1.11, and Jimenez’s is 1.15.
Yes, those stats are nice, but how much are they worth? Halladay leads them with a 6.8 WAR, and the other three all have a WAR of 6.2.
I think WAR has it right. If I got to vote for the award I would vote for Halladay. Yes, you can make cases for the other 3, but in the end the amount of innings that Halladay has thrown does it for me.
I think it sounds like the voters will get it right. The favorites for the awards are Hernandez and Halladay on ESPN, and that is exactly how it should be.