This is super interesting. Regarding the AL Cy Young, Neyer says: “The funny thing is, this really isn’t about what people think it’s about. It’s not about Bill James or Moneyball or new-fangled statistics, really.” Neyer is actually piggy-backing off of the brilliant Tom Tango, and ultimately, they are both absolutely correct.
Neyer also mentions that 17 of 19 votes in the Sweetspot Network awards for the AL Cy Young went to Felix Hernandez, though the “new-fangled” statistics might lead you to a few other candidates to top the ballot, each of which who also has as many (Jared Weaver) or many MORE wins than King Felix – Though, not as many as Sabathia. So it seems clear, then, that the Sweetspotter’s – Who, by the way, largely lean to the statistical and sabermetric side – are giving a great deal of weight to ERA. And ERA, or earned run average, is by no means a new-fangled statistic. It’s a very old statistic that’s a third of the Triple-Crown for pitchers, and one that’s been used to determine Cy Young awards since the very award was created as a sort of MVP for pitchers.
Looking closer at a few candidates and the pitchers the “new-fangled” statistics might favor, we’ll see each of them indeed exceeded Felix by those measures.
13 W ERA 2.27 WHIP 1.06 WAR 6.2, FIP 3.04, K/BB 3.31
21 W, ERA 3.18, WHIP 1.19, WAR 5.1, FIP 3.54, K/BB 2.66
19 W, ERA 2.72, WHIP 1.19, WAR 4.3, FIP 3.42, K/BB 2.38
14 W, ERA 3.62, WHIP 1.26, WAR 6.0, FIP 2.66, K/BB 3.47
(Notable is that Liriano – Yes, ex-Giants prospect – had an unruly and unlikely to repeat next year .340 BABiP)
12 W, ERA 3.18, WHIP 1.00, WAR 7.1, FIP 2.58, K/BB 10.28
13 W, ERA 3.01, WHIP 1.07, WAR 5.9, FIP 3.06, K/BB 4.31
18 W ERA 3.37 WHIP 1.16 WAR 6.3, FIP 2.97, K/BB 3.08
The only two that are garnering any discussion, it seems, are Sabathia and Hernandez. Really, though, if it were a stats versus wins kind of debate, it should be a FIELD versus Sabathia. Felix is the Sweetspotter’s favorite despite a lower WAR than Justin Verlander, and a sizably lower WAR than Cliff Lee, lower K/BB ratio than Lee by eons (10.28* versus 3.31) and higher FIP of 3.04 to Lee’s 2.58, and higher WHIP 1.06 to 1.00. I guess, maybe, Cliff Lee drops out for them because he “only” pitched 212 (brilliant) innings, when Felix threw 249. Though, I’ll submit, that his very nearly 1 win above replacement over Felix Hernandez in 37 fewer innings is incredibly impressive. So Lee drops out because of the 37 fewer innings, the 1 fewer win – This would be ironic, to me, if 13 wins is good enough for the stat heads but 12 isn’t – or most likely the pedestrian ERA of 3.18. Who knows?
*The second best single season K/BB ratio of all time
So my conclusion is that while the stat heads are willing to throw out the wins they are not yet ready to turn a blind eye to ERA. This is interesting. They seem willing to not give credit to a pitcher who’s run support was enormous and thus whose wins were far more easily acquired, and not willing to penalize a pitcher whose offense was dreadful, and who had to claw and fight for each win.
On the other hand, they don't seem very willing to discredit a pitcher whose fielders and luck helped them. They seem to be leaning more towards pitching outcome, and less so towards how well a pitcher pitched. Perhaps they will evolve. Keith Law, for example, didn’t include Carpenter on his NL Cy Young ballot last year and merely had Wainwright third – Which (likely) resulted in a fundamental changing of the way the Cy Young is voted for (5 votes now instead of just 3) – despite the fact that they each had pretty sparkling win and loss records AND ERA’s. I guess for the time being, many of the stat heads are using the “new-fangled” stats as predictive measures for how a pitcher may perform in the future, but they are not yet ready to assign the hardware with them. It’s somewhat curious, and will be an excellent thing to keep an eye on in the future.
All stats came from Fangraphs.com