A lot of us went nutso with our Felix Hernandez vs. CC Sabathia vs. David Price Cy Young arguments back in September. Then the playoffs happened and we got distracted for a while. But today, at 2PM Eastern, the Baseball Writers Association of America is going to name the winner of the AL Cy Young Award, and the argument will be reinvigorated.
For those of you who are sane and didn’t obsess on all of this a couple of months ago, here’s the tale of the tape:
- Felix Hernandez: He led the league in ERA and innings pitched, held opponents to a league-low batting average, finished second with 232 strikeouts and third with six shutouts. Many more sophisticated pitching metrics also favor Hernandez over all other American League starters. Because the Mariners had the worst offense since the advent of the Designated Hitter, however, Hernandez had the worst run support in the American League and ended up winning only 13 games.
- CC Sabathia: Finished behind Hernandez in every significant pitching category except one — wins — in which he led the league with 21. In contrast to Hernandez, Sabathia enjoyed more run support than nearly every other pitcher in the American League.
- David Price: Like Sabathia, Price was inferior to Hernandez in every important statistical category other than wins. Price also had fewer innings and wins than Sabathia, but had a better ERA and a slightly better strikeout rate. He allowed virtually the same number of baserunners per inning as Sabathia. He too enjoyed far better run support than did Hernandez.
While the debate about which of these gentlemen should win the award has been protayed as a battle between stat geeks and traditionalists with all of the usual name-calling that entails, there haven’t been many people making complex statistical arguments in Hernandez’s favor. That is, unless you consider ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched and run support to be complex statistics. Which would be ridiculous, frankly, because those are statistics even the most crusty of old school writers are quite capable of understanding and using, and they do so often.
But not here. In this case, those who don’t support Felix Hernandez have abandoned even those measures they typically use to judge a pitcher’s merits, and have focused on a single metric: wins. As in, CC Sabathia and David Price have more, ergo they’re the better pitchers. As in, even if we all agree that Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher this year, he only had 13 wins, and you can’t win a Cy Young with 13 wins, can you? Such arguments, while highly annoying to me on the level of analysis, are quite amusing to me on another level: it’s usually the traditionalists who deride the sabermetric guys for focusing on a single statistic and claiming that it settles all arguments. Here they’re the ones doing it. How delicious.
But for all of the vitriol that has been exchanged in the run-up to this award — and will continue to be exchanged after the winner is announced — I have this gut feeling that the actual voting results won’t be terribly close or controversial. The loudest and most idiotic voices in this debate are not actually voting on it. And among those in the know, there is a sense that the real voters actually favor Hernandez. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he wins it relatively comfortably.
But no matter who wins, I predict a 99.3% likelihood of partisans on both sides of the debate saying ridiculous things afterward, and that will totally make it worth it.