Who deserves the AL Cy Young? Execs give nod to Felix Hernandez
The hottest postseason debate is just starting to heat up: In an SI.com survey of baseball executives that may surprise some, a clear majority interviewed suggested they would ignore Seattle wunderkind
Six out of nine top baseball execs sided with Hernandez over anyone else, including
The tally doesn't suggest Hernandez will definitely win the award (beyond this being a small sample, writers actually do the voting) but provides more evidence that a victory total is seen as increasingly less important in judging starting pitchers. Last year's Cy Young winners had record-low win totals of 15 (
"I would hope voters have gotten to the point where wins -- while a factor -- are only a very small part of the calculus given how dependent an individual's total is upon his team's run scoring, defense and bullpen performances,'' said one American League executive. "Based upon what the individuals have done, my ballot would be Felix, CC (and
Even the execs who favored Sabathia or Price for the award suggested wins aren't necessarily decisive. A couple who favored Sabathia or Price said they were factoring in Hernandez's so-so early record (he was 2-4 with a 3.50 ERA through May, before the woeful Mariners were completely out of contention) or his favorable home park for a pitcher (he has a 2.06 ERA at Safeco and 2.65 ERA away from home). They mentioned the big roles played in the pennant race by Sabathia and/or Sabathia's hitter-friendly home park. The NL exec who favored Sabathia referred to new Yankee Stadium as a "bandbox.''
The AL Cy Young debate is already controversial, pitting those who believe wins are a major factor for starting pitchers vs. those who don't, the stat guys (who seem to completely disregard win totals) vs. the non-stat guys and, to some extent, the younger guys vs. the older guys.
No doubt, Hernandez has a strong case despite the low win total. Some execs mentioned how much stress he had to pitch with considering Seattle's almost nonexistent offense. But other execs weighed more heavily the stress of pitching in a pennant race.
Here's one AL exec's well-reasoned explanation why he would favor Price or Sabathia slightly: "I think wins should factor in. I'm not a big proponent of wins counting for a lot, but it is a factor. I'm not into the extreme that wins are totally circumstantial. But I don't totally discount wins.
"Clearly, a bunch of guys are having superlative seasons. But it comes down to three guys -- Sabathia, Price and Felix, with (
That was one of the best cases I heard against Hernandez. I agree that wins shouldn't be totally disregarded, as enough great and very good pitchers have talked about how they pitch "to the scoreboard.'' I also believe there's more stress pitching in a pennant race than pitching for a loser and more often fall in line with the veteran baseball people (a nice way to say older).
But in this one case, I tend to favor Hernandez slightly. For now (it is that close).
Perhaps I was influenced by the execs' vote. Or maybe King Felix is just
Hernandez leads the American League with 233 innings, 222 strikeouts and a 2.35 ERA and is third behind
Sabathia isn't far behind Hernandez with 224 innings and has 183 strikeouts. But Price has fewer innings than both (193 2/3) and 173 strikeouts. A couple execs referred to the statistics other than wins as "peripheral numbers'' but despite that moniker, it's clear they weighed them as heavily as the victory total, or even heavier in many cases.
"I don't think wins should have anything to do with it,'' an AL exec said. "When you think Cy Young, you think about the most dominant pitcher. You don't let the opposition score runs -- that's the definition of pitching.''
"While wins are a consideration, ultimately an award like that should be predicated on what a pitcher can control,'' another AL exec said. "Wins are not something a pitcher can completely control. I'd consider wins but not as an overriding factor. Any stat viewed in isolation can be deceptive. If a pitcher is dominant, he starts to make a strong case.''
"I think Felix has been the best pitcher, and that award is about being the best pitcher,'' said another AL exec. " I think if he has CC's (run support) he'd have a lot more than 11 wins. I know he's the guy we least like to face. He just happens to be on the team scoring far fewer runs than anyone in the league. He has absolutely zero control over that. And it's hard to penalize him for that.''
"I tend to be on the side of rewarding guys on what they can control,'' said another AL exec. "And starting pitchers can't control how many wins they get. Wins are a factor. But Felix leads or is high on almost every other category. David Price certainly has a compelling case. But Felix has pitched (41) more innings (than Price).
"If you ask the hitters on the New York Yankees who the toughest pitcher to hit in the AL is, no doubt the majority of them would say Felix is,'' said yet another AL exec. "Felix is a superstar. Felix is one of a kind.'' (Hernandez is 3-0 with a 0.35 ERA vs. the Yankees, while Sabathia obviously never has to face his own team.)
But there were a few dissenting voices in what should be the most intriguing vote this year.
"I think wins need to count for something when you're talking about the Cy Young. I lean toward Price or Sabathia because their teams are going to make the playoffs,'' one AL exec said. "I might even go with Price, but certainly one of those two guys.'
"The only way somebody without a high percentage of wins should get it is if it's a down year for pitchers,'' the NL exec said. "And we have those two guys (Price and Sabathia) having quality years for contending clubs. Sabathia is the single biggest reason the Yankees are as good as they are. I probably lean toward Sabathia. Price is knocking on the door, but I think CC's in the room already. Hernandez also has the park to help him. It's hard pitching in Yankee Stadium. It's just such a band box. And he wins big games.''
"There are those in the game who don't think wins and RBIs are important stats. That's rubbish,'' one AL exec said. Yet, that exec who counts wins still supported King Felix.
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