Broken Record

Oct. 04, 2010
Oct. 04, 2010

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Oct. 4, 2010

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Broken Record

It bears repeating: Wins is an imperfect stat—which is why Felix Hernandez deserves the Cy Young

In 1993 the Royals' Kevin Appier led the AL in ERA with a 2.56 mark, nearly a half run better than the second-place finisher, Wilson Alvarez. Appier led in Adjusted ERA, a more arcane measure which takes park effects into account, by 30% over his closest competitor. And his ERA was almost a full run better than that of Jack McDowell of the White Sox. McDowell, though, had 22 wins that year to Appier's 18, thanks in part to a Chicago offense that scored 101 runs more than the Royals. McDowell won the American League Cy Young Award going away, with 21 of 28 first-place votes.

This is an article from the Oct. 4, 2010 issue

It won't make Appier feel any better, but this year we may see the Cy Young Award permanently separated from the flawed statistic of pitcher wins. Even outside of sabermetric circles, Felix Hernandez of the Mariners is considered a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award—despite his 12--12 record through Sunday. The righthander was scheduled to make two more starts in the season's final week; if he wins them both and goes on to take the award, his 14 wins would be the fewest by a Cy Young starter since Fernando Valenzuela won 13 in strike-shortened 1981.

Over the past 20 seasons the influence of analytics on the award process has been perhaps the most visible effect sabermetricians have had on the game. The stats that fueled baseball debate for generations (wins, RBIs, batting average, saves) have been replaced not just by better numbers but also by a recognition of why the traditional stats were flawed. Cy Young voters have been steadily using this knowledge. In 1999, Randy Johnson got the NL honor with a 17--9 mark in a league in which Mike Hampton went 22--4. Last year's winners, Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke, combined for 31 wins, or as many as Denny McLain had all by himself in 1968.

Hernandez's record isn't proof of anything but the terrible offensive support he's received. His run prevention (an AL-best 2.31 ERA in a league-high 241 2/3 innings), his rates of strikeouts and walks and of ground balls and fly balls allowed are all better indications of how well he does his job.

Contrast Hernandez's performance with that of the Yankees' CC Sabathia, owner of a 20--7 record and a 3.26 ERA. The Yankees have scored 176 runs in Sabathia's 33 starts. Just eight times have they scored three runs or fewer for him. The Mariners have scored 101 runs in Hernandez's 33 starts. They've scored three runs or fewer 18 times, bottoming out in a brutal seven-start stretch after the All-Star break during which Hernandez went 2--5 despite a 1.93 ERA thanks to a total of eight Seattle runs.

Pitcher wins and losses are artifacts of a time when hurlers completed 95% of their starts. But armed with better information, we can look past those numbers to evaluate pitchers on what they can control. Based on those things, Felix Hernandez should win the AL Cy Young Award.

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Awards Season

The AL Cy Young isn't the only award likely to be decided in a fractured vote. Here are one observer's choices in other major categories, the guiding principle being that individual awards are for individual performances, not a referendum on who had better teammates.

NL Cy Young The Phillies' Roy Halladay gets the edge, based on his NL-high 241 2/3 innings pitched, over St. Louis's Adam Wainwright.

AL MVP Texas's Josh Hamilton (he leads in batting and OPS) is the AL's most productive hitter, despite missing most of September with a rib injury.

NL MVP The Reds' Joey Votto (below), with an NL-high OPS, nips Albert Pujols and September hero (40 RBIs through Sunday) Troy Tulowitzki.

PHOTOOTTO GREULE JR/GETTY IMAGES (HERNANDEZ)SQUATTER'S RIGHTS Despite his 12--12 record, Hernandez has claim to the Cy based on his stellar ERA, heavy workload and AL-high whiffs.PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (VOTTO)