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Liriano v. Felix v. CC

Fox’s Jon Morosi wrote a terrible article where he says either CC Sabathia or David Price should win the AL Cy Young. Rather than give this idiot any kind of attention by talking about him, I instead am going to use the people’s champ, CC Sabathia, and compare him to Felix Hernandez, who most of the statistical community is tapping for the award, and Francisco Liriano, who I think is the best candidate, but mostly just because he’s a Twin.

To do this, I am going to compare every start they have, from their best start to their worst start. Someone at Twinkie Town tried to do this, but did it incorrectly as they took their starts in chronological order.

In order to do this, I am going to use gamescore, developed by Bill James. It’s not perfect (for example, earned and unearned runs are treated differently) but it’s easily available and I’m lazy.

To the graph:

From the graph, Felix is our clear winner, while Liriano is a distant 3rd. But is this correct?

Yes and no. Remember my note above about counting earned runs and unearned runs differently? By pitching in front of a defense without range, Liriano gets punished twice. More runs score, and more of them are earned, even when it is the defense’s fault and not his. Liriano has also gotten terribly unlucky this year. His .341 BABIP is highest in the majors, and Liriano is a flyball/strikeout pitcher, who would generally have a lower BABIP (although he does have a fairly high groundball rate this year). Liriano’s LD% is also right in line with his career number.

To take it deeper, let’s compare the three from another standpoint:


Liriano – 9.5

Felix – 8.53

CC – 7.42


Felix – 2.51

Liriano – 2.72

CC – 2.82


Liriano – .21

Felix – .6

Sabathia – .75

By the way, Liriano has given up four (!) homers this year. There were four homers hit in the team’s first game of the season.


Liriano – 2.36

Felix – 3.00

CC – 3.56

To put into context how good Liriano has been this year, in 2000 when Pedro Martinez had basically the gold standard for the steroid era, his FIP was 2.17.


Liriano – 3.03

Felix – 3.25

CC – 3.81

When you break down the numbers, Liriano has the best claim. He even is pitching for one of the best teams in baseball, which is usually important to the BBWAA (though they seem to apply that inconsistently). Last year the BBWAA took a step forward by electing Zach Greinke its Cy Young winner. If they pick CC (or David Price) this year, they will be taking a huge leap back.

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  • baseballman

    Sorry but your analysis is incorrect!!! Where you are missing the boat BIG TIME is that all 3 pitchers had different teams they faced during the season. The Yankees have had the more difficult schedule by far and the Mariners have had the easiest. Each team plays more games against their own division and there is NO comparison between the East and the Western Division. The Western division is the worst division in baseball! All that taken into consideration CC probably has had the better season based on the competition he faced.

  • hperms

    Boy “baseballman” is out to lunch. Felix is 3-0 against the Yankees with a 0.35 ERA. CC is sporting miserable outings against such “difficult” teams as the Orioles and the Mets. Please come back with some data before you wade into this discussion.

    I give the award to Felix, but concede a good case can be made for Liriano. Felix, though, has many more innings than Liriano, which tilts me in his direction.

  • hperms

    Hopefully this ends this argument in short order:

    “Another argument in the Sabathia-Hernandez debate is that the Yankees play in the much tougher AL East, where wins are harder to come by. But the people that make that argument fail to look at the overall competition each pitcher has faced. They also leave out the fact that the weakest team in the AL West by far is the Mariners. And as far as I know they don’t get to play themselves. In that same breath, CC never has to face the team with the best lineup in baseball, because he plays for them.

    Within his own division this season, Sabathia has three starts against the Rays, four with the Red Sox, four versus the Orioles (pre-Buck Showalter) and none against the Blue Jays. The only other playoff contenders he’s faced are the Rangers, Phillies, and White Sox, having started one game against each of them.

    While Sabathia has had ten starts against top-level teams, Hernandez has significantly more with fifteen. King Felix has faced the Yankees (3 games), Rangers (4 games), Twins (2 games), White Sox (2 games), Padres (2 games), Red Sox (1 game), and Reds (1 game).

    Sabathia is 5-1 with four no-decisions and a 3.52 ERA in those ten games. In his five wins the Yankees averaged eight runs per game and scored at least five runs in each of those starts. Hernandez is 7-5 with three no-decisions and a 2.41 ERA in his starts against playoff contenders. King Felix had two defeats and one no-decision where he gave up two earned runs in seven innings. And he had another no-decision in which he pitched eight scoreless innings.

    And while we’re mentioning how many tough opponents each pitcher has faced, shouldn’t we mention the cupcakes too? Sabathia has eleven starts against the AL’s four worst teams, while Hernandez only has six. Sabathia is 4-0 against the Orioles, 3-0 versus the Mariners, 2-0 against the Royals and 0-1 versus the Indians. Thus, nearly half of his 19 wins have come against some of the worst teams in baseball.

    Hernandez has two starts each against the Orioles, Indians, and Royals. His combined ERA for those six games is 1.00, but he managed to go only 2-2. You have to wonder how you can pitch that well against such weak competition and come away with those results. Would you believe that darn run support issue was the problem in the two losses? The Mariners scored one run in each of those two games. In the two wins Hernandez notched, the M’s exploded for four runs in one game and three in another. And in the two no-decisions, the bullpen decided to sabotage two excellent performances by Hernandez. He gave up one run in seven innings to the Orioles and left with a 5-1 lead, only to see Brandon League come in and give up five runs in the eighth. In the other no-decision, he pitched seven innings again, giving up two runs, and left with a 4-2 lead. But League blew another potential win for Hernandez by giving up two runs.”

    Read more:

  • baseballman

    It is actually impossible to fairly judge the differences between the top pitchers simply because there are so many factors involved. Just let it be said that any of the top 5 pitchers can probably have a case made for the Cy Young award. Each has has some great games and each has had a bad game or two. Sometimes the ERA is not as good because their bad game was worse then the other guys bad game and even though their best games may be better the ERA reflects the bad game and distorts the actual truth. Also a pitcher could leave with a couple of men on and have them added to his ERA due to poor relief help and Felix and Sabathia can probably lay claim to a few outings where that happened. Chamberlain and League have not fared well at times this year. All in all any of the pitchers being considered is probably worthy.

    • Fetch

      all of that is a good reason as to why I never and why I will never use ERA to evaluate a pitcher.

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