Going Down Ballot: the 2010 AL Cy Young


Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young award despite winning only 13 games, and deservedly so. He lead the league in nearly every pitching stat, traditional and advanced, but thanks to a collection of arsonists in the bullpen and the Mariners’ historically bad offense, King Felix was stuck with 9 no decisions and 7 losses in starts where he allowed three runs or less. The Cy Young award voters should be commended for getting it right; it would have been much easier to simply give the award to the guy who won the most games. This year was particularly tough for voters, since run scoring was down all across the league to its lowest rate in 18 years and so many pitchers turned in fantastic performances. That includes Francisco Liriano, who finished eleventh in voting despite a 6.0 fWAR that put him fourth in the league. Liriano probably didn’t deserve to win, but it is interesting that he failed to crack the top ten despite being, at worst, the fourth-best pitcher in the league. After the jump, how Liriano stacks up against those who finished ahead of him.

1) Felix Hernandez: 2.27 ERA, 249.2 IP, 3.04 FIP, 3.26 xFIP, 3.31 K/BB, 6.2 fWAR. Yep, nothing to complain about here.

2) David Price: 2.72 ERA, 207.2 IP, 3.42 FIP, 3.99 xFIP, 2.31 K/BB, 4.3 fWAR My only quibble with putting Price this high is that his peripherals aren’t as good as some of the pitchers below him (namely Lee, Lester, Weaver, Verlander, and Liriano). They’re still very good, though, so I don’t have a problem with Price in the top five.

3) C.C. Sabathia: 3.18 ERA, 237.2 IP, 3.54 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 2.66 K/BB, 5.1 fWAR Like Lee, Sabathia didn’t actually deserve to win but, unlike some others further down the ballot, at least his peripherals put him in the top ten.

4) Jon Lester: 3.25 ERA, 208 IP, 3.13 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, 2.71 K/BB, 5.6 fWAR David Price and C.C. Sabathia weren’t the best pitchers in the AL East; that was Jon Lester. And yet Price got four first place votes, Sabathia got three, while Lester got none. At least he finished ahead of Clay Buchholz and a bunch of relievers, though.

5) Jered Weaver: 3.01 ERA, 224.1 IP, 3.06 FIP, 3.51 xFIP, 4.31 K/BB, 5.9 fWAR Weaver lead the league in strikeouts (232), and finished third in innings pitched and fourth in ERA. I’m very surprised he didn’t get any first-place votes.

6) Clay Buchholz: 2.33 ERA, IP, 3.61 FIP, 4.20 xFIP, 1.79 K/BB, 3.7 fWAR Buchholz pitched well in a notorious hitters park, in a tough division, but finished in the bottom ten of innings pitched and none of his peripherals were particularly fantastic. In fact, his peripherals indicate he should have had a season similar to Scott Baker: 4.49 ERA, 170.1 IP, 3.96 FIP, 4.02 xFIP, 2.5 fWAR. He shouldn’t even be in the discussion, let alone in the top ten.

7) Cliff Lee: 3.18 ERA, 212.1 IP, 2.58 FIP, 3.23 xFIP, 10.28 K/BB, 7.1 fWAR Lee led the league in K/BB and fWAR by a wide margin. He didn’t pitch as many innings, didn’t rack up as many strikeouts, and his ERA was nearly a full run higher than Hernandez’s so he probably didn’t deserve to actually win, but Lee should’ve finished much higher than seventh.

8) Rafael Soriano: 1.73 ERA, 62.1 IP, 2.81 FIP, 3.81 xFIP, 4.07 K/BB, 1.6 fWAR Shame on you, voters. Rafael Soriano, really? Soriano is a very good relief pitcher, but come on, Ben Sheets tossed more innings this year. The only reason Soriano finished this high is that he racked up a league-leading 45 saves. The voters have finally caught on that wins are not an effective measure of a starting pitchers’ overall performance; unfortunately they are still well behind the ball when it comes to relievers and saves. I doubt very much that Soriano would have made the top ten if he were a set-up man.

9) Trevor Cahill: 2.97 ERA, 196.2 IP, 4.19 FIP, 4.11 xFIP, 1.87 K/BB, 2.2 fWAR Wins may no longer be in fashion, but apparently ERA still is.

10) Joakim Soria: 1.78 ERA, 65.2 IP, 2.53 FIP, 2.99 xFIP, 4.44 K/BB, 2.1 fWAR Unlike Soriano, Soria is one of the best relievers in baseball, so his appearance on this list is somewhat justified. However, I’m starting to think it’s time to create a separate award just for relief pitchers, so voters will no longer be tempted think of them as the best pitchers in the league just because they have a lot of saves. We can call it the Mariano Rivera Award, or something.

11) Francisco Liriano: 3.62 ERA, 191.2 IP, 2.66 FIP, 3.06 xFIP, 3.47 K/BB, 6.0 fWAR I don’t think Liriano actually deserved to win the Cy Young. He didn’t pitch as many innings as Hernandez, Sabathia, Verlander, or Lee, and his peripherals weren’t quite as good (though they were close). I would have been happy if F-bomb finished sixth.

and Justin Verlander: 3.37 ERA, 224.1 IP, 2.66 FIP, 3.06 xFIP, 3.08 K/BB, 6.3 fWAR Verlander finished second in WAR (ahead of Hernandez by a rounding error) and in the top five in innings pitched, FIP, xFIP and K/BB. He should have finished higher than the relievers on the ballot, and he really should have finished in the top five.

Other than the presence of Buchholz, Cahill, and the relievers on the ballot, it’s hard to argue with the voters too much. There were many fine pitching performances this season, and really, you could make the case for any one of these guys. Still, this got me to thinking: how often has a Twin been snubbed in Cy Young voting? Is Liriano’s case rare, or have there been others who have finished in the top five in WAR, yet failed to crack the top ten in voting? The Twins have not been a great offensive ballclub for much of their existence, and a lack of run support can obviously hurt pitcher win totals. Only four pitchers have won Cy Young awards as Twins, so I wondered if their relatively low win totals were hurting them in voting (or if their pitching staff, like their offense, has just generally sucked and didn’t really deserve consideration in the first place). For the sake of consistency, I used fangraphs’ WAR (I tend to like fWAR for pitchers anyway because it includes FIP). Their WAR data for pitchers only goes back as far as 1980 though, so I only looked at all of the Cy Young ballots over that period of time. As it turns out, there are a few snubs:

1992: John Smiley has the fifth-best WAR (5.7), but finished with a 16-9 record and didn’t crack the top ten in voting. Smiley had a 3.21 ERA at a time when the entire league was averaging just 4.32 runs per game, so it’s hard to fault the voters for failing to notice his otherwise fine season (and it isn’t as though Smiley went on to have a long and distinguished career). That Dennis Eckersley won while Roger Clemens finished third (behind Jack McDowell!) is a much more egregious oversight.

2000: Brad Radke had the fourth-highest WAR total in the league (5.1), but finished with a 12-11 record, and behind Andy Pettitte (4.0), Tim Hudson (3.7), Roger Clemens (3.8, the Rocket was having an off year), and Todd Jones (!), in voting. Bradke’s peripherals weren’t significantly better than Clemens’, or Pettitte’s, or Hudson’s, so it’s hard to argue that he actually pitched better and deserved to finish much higher in voting (though he was significantly better than Jones, who finished fifth). Bradke also finished fifth in the league in WAR in 2001 but failed to make the top ten. He won only 15 games while Jamie Moyer, who went 20-6, finished fourth. I don’t think Bradke pitched better than Tim Hudson (5th in voting) or Freddy Garcia (3rd), but his 3.94 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 5.27 K/BB, and WAR (5.3) were much better than Moyer’s 3.43 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 2.70 K/BB, and WAR (3.1).

2005: I will never get over this as long as I live. Johan Santana was far and away the best pitcher in the league that year. He lead the league in WAR (7.6), FIP (2.80), xFIP (3.10), tERA (2.80), K/9 (9.25), WHIP (0.97), and strikeouts (238). His 2.87 ERA was just a tick behind Kevin Millwood’s league-leading 2.86 (though Santana pitched nearly forty more innings), while his 5.29 K/BB ratio was second only to teammate Carlos Silva’s insane 7.89 mark. And yet Johan received just three first place votes, finishing third behind Bartolo Colon and Mariano Rivera. Colon won a league-leading 21 games though, so that made him the bestest pitcher evaaaar (he also finished 23rd in MVP voting; Johan didn’t even crack the top 30).

So, other than Johan Santana, it doesn’t look like any Twins’ pitchers have been horribly snubbed due to a relatively low win total. However, there have been quite a few who have been helped by either a relatively high win total, or, in the case of relief pitchers, a crapload of saves:

1987: Jeff Reardon finished 8th despite being just one win above replacement. Why voters placed Reardon so high is a mystery. He had an ugly 4.48 ERA, and though he converted 31 of 40 save opportunities, it was actually Tom Henke who lead the league in saves and save percentage (34 and .81, respectively). Voters strangely though more of him than they did of Jack Morris, who finished ninth despite a 3.27 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 2.24 K/BB, and 3.9 WAR in 266 innings.

1988: Frank Viola wins 24 games and beats 18 game-winner Roger Clemens for the Cy Young Award. Clemens: 2.93 ERA, 2.17 FIP, 4.68 K/BB, and 10.0 WAR. Viola: 2.64 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 3.57 K/BB, and 7.1 WAR. It’s pretty close, but Clemens should have won.

1991: Scott Erickson finished second in voting despite a 3.9 WAR. Erickson was 12th in the league in ERA, 13th in WAR, 19th in FIP, and somewhere in the middle of the pack in K/BB, yet he got 3 first place votes and finished second to Roger Clemens. Teammates Kevin Tapani (2.99 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 3.38 K/BB, 5.4 WAR, fifth-best in the league) and Jack Morris (3.43 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 1.77 K/BB, 5.0 WAR) finished seventh and fourth in Cy Young voting, respectively.

1997: Brad Radke finished third in voting despite a 3.87 ERA. Unlike Francisco Liriano, Bradke did not have sparkling peripherals, with a 3.81 FIP, 3.63 K/BB and 5.5 WAR. However, he did win 20 games, which was the third-most in the league, and thus, the voters must have reasoned, he was the third-best pitcher in the league. Too bad it was actually Andy Pettitte.

2004: Joe Nathan finishes fourth in voting. I love Joe Nathan, I really do, but was he really better than Freddy Garcia, or Tim Hudson, or jeez, even his own teammate Brad Radke? Nope, not by a long shot. 2004 seemed to be the year of the closer, with three of them snagging the top six spots (at least the voters got the winner right). Twitchy would also finish fifth in 2006, which, again, is dumb.

Erin is a contributing writer for Twinkie Talk. You can email her at erinm725 [at] gmail [dot] com.