Crown the King…Felix Hernandez deserves the AL Cy Young Award

November 17, 2010 | Thyrl Nelson

I just thought I’d offer my vote for the AL Cy Young Award before the league makes their choice official on Friday. There didn’t seem much point in debating the NL recipient, as evidenced by the unanimous vote for Roy Halladay, as although the NL Cy Young race appeared to be the more interesting and debatable argument as the season progressed, by season’s end, the choice became a no-brainer. Ubaldo Jiminez peaked too soon, Josh Johnson came up short, and Adam Wainwright’s team finished out of contention. The Halladay choice was too easy for this the supposed year of the pitcher. But the AL side of the equation will be a different matter altogether.

Much like last year’s races on both sides of the ledger, this year looks to shape up as a face off between the old school and new school, the traditional stats guys vs. the ever growing Saber-Metrics community. But unlike last year, it would seem that this year both sides will at least agree that over the duration of the season, Felix Hernandez, start after start was the American League’s best pitcher, arguably the best in baseball. The question, which seemed to be answered to some degree last season with the choices of both Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum, is whether pitchers whose teams finish out of contention, or more importantly those with modest win totals themselves should be penalized in the Cy Young voting.

 

In the true spirit of the man for whom the award was named, pennant contention, or even wins should certainly not be considered the gold standard. In Denton “Cyclone” Young’s 22 major league seasons, he won only a single World Series, and in addition to his record 511 career wins, he also enjoys the MLB career loss record at 316.

 

What’s working against Hernandez though is that his team wasn’t just bad, they were terrible, losing 101 games on the season. As a result, despite his own prolific stats this season, Hernandez finished his 2010 campaign with a record of just 13-12. One game above .500 while pitching for a team that plays 40 games below .500 overall, is an accomplishment nonetheless. Also working against Hernandez are the respective seasons put together by both CC Sabathia and David Price while competing for pennants in a much tougher AL East. I think we can concede at this point that it pretty much boils down to those 3. Jon Lester certainly merits mention, but in the end didn’t do quite enough, and any voter open minded enough to even consider Trevor Cahill seriously will certainly have to give his vote to Hernandez.

So here are the numbers:

 

Hernandez led the AL in innings pitched with 249.2, Sabathia was second at 237.2 and and Price 18th at 208.2 innings. (all stats taken from ESPN.com unless otherwise noted)

 

Hernandez’ 232 strikeouts was good for 2nd in the AL, 1 behind Jared Weaver, Sabathia was 6th with 197, and Price 8th with 188 strikeouts.

 

Sabathia led the AL in wins with a 21-7 record, Price was tied for second in wins with a 19-6 record, and as mentioned Hernandez finished at 13-12.

 

Hernendez led the AL with a 2.27 ERA, Price was 3rd at 2.72, and Sabathia 7th with a 3.18 ERA.

 

Hernandez finished 2nd to Cliff Lee in the AL in WHIP at 1.06, Sabathia and Price came in tied for 9th in the AL (with Colby Lewis and Carl Pavano) with a 1.19 WHIP.

 

Hernandez pitched 6 complete games (3rd in the AL) or more than Price (2) and Sabathia (2) combined.

 

Hernandez was 7th in the AL in strikeout to walk ratio at 3.31, Sabathia was 14th at 2.66, and Price was 21st striking out 2.38 batters per walk issued.

 

In the category or WAR (or wins above replacement, also called WARP it represents the value of that player in wins over an average AAA replacement….basically) Hernandez leads AL pitchers at 6.0, with with Sabathia in a 3-way tie for second with Weaver and Buchholz at 5.4 and Price finished 5th at 5.3 wins above replacement. (from baseballreference.com)

 

And in VORP, not to be confused with WAR or WARP, or value over replacement player, this measured in runs rather than wins again Hernandez finished 1st at 70.2, Price was 2nd at 54.9 and Sabathia came in 5th saving his team 51.3 runs over an average AAA replacement. (from baseballprospectus.com)

 

So other than wins, the stats all lean heavily toward Hernandez. He doesn’t however play in the AL East, and maybe didn’t feel the same type of pressure that the other two were subjected to as their teams competed in “pennant races”. The truth is, for most of the season, the AL East wasn’t much of a race for all intents and purposes. Despite their own prodigious records, the teams of both Sabathia and Price did enough on the days when those guys weren’t pitching to make their respective regular seasons overall rather enjoyable I’d think. While getting the job done in the midst of a pennant race shouldn’t be understated, it was mostly a foregone conclusion pretty quickly that either the Yankees or Rays were likely to win the East, and the other likely the wild card, it’s hard to say that either Sabathia or Price felt anywhere near the type of pressure either did in the post season, as the Yankees and Rays cruised into the playoffs.

 

Can that type of pressure be comparable to pitching for a team that you can be relatively sure will score few runs behind you, and who night in night out demonstrate a propensity for simply playing bad baseball? Or the pressure to push yourself, when only personal accomplishments can highlight an otherwise miserable season, in which the front office is cleaning house, or to try and keep the game out of the hands of a bullpen almost sure to blow a lead and break your heart? It’s hard to say really which is the tougher circumstance under which to take the mound start after start.

 

What’s not arguable, and that likely hurts Hernandez more than anything is this. He pitches in a hitting poor division, full of perceived pitcher’s parks, with seemingly none more favorable to pitching than his own. Yankee Stadium has quickly become known as a launching pad ranking 2nd in ESPN’s ballpark factor rankings, accounting for an extra 1.177 runs per game, Safeco ranks 29th in this stat at 0.813 runs, and surprisingly (to me at least) Tropicana Field is a relative safe haven for pitchers, coming in as the best pitcher’s park in baseball at 0.800 runs.

 

Lastly, and what may hurt Hernandez too, is that for the first part of the season, he wasn’t even arguably the best pitcher on his otherwise miserable team, as Cliff Lee was setting the league on fire in Seattle despite the same circumstances that surrounded Hernandez there. Lee left with an impressive 8-3 record, far better looking than Hernandez 13-12. What’s more, while pitching in front of a much better offense and in the midst of a pennant race, Lee proceeded to go 4-6 down the stretch for Texas, possibly reinforcing the notion that somehow pitching in Seattle is easier.

 

I can see the argument on both sides, that’s what makes this interesting, but at the end of the day, I’ll be disappointed if Hernandez doesn’t walk away with the hardware. How about you?

 

 

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