Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Handicapping the AL Cy Young Race

At one point during the FOX broadcast of the Twins/White Sox game on Saturday, a graphic came up displaying the candidates for the American League Cy Young Award. The players listed on FOX's graphic were Chien-Ming Wang, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. I found this list rather curious, as it contained two players that, in my opinion, don't belong anywhere near the top five (Wang and Verlander) while excluding two players whom I would rank in the top four (Kelvim Escobar and Johan Santana). Neither Wang nor Verlander ranks in the top ten in the AL in ERA, but both play in big markets and get lots of run support, two factors which I suspect have fueled their hype. This list isn't the only one that has had me scratching my head.

Kevin Hench contributed an article to FoxSports.com this weekend outlining his top ten Cy Young contenders in the AL, and he somehow managed to leave Santana completely off the list. Much like in 2005, Santana seems to be getting widely ignored despite having the credentials to be a top contender.

As usual, baseball writers everywhere seem to be putting way too much stock into that W statistic while ignoring many others that are much more indicative of a pitcher's success.

With about three weeks left in the season, here's my list of the top five Cy Young contenders in the AL as I currently see them.

5. Dan Haren: 196 IP, 14-7, 3.03 ERA, 168 K / 50 BB, .240 BAA, 1.18 WHIP
Haren got off to a great start and was the American League's starting pitcher in the All-Star game, but he has seen some expected regression in his numbers. After going 10-3 with a 2.30 ERA and .205 BAA before the All-Star break, Haren is 4-4 with a 4.46 ERA and .298 BAA since. He should be judged on his season as a whole, and the overall numbers are still good (especially the ERA, which still leads the league by a hair), but his peripherals are underwhelming and I suspect he'll continue to decline a bit here in the final weeks of the season.

4. Kelvim Escobar: 180.1 IP, 16-7, 3.04 ERA, 150 K / 60 BB, .242 BAA, 1.23 WHIP
Escobar has had a very surprising season, putting himself right in the mix as a Cy candidate despite holding a career ERA above 4. Escobar was terrific between the months of July and August, going 6-3 with a 2.01 ERA during that span. His peripheral numbers aren't great, and he has struggled with his control at times, but Escobar has come up big for the Halos this year and he definitely deserves to be in this conversation.

3. Josh Beckett: 181.2 IP, 18-6, 3.27 ERA, 173 K / 36 BB, .245 BAA, 1.14 WHIP
My guess is that Beckett will end up winning the award, because he plays in Boston and leads the league in that pesky Wins statistic. And I don't mean to disparage Beckett by ranking him third, because he is having a career year and he has been crucial to Boston's success. Yet, Beckett's numbers don't sufficiently wow me enough to consider him top Cy material. He ranks seventh in ERA and in strikeouts, fourth in WHIP, eighth in opponents' batting average, and sixth in opponents' OPS. He has also had some durability issues, and ranks just 18th in the AL in innings pitched.

2. Johan Santana: 201 IP, 15-11, 3.09 ERA, 213 K / 46 BB, .224 BAA, 1.06 WHIP
I just can't figure how anyone can possibly not consider Santana to be at least among the top three contenders in this race. It's true that he's having a down year by his standards, but his numbers are still excellent in relation to his peers. Santana ranks third in ERA, second in strikeouts (he'll likely be first soon, since Erik Bedard is now done for the season), second in BAA, and fifth in opponents' OPS. He's not even all that far off the lead in Wins, as he trails the leader Beckett by just three. A lot of people hold it against Santana that he has given up a league-leading 30 home runs, but who cares how he's giving up runs as long as he's not giving up very many? I think it's a testament to his skill that he can give up so many homers and still give up so few runs overall.

1. C.C. Sabathia: 220 IP, 17-7, 3.15 ERA, 185 K / 33 BB, .260 BAA, 1.14 WHIP
This is an instance where I am going to look past the numbers to some extent. Sabathia isn't going to blow anyone away with his ERA, strikeout rate or batting average against, but he has been an absolute workhorse for the Indians this year. He leads the league in innings pitched by a fairly wide margin, and is averaging over seven innings per start. He leads the league in hits allowed, but that tends to happen when you rack up so many innings. He has offset the high number of hits by allowing just 33 walks for an infinitesimal BB/9 rate of 1.35. It pains me to pick Sabathia, because I really don't like him, but he's been the class of the AL this year in my opinion.

18 comments:

ubelmann said...

It's annoying that he's not recognized as he should be, but at some point, I think I accepted that Santana's great and that I'm privileged just to be able to watch him work every fifth day--and to have him on my side.

I'm not as high on Haren and Escobar as you are. I'd put Bedard, Beckett, Sabathia, and Santana in a hat and draw a name. I see them all in the top tier, but to me no one has especially done anything to separate himself from the pack.

beth said...

After the 2005 Cy Young inanity, I have no faith in the voters of the award. I do, however, really like your analysis. I'd probably put Bedard on my own list of potential candidates, but I haven't had a chance to check numbers yet.

Jesse said...

1. Sabathia
2. Santana
3. Putz
4. Bedard
5. Beckett

Jake said...

You all homies? Home team band wagon riders?

Face it. Santana is great - just not good enough this year. It's not always about the wins and losses, the era, the strikeouts. Sometimes it's about run support and playoff race standings. Sabathia and Beckett are leading their teams to the playoffs. Meanwhile Santana goes 0-6 versus Cleveland.

Santana is awesome and it's a pleasure to watch him pitch - but lets not get too huggy-kissy with the home team here. Others have shown more in 2007.

Karleeee said...

I think the only reason he isn't being looked at that much is because of the whole
"suckness against cleveland"

*shrugs*

He's been good..but its hard to beat last year.
It isn't his fault he isn't getting any run support either.

Nick N. said...

Ubelmann and Beth, I agree that Bedard had a great year, and I had a hard time leaving him off. I guess it's just the fact that he's going to finish the season with about 180 IP, and that's a little low for me because I'm big on durability (as evidenced by the Sabathia pick).

Jesse, I can't disagree with your inclusion of Putz. I thought strongly about putting him in there somewhere, he has had a terrific year and he's been huge for the Mariners.

Face it. Santana is great - just not good enough this year. It's not always about the wins and losses, the era, the strikeouts. Sometimes it's about run support and playoff race standings.

Ah, so a pitcher should be judged primarily on two things he has almost no control over. Makes sense. The Cy Young is an individual award to recognize a single pitcher who has been the very best; it should not have anything to do with team performance.

Ryan said...

I liked this article and agreed but wasn't going to leave a comment until I read this article- http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070911&content_id=2201388&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb- on MLB.com, in which Santana is not even mentioned. Not even in the Honorable Mention section, where Joe Borowski, of the 5.40 ERA, is. I just don't understand what these people are looking at.

Nick M. said...

I think as much as Twins fans should get use to Santana's greatness, it is probably fair to get used to seeing idiotic commentators and writers leaving his name off potential Cy Young lists. Sadly, wins has been the big deal for Cy Young victories for a long time. Heck, if I looked back past Santana's Cy Young, all the recent winners (Clemens in 01', Zito in 02', and of course Colon in 05') are disputable besides Roy Halladay's Cy Young victory, which came for many of the same reasons Sabathia should win.

Nick N. said...

Good catch Ryan, that article is absolutely ridiculous (here's a working link by the way, to anyone interested in losing their lunch).

ubelmann said...

I like durability, too, Nick, but if someone is much better than the rest of the league ratewise, I can forgive him somewhat for not pitching so many innings. Since durability is really the only knock against Bedard this season, I think he's deserving of being in the top tier.

But it's not like we're in huge disagreement here anyway. Once you get to the top group of pitchers, personal taste seems to play a large role in these sorts of rankings.

ubelmann said...

Actually, the other subplot here is that Twins' fans kind of lucked out last year with Morneau getting the MVP on a pretty shaky case stats-wise. In many ways, he got the award thanks to the same philosophies that will keep Santana from winning the Cy this year.

(And I can't believe anyone would put Putz, Papelbon, and Borowski on the same list. Wow.)

Anonymous said...

my favorite part of the article (other than the inclusion of borowski) is about Wang: He has not made it to at least the sixth inning only twice in 27 starts. Johan has not made it into the sixth only twice also, but in 30 starts. i guess maybe he would have pointed that out if he had included johan on the list.

Anonymous said...

ESPN.com page 2 (of all places...) actually has an interesting article about this that is pretty heavily stats-based:
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=keri/070910&sportCat=mlb
It seems to me to be pretty fair, if not very deep in terms of discussion of each candidate.

Tricia said...

C.C. Sabathia. Yuck! I'm not faulting your choice here, but ew. I don't like this guy at all.

Nick N. said...

ESPN.com page 2 (of all places...) actually has an interesting article about this that is pretty heavily stats-based:
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=keri/070910&sportCat=mlb
It seems to me to be pretty fair, if not very deep in terms of discussion of each candidate.


I saw that article, and I liked it a lot. I think Jonah Keri is a new writer over at ESPN.com; I really like what I've seen from him.

Anonymous said...

LOL, I love how Twins fans hate Sabathia. Honestly, I had no idea (not sarcastic there, and I'm from CLE if you can't tell). I really like Santana. He is pretty awesome. You know what hurt him this year? The losses against the Indians. You take away 3 or 4 of those losses (which is what I would expect had he pitched against another team), and he suddenly is up there with Beckett, Sabathia, and Carmona (yes, Carmona). Honestly, if Sabathia loses (to Beckett), it will be for the exact same reasons that no one outside of Minnesota and knowledgeable AL Central fans is talking about/noticing Santana this year- East Coast, big market bias. So the hell with them! Those "fans" and "writers" don't know diddly-squat. It's been my privilege to enjoy some top notch baseball in this division this year, and to boot my Indians are going to the playoffs, but if things had turned out differently, I'd be rooting for the Tigers or the Twins in the playoffs (ANYONE but the White Sox). Good luck next year, I'm glad no one went and did something stupid like fold your team, and I hope you keep Santana for many years to come. Oh, and please sign Tori Hunter, that guy plays with heart! Can't wait till you get out of the Metrodome and into your new stadium!

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