Monday, September 27, 2010

King Felix vs. CC





Over the last few weeks, there's been a growing debate among all baseball fans: Who should win the American League Cy Young award, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners or CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees? Regardless of where you stand on this ultimately meaningless issue is beside the point; the fact that Felix is even getting consideration by some people that hold votes is proof that people are starting to look more at advanced statistics to come to even better conclusions.*

*If you are one of the people who can't stand the new baseball stats, I'm sorry, but pull your head out of wherever it is. Saying your 'old-school' and a 'traditionalist' is just the less embarrassing way of saying 'I have no idea how that stat is calculated.' Look, stats aren't everything. I've said that thousands of times. But they are undoubtedly the best way for fans to compare players in many different aspects. If you don't like the newer stats (xFip, ERA+, WAR, etc.) it's clear you don't understand them. I say this only because anyone who reasonably understands how these things are calculated will realize there is no argument against them. If you want to be a real, Minnesota Twins fan in this technological generation, I suggest if nothing else you at least take my word that the newer stats are far, far more indicative of how well one's season went then the old-school Win, Loss and ERA numbers.*

The debate has been written about by more talented, more qualified and certainly much smarter people than myself. I've yet to read a good article that explains why CC Sabathia or even David Price deserve the Cy Young over King Felix. In my opinion, the only argument that sort of holds water is that Hernandez is pitching for a terrible Mariners team, and much like position players very, very rarely winning the MVP on a losing team, that logic I suppose could be spread to the Cy Young Award. Personally, I think both the MVP and Cy Young's should go to the best position player and pitcher in the league that year. I don't care that it's called 'most valuable.' Most fans understand winning the MVP usually means you had the best season, or at least it should.

Sabathia has been fantastic this season, there's no arguing that. His xFip** is 3.82, he's gone 20-7 thus far, and WAR (Wins Above Replacement, basically how much better CC has been than an easy to find AAA level player) has him pegged at 4.6 wins. That's a very good year. For comparison's sake, Ubaldo Jimenez has posted a 3.76 xFip, gone 19-7, and WAR has him worth 5.7 wins. Basically they've had very comparable seasons, but Jimenez has gotten a ton more hype because of his dominant start. Jimenez, while still a Cy Young candidate in the NL, isn't expected to win the award. The front-runners in the NL would appear to be Roy Halladay and Adam Wainwright, in my opinion. Halladay has posted a 2.95 xFip, has gone 20-10, and WAR has him pegged at 6.4 wins. Adam Wainwright is 20-11, with an xFip of 3.15, and WAR has him pegged at 6.2 wins. If I was voting on the NL Cy Young, it would be Halladay by a wide margin, though, because he has so many complete games. Anyways, the NL Cy Young debate isn't as fun, because all three pitchers are having comparable seasons across the board. I think Halladay's been a little better than Ubaldo and Wainwright, but they've all had strikingly similar years so it's not a fun debate. King Felix, on the other hand, doesn't have the gaudy win total because of a historically bad Seattle offense, but here are his numbers for 2010: He has a 3.26 xFip, is just 12-12, and WAR has him pegged at 6.1 wins. His ERA is a ridiculous 2.31, but as xFip points out that's aided quite a bit by one of the league's best defenses. Now, even with a 12-12 record, WAR has Hernandez's performance this season worth more than Sabathia's. I tend to agree, but since I know not everyone likes the newer stats as much as me, there's other reasons I think Felix Hernandez should be the AL Cy Young.

**If you don't know what xFip is, it's basically a pitcher's ERA but it's adjusted to assume every pitcher had the same defense behind him. It's a lot of advanced calculations, but ultimately it allows us to compare how someone like Jarrod Washburn could be so fantastic for half a season in Seattle and then struggle in Detroit. xFip suggested Washburn was in for a tumble, although he was obviously much worse that second half than anyone expected.**

King Felix has been among the unluckiest pitchers in baseball history this year, at least as far as run support is concerned. He's gotten just 3.76 runs from his offense per start, which is the worst in baseball. To put into perspective just how bad that number is, here's the league leader among qualified starting pitchers in least run support over the last handful of years:

4.75 ('09 Johan Santana)
4.47 ('08 Matt Cain)
4.55 ('07 Matt Cain)
4.15 ('06 Mark Hendrickson)
4.64 ('05 Roger Clemens)
4.41 ('04 Livan Hernandez)

Hernandez is going to break the 4 run mark for the first time since 2003, and Pat Hentgen got 3.98 runs of support when he led the league that year. While some of you are thinking "He should be able to win more than 12 games with 3 runs a game" keep in mind that it's an average, not a set-in-stone per game number. Here are the runs the Mariners have scored this year in his 12 losses:

4/26: 1 run
5/1: 3 runs
5/7: 0 runs
5/23: 1 run
6/8: 1 run
7/16: 2 runs
7/26: 1 run
7/31: 0 runs
8/5: 0 runs
8/15: 1 run
9/11: 4 runs
9/23: 0 runs

No joke, in Hernandez's 12 losses, the Mariners have scored a combined 14 runs, including four games in which the offense didn't even score at all. It's not Hernandez's fault that the Mariners offense is so anemic--and it's among the worst offenses in recent memory--but I worry that many older, long-time voters will ignore the numbers that clearly show King Felix has been the best starter in the AL this year because he doesn't have that gaudy win-loss total that they seem to fall in love with every year.

If Hernandez does manage to win the Cy Young, it will be a major sign that even the people who were most against a statistical revolution in baseball just a decade ago (the long-time baseball writers) are starting to come around and realizing the benefits of advanced statistics. In today's day and age, it's foolish to not make the right decision when there are so many facts to help back up a decision. King Felix should be the AL Cy Young winner, no doubt, but don't count on the voters to get it right.