My picks for managers, relievers, and rookie can be found here.
Like before, I will be naming the winner followed by my full ballot. Win/Loss record was completely ignored in filling out my ballot. This is 2014. Also, all my WAR values will be from Fangraphs. I prefer the FIP-based WAR in Fangraphs because it better evaluates what a pitcher can directly control1. Clicking on the ballot will bring you to a Fangraphs page where you can compare all their stats yourself.
NL Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw
Yeah, big freakin’ surprise. Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher on the face of the planet.
When he went down for the first month of the season due to injury, I thought that it would open up the Cy Young race. José Fernández started the season on fire, but then tragically went down with Tommy John surgery, breaking the hearts of baseball fans everywhere. Adam Wainwright was then the new frontrunner. There’s was no way Kershaw could pitch so well as to make up for a month’s worth of missed innings, right?
Well, that’s what I get for underestimating the great Clayton Kershaw! Despite pitching 29 less innings than Wainwright and 35 less innings than Cueto, Kershaw’s dominance was too overpowering to keep him from winning the award. Even though he missed the first month of the season, he still led all NL pitchers with a 7.2 WAR! That’s 2 full wins above the runner-up Jordan Zimmermann! He also turned in a 31.9 K%, 1.77 ERA2, and 1.81 FIP, all of which were the best in the league, as well as a 4.1 BB%, which was fourth best. He didn’t just barely lead the league in those categories either. He had a 4% better strikeout rate than the runner-up, Strasburg. His ERA was half a run better than Wainwright’s! His FIP was almost a full run better than Zimmermann’s!
The highlight of the baseball season for me personally was being fortunate enough to have watched Kershaw’s 15 K, no-hitter. Add in the fact that it was called by the legendary Vin Scully resulted in me enjoying a baseball game that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Personally, it was the greatest pitching performance I have ever seen on live television. I didn’t get to bed until 1:30 AM that night, and I was pretty sleepy at work the following morning. Totally worth it.
I consider myself truly blessed to be able to watch what very well may be an all-time great in his prime. Baseball fans everywhere, I implore you to not take this for granted!
I was expecting Wainwright to come in second, but was surprised when I convinced myself that Zimmermann had the better year. He was second in the NL with 5.2 WAR. His ERA was a little worse than Wainwright’s, but that was due to some bad BABIP luck. Zimmermann did have a slightly better FIP. He also had a better K% than Wainwright and the best walk rate in the NL at 3.6%, a full 2% lower than Wainwright’s, which is more significant than it sounds. All of that is why I put Zimmermann above Wainwright, despite the 27 IP deficiency.
On the surface, it might seem strange to put Johnny Cueto in fourth place when he had a 2.25 ERA. However, that was the result of some great BABIP luck of .238. His FIP was more than a full run higher at 3.30, which was “only” the tenth best in the league. That was just too far behind Zimmermann and Wainwright for me to put him the top 3.
You may be surprised to see that Strasburg made the ballot. If you look past his win/loss record to stats that actually matter, you’ll see that he quietly had an excellent year. He was actually second in the league in strikeout rate with 27.9 %, and this was while maintaining a great 5.0 BB%. He also had a 2.94 FIP. All of that is better than Cueto except for his 3.14 ERA. There was some bad luck in that with a .315 BABIP, but a 0.9 run difference is too much to overlook. He did have a high 13.1% HR/FB, so I was initially led to put him over Cueto by citing his xFIP, but it turns out he’s always had a high HR/FB. If a pitcher has a career HR/FB that is higher than the league average, then xFIP is overrating him. It was really close, but that’s why I had Cueto over Strasburg. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t argue against anybody who thought it should be the other way around.
So what about Madison Bumgarner? It pained me to leave him off the ballot. His 2.98 ERA, 3.05 FIP, and 3.6 WAR led me to believe that he fell just short of the top five. There are some people, including the great Jonah Keri, who chose to give Bumgarner credit it for his tremendous hitting performance this season (well, for a pitcher anyway). Bumgarner hit .258/.286/.470 with a 115 wRC+! He hit four home runs, and two of them were grand slams! His hitting alone was worth 1.2 WAR! Obviously, since that was accomplished in only 78 PA, it’s a small sample size fluke. He had a career 5 wRC+ coming into this season, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that his offensive performance this season is unsustainable. It was a lot of fun, though! Anyway, with all due respect to Keri, I don’t believe hitting should be factored into a pitching award. For the MVP award, however, I have no problem with considering a pitcher’s offensive performance.
Jake Arrieta also had an excellent season that would’ve gotten him on the ballot had he had enough innings to qualify.
AL Cy Young Award: Corey Kluber
I’m not going to lie, I really wanted this to be King Félix. As late as mid-August, I thought he was a shoe-in to win it. That’s what I get for trying to predict baseball.
This race went down to the wire. I was not comfortable making my pick until both Kluber and Hernández had made their last starts. Perhaps I could have drawn a conclusion sooner, but I really wanted all the information to come in first.
Kluber finished a full 1.1 WAR above Hernández. That didn’t make much sense to me at first, as I didn’t think Kluber was that much better, but when you look at all the facts it starts to make sense. Kluber had Hernández beat in FIP and K%, and was only 0.4 % worse in walk rate. The big difference maker, however, is their batted ball luck and home parks. Kluber was slightly unlucky with a .316 BABIP against batters faced, while Hernández had a very lucky .258 BABIP. If we look at the park factors from their respective parks 3, we can see that Hernández pitches in a much friendlier stadium for pitching than Kluber. Being in the AL West, he also gets to pitch in the friendly confines of Angel Stadium and
The Al Davis Memorial Dump the Coliseum. Aside from Kluber’s own ballpark, all the other stadiums in the AL Central are hitter friendly or neutral.
I wouldn’t be surprised if King Félix ended up winning the award. Star power fuels narratives. I believe that the facts back Kluber as the clear objective choice. Unfortunately, objective analysis is not the voters’ strong suit.
Had Chris Sale not missed time this season with a DL stint, he might’ve been the deserving Cy Young winner. However, even a Kershaw level of dominance can’t make up for the ~60 IP deficit between him and Kluber and Hernández. As it stands, he still led the league with a 30.4 K%. His ERA and FIP were basically identical to that of Hernández, and in a hitter-park no less, though his walk rate was slightly higher. Quite frankly, the argument can be made that Sale was the best pitcher in baseball this season. Unfortunately for him, he just didn’t have enough innings pitched.
I have to say that it was really hard putting Sale over David Price given the huge 74 IP difference between the two. The advantage in strike out rate combined with Sale’s ERA being 1.1 runs better, in a more difficult ball park for most of the year, is what led me to my decision. That is a big IP difference though, and anybody who thought that Price deserved a higher spot based on that would not get an argument from me.
Price over Jon Lester was a close call. Lester had a 2.46 ERA that was 0.8 runs better than Price. However, they had an identical FIP, and Price had a better strike out rate and an excellent 3.8 BB%, which was third among AL starters. He also pitched about 30 IP more than Lester. All of that led me to put Price above Lester, even though a 0.8 run difference is significant hurdle to overcome.
Max Scherzer barely missed. He had a similar FIP to Price and Lester, with a better strikeout rate to boot, but had relatively high 7.0 BB% compared to the other pitchers on my ballot. To be clear, it’s better to not walk batters than it is to strike them out, which is why I give BB% a little more weight.
It’s also worth noting that Phil Hughes had an outstanding season and has completely turned his career around. His 6.1 WAR was actually equivalent to Price and Lester. His ERA was too high and his strikeout rate was too low to make my ballot, but he had a historically low 1.9 BB%4. Hughes actually broke the all-time record for K/BB with 11.63! To give you an idea of how good that is, the league average for K/BB is 2.67! So far it looks like I was extremely wrong about that Hughes contract.
Agree? Disagree? I more than welcome a friendly discussion on the choices I’ve made. The non-winners on my ballots I think are especially ripe for discussion.
- If you disagree and believe that runs allowed should be factored into a pitcher’s WAR, then I recommend staying on Fangraphs and clicking on the “Value” tab to get the RA9-WAR values. That’s pitcher WAR that uses RA9 instead of FIP, like Fangraphs, or ERA, like Baseball Reference. RA9 stands for Runs Allowed per 9 IP and is basically ERA with unearned runs factored in. I believe if you’re going to factor in the runs a pitcher allowed, then you’re best off removing all subjectivity from the equation. I also don’t have a problem with anybody who prefers bWAR or RA9-WAR to fWAR. There are good arguments to use either one. ↩
- I used ERA for all of my evaluations so I’m going to stick with it for this post. However, this may be the last post where I use it. RA9 is a better a stat and it’s about time I started using it. ↩
- Single season park factors do suffer a bit from small sample sizes. If you look at the park factors for Progressive Field and Safeco Field over the past five years or so, you’ll see that this year’s park factors are roughly representative of larger sample sizes with respect to those two fields. ↩
- Yeah yeah, I know I just said that I give extra weight to walk rate. As low as that walk rate was, I don’t believe that it was enough to overcome a 3.52 ERA and 21.8 K%. ↩