CC Sabathia’s Cy Young Case


(AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

It wasn’t long ago, about a month and a half, that something seemed wrong with CC Sabathia. Through 12 starts he had allowed 12 home runs. He had allowed just 18 in all of 2009. His ERA seemed a bit high at 4.14, and at that point he was pitching like the team’s fourth-best starter. In the linked post I looked at his peripherals and determined his home runs to be the only issue, but that seemed like a significant one. The Yankees were relying on Sabathia to be their workhorse ace.

As expected, he turned around his season at that point. On June 9, six days after he allowed two home runs to a then-hapless Orioles lineup, he held them to just two runs, none via the homer, through seven innings. That started a run of excellence that ran through last night’s seven-inning, two run performance. In that 103.1-inning span he has a 2.35 ERA, striking out 82 to 37 walks. Best of all, he’s allowed just three home runs — and two of them were solo shots last night. If I’ve learned one thing about aces over the last few years, it’s to not sweat it when they surrender solo home runs.

This run, unsurprisingly, has gotten people talking about Sabathia’s Cy Young candidacy. He leads the AL in wins and has lowered his ERA to 3.12. Since those two stats factor heavily into the BBWAA voters’ decisions, it stands to reason that Sabathia has a decent shot at the award. But if the baseball writers cast their votes for the actual best pitcher in the AL, rather than the one who has the most pitcher-wins, Sabathia will not win. He’s having a top-10, maybe even top-5, season, but that isn’t good enough to win the Cy Young Award. For that you need to have a top-1 season.

Seven AL pitchers currently have an ERA better than Sabathia, though that can be misleading. Being the best in the league means not only having the best rate stats, but also the best counting numbers. A pitcher who eats a larger percentage of his teams overall innings is more valuable than a pitcher who produces similar results while pitching a bit less. Only two of the pitchers ahead of Sabathia have as many as his 26 starts, and one of them, Jered Weaver, has thrown 14.2 fewer innings. Only Felix Hernandez has a better ERA and more innings than Sabathia. That would certainly strengthen his case, but it still doesn’t put him over the top.

Hernandez, it seems, has the best case. He has the third-best ERA in the AL and has pitched at least 49 more innings than the two pitchers ahead of him. He also has the fourth-best FIP and xFIP, again having pitched more innings than the pitchers ahead of him. His 8.13 K/9 ranks ninth in the league, though only one pitcher ahead of him, Jered Weaver, has a better walk rate. The only area where Hernandez is deficient is in wins, and that’s more a product of having the league’s worst offense behind him. But that also means that he doesn’t have the advantage of facing that offense.

These differences in offense show up in Baseball Prospectus’s quality of batters faced report. Felix has faced hitters with a collective .261/.330.399 line, while Sabathia has faced slightly worse hitters, .256/.327/.395. Yet Felix has held those slightly better hitters in check, allowing a .231/.288/.336 line on the season, while Sabathia has allowed opponents to hit .246/.301/.370. So not only is Felix’s ERA a half-run lower than Sabathia’s, but he’s done it while facing slightly tougher hitters. And, of course, with the league-worst offense supporting him. That would seem to bolster his case considerably.

There are other cases to be made, as there are every year. Cliff Lee has been otherworldly, unintentionally walking just 10 hitters in 169 innings. He’s also averaging eight innings per start, a full inning more than Sabathia and 2/3 of an inning more than Hernandez. Francisco Liriano has allowed just two home runs all year and has a league-leading FIP and xFIP. Jered Weaver has a 4.33 K/BB ratio and a 1.10 WHIP, both second-best in the league (to that Lee character). But all of these guys you can put in the same category as Sabathia, which is the conversation for runner up. Felix, by most appearances, has been the best pitcher in the American League this season.

CC Sabathia is great. I love watching him pitch. It’s a great feeling, every five days, to say, “hey, the Yanks have one of the best pitchers in the league on the mound.” But the key part of that phrase is “one of.” He is, without a doubt, the best pitcher on the league’s best team. But that doesn’t make him the best pitcher in the league. That would be Felix Hernandez right now. The lackluster offense should not be held against him. After all, he’s not the one who put it together. Plenty can change between now and October 4, but on that date I still expect Hernandez to stand ahead of the pack.

Categories : Pitching


  1. Pretty much agree with everything said here.

  2. Hughesus Christo says:

    There is no way in New Jersey Felix can win Cy Young with an 8-10 record (or 11-12, or 12-10, or 13-11, or whatever it may be at the end.)

  3. Ross in Jersey says:

    Even with my pro-CC bias, I’d give any of the following pitchers the Cy Young before him.

    Cliff Lee
    Felix Hernandez
    Fransisco Liriano
    Jered Weaver
    Jon Lester (argh)

    • Not Tank the Frank says:

      Agree with all that (David Price anyone???) You can’t forget about Lester. Especially since he had such a dreadful April he rebounded in a big way.

      What hurts Sabathia the most IMO are his declining strikeouts. IMO the BWAA looks at three things, W-L, ERA, and Ks. Because of these factors, there’s no way the BWAA will have Felix, Weaver and perhaps Liriano winning the Cy Young. So I feel like it’s between Lee (because of his sexy K/BB ratio) and David Price because of is W-L/ERA/K combo plus the fact that the media’s in love with him. Sabathia should come in around 3rd or 4th.

      • Ross in Jersey says:

        I wouldn’t give it to Price over CC. He’s walked 3 more batters despite pitching 30 fewer innings. All the other stats are pretty comperable, Price strikes out about a batter more per game is the only big difference. I’d give to CC over Price just because of the higher workload and better control.

        • I’d give it to CC over Price for pitching deeper into games (6.98 IP/S vs 6.59 IP/S), but the way you framed the rest of your argument seems misleading to me (intentionally or not).

          You say “[Price's] walked 3 more batters despite pitching 30 fewer innings” and then somewhat offhandedly throw in “Price strikes out about a batter more per game is the only big difference.”

          Those two rate stats should be worded the same way. Price has walked 3 more batters despite pitching 30 fewer innings, but he’s also struck out only two fewer batters despite pitching 30 fewer innings.

          Yes, Sabathia has better control, but Price strikes more guys out.


          • Ross in Jersey says:

            I don’t think that’s misleading. I’d rather have the guy with better control than the guy who has a better K rate. Walks are more of a negative (always equals a baserunner) than strikeouts are a positive (prevents runners from advancing)

            Maybe that’s a little misleading? I always thought strikeouts were overrated.

            • Strikeouts are overrated for hitters. They’re much less overrated for pitchers (although they’re probably slightly overrated there as well).

            • And I thought it was misleading because the different phrasings carry different emotional intensity.

              You hear “3 more walks in 30 fewer innings” and the big round “30 fewer” is what sticks in your mind. You hear “one batter more per game” and the “one batter” number seems small, compared to 30.

              In reality, while Price is striking out just shy of one more batter per game, he’s only walking one more batter per every TWO games.

              Per start:
              CC: 6.98 innings, 28.6 TBF, 5.50 K, 2.34 NIBB
              Price: 6.59 innings, 27.5 TBF, 6.13 K, 2.78 NIBB

            • Steve H says:

              than strikeouts are a positive (prevents runners from advancing)

              Strikeouts also keep balls out of play. Balls in play lead to baserunners approx. 30% of the time, so strikeouts carry a ton of value whether runners are on or not.

    • tc says:

      Lee hasn’t pitched enough, I don’t think.

  4. Jose the Satirist says:

    What makes me sad is that if Felix had the exact same stats he has now but had a 16-5 record at this point instead of an 8-10 record the writers would give him the award.

  5. Klemy says:

    Well, there is still time for all the numbers to change for everyone. I agree that Felix should be the current leader, but there’s obviously still time for things to change.

  6. CC Sabathia and David Price will probably end up finishing in the top 3 of the AL Cy Young balloting.

    As of this moment, neither of them are even top-5 in WAR (on either FG’s or B-R’s scale).

    1. Cliff Lee 6.5
    2. Francisco Liriano 5.6
    3. Felix Hernandez 4.8
    4. Jon Lester 4.6
    5. Jered Weaver 4.2
    6. John Danks 4.1
    7t. Zack Greinke 3.9
    7t. Gavin Floyd 3.9
    9. Justin Verlander 3.8
    10t. Ricky Romero 3.4
    10t. CC Sabathia 3.4
    10t. Colby Lewis 3.4
    13. David Price 3.2
    1. Lee 4.6
    2. Lester 4.5
    3. Weaver 4.3
    4t. Danks 4.2
    4t. Pavano 4.2
    6t. Hernandez 3.9
    6t. Buchholz 3.9
    6t. Liriano 3.9
    9. Price 3.8
    10t. Lewis 3.7
    10t. Wilson 3.7
    11. Sabathia 3.6

    • Jose the Satirist says:

      Pro-tip: The WAR from baseball ref is typically referred to as bWAR and the WAR from Fangraphs is referred to as fWAR. I switched over to writing that to avoid people asking which website it was from all the time.

      • Tim says:

        Yes, I’d like to thank you, too. Not only for clarifying the different sources of WAR, but for pointing out the utter worthlessness of the statistic by showing that wherever you look, you get a different value. Statistics are supposed to be black and white – how else can you benchmark performance vs. other current players and/or players from the past? Instead, we get new-fangled statistics that are different depending on whose criteria you use to calculate them.

        It would be one thing if the numbers differed but the relationship to other players was constant, but that isn’t the case, either. Kind of like defensive metrics – some sources have a player listed as +, some -, and no one can figure out how to properly rate certain positions. I understand why these statistics have been created, and why people use them, but they will never gain any mainstream acceptance from the fans or the BBWAA until they are uniformly calculated. You want to measure a pitcher’s performance, look at K, K:BB, IP, WHIP, ERA, BAA. And when you devise a new stat that measures wins vs. replacement and you have one universally accepted way to calculate it, please bring it forward. And make it good – any stat that has Colby Lewis as performing better than or equal to CC Sabathia proves itself as horseshit.

        • I understand why these statistics have been created, and why people use them, but they will never gain any mainstream acceptance from the fans or the BBWAA until they are uniformly calculated.


          Statistics are supposed to be black and white – how else can you benchmark performance vs. other current players and/or players from the past?


          I’d like to thank you… for pointing out the utter worthlessness of the statistic by showing that wherever you look, you get a different value.

          False. The fact that there’s debate in the sabermetric community as to how WAR should be calculated and what component stats should be included doesn’t mean the statistics are worthless. The Metric system and the Avoirdupois systems are two different frameworks for measuring and evaluating weight. The fact that different people use different measuring systems to see how heavy something is doesn’t mean the measurements they obtain are worthless. The problem with bWAR and fWAR isn’t that they’re different, it’s simply that they currently have similar names so they are confusing. Both statistics have value and are worthwhile, though, not worthless.

          It would be nice for the sabermetric community to reach a consensus and roll with it, but even before that happens, bWAR and fWAR and stWAR are all still useful stats that help us determine player value.

          And when you devise a new stat that measures wins vs. replacement and you have one universally accepted way to calculate it, please bring it forward.


          • Tim says:

            I believe “worthless” was probably too strong word – just expressing my frustration for statistics that are supposed to tell me more but in reality end up muddying the water even more. And for the record – I have long believed that end of season awards are pointless to debate, since the selections have historically been so arbitrary (Jeter has how many gold gloves???). I don’t think you need to dig too deep to realize that the best two pitchers in the AL this year have been Felix and Lee, hands down. Funny how they were on the same last place team for the first three+ months of the season.

        • Pete says:

          bWAR and fWAR are different stats. Their being different doesn’t render them useless. Jeter’s BA is different from his wOBA. Does that make them both useless?

    • Jose the Satirist says:

      I checked another list. sWAR(Statcorner based on tRA):

      1. Weaver 5.7
      2. Liriano 5.5
      3t. Lee 5.2
      3t. Hernandez 5.2
      5t. Sabathia 5.0
      5t. Danks 5.0
      7t. Lewis 4.9
      7t. Lester 4.9
      9. Floyd 3.8
      10t. Greinke 3.7
      10t. Verlander 3.7

  7. Chris says:

    There’s a great stat combines IP and FIP with some slight adjustments, its called WAR. Cliff Lee has been out of his mind this year blowing away the competition to this point. He is the CY Young, no doubt at this point. He has a 14 K/BB Ratio !!!!

    Unfortunately, like Liriano and Felix, Lee’s Wins/Loss record isn’t all that great because he played for the Mariners for half a year. So unless the BBWA can get past past wins the CY Young is going to someone like Price/Lester/Sabathia who are definitely a tier below Lee/Hernandez/Liriano.

  8. Mike HC says:

    Something tells me it is easier to pitch in the spacious Safeco Field in Seattle than at Yankee Stadium in New York. But I really can’t argue with Felix Hernandez.

    If I needed to choose one pitcher on the mound for the proverbial game 7, I would take CC over anybody in baseball though. Personally.

  9. Pat D says:

    Felix will not win the Cy Young. Doesn’t matter how good he actually has been, the record will kill him with voters. Even if there’s a few enlightened voters for AL Cy Young this year, they’ll compare Felix’s record with Sabathia, Price, Lee, Lester and decide they just can’t give it to the guy with the .500 or so record.


  10. Jamal G. says:

    You made a stronger case for Hernandez than I had realized existed, but I would be disappointed if anyone but Cliff Lee took home the award. Lee is pitching at an absurd level right now: 2.13 tRA (King Felix at 3.21), 44.5 tRA-based pitching runs above average (25.9) and 5.2 sWAR (5.2).

    Despite facing 100 fewer batters, Lee is right there with Hernandez in terms of value. His support-neutral wins above average is 2.6, compared to King Felix’s 2.9.

    Again, there is a better case than I had realized, but the top pitcher in the 2010 AL has been King Felix’s former co-ace.

  11. TERPSandYANKSfan says:

    It depends on who is voting for the award this year. If someone is willing to look deeper into the stats (like KLaw), then I think Liriano will (deservedly) get a lot of love.

  12. Steve H says:

    As I tweeted last night, for the good of baseball I don’t want CC to win the Cy unless he is totally dominating the next 1.5 months. We don’t need a setback in the “pitchers wins are irrelevant” movement.

  13. kosmo says:

    King Felix is a beast but will not win the award.

    Folks seem to suggest because Lee pitched for Seattle he was denied wins .This really isn´t the case.In 13 starts he was 8-3 and if you look at his numbers that´s about what he pitched to.Sure if he was with NY maybe he goes 9-2.
    Lee won´t win the award if he posts a 14-8 mark which is what his numbers project.

    Price and Pavano have good shots at the CYA.

    • JGS says:

      He was 8-3 in 13 starts, but here are all his non-wins:

      7 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs–ND (Seattle lost 2-0)
      8 innings, 10 hits, 5 runs (4 earned)–loss (Seattle lost 8-3)
      8 innings, 5, hits, 1 run–ND (Seattle won 2-1)
      7 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs–loss (Seattle lost 7-1)

      Of the 8 wins, only one (6.1, 8 runs, 7 earned–he got the win because Seattle scored 15 in what was by far their best offensive game of the season) was undeserved.

      With a good offense, he might well be 11-2 or even 12-1 before he was traded.

      • JGS says:

        I missed a non-win in there

        8 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs–loss (Seattle lost 2-1)

        • kosmo says:

          It stands to reason all great pitchers lose a few they should have won.Any of those NDs could have gone either way.I was trying to be as objective as possible.To me 9-2 is .12-1 is silly.
          He still is 10-6.

  14. j_Yankees says:

    Cliff Lee only has 20 less innings then King Felix. and thats in 5 less starts.

    Heck, for shits and giggles, give lee his 8 innings per for those 5 starts and you’re looking at 20 more innings pitched for Lee then King Felix in the same number of starts.

    Lee has a better WHIP, FIP, xFIP. Higher WAR (6.5 vs 4.8). The difference in ERA is slight…and the K/9 can be a little bit misguided as Felix has the better “stuff” and you’d assume that would translate into more K’s by itself.

    • JGS says:

      Felix and Lee have both been beastly this year–the only problem I would have with the writers if they picked Lee would be some annoyance at making him more expensive come winter.

  15. yankthemike says:

    Unfair or not they’ll never give him the CY if he end up with a “losing” record. Not when they have choices like Lee or even CC. …I wonder how many votes go to Pavano….

  16. nsalem says:

    All the pitchers mentioned are having incredible years. Without seeing each and every start of each pitcher it’s hard to choose. Lee’s K/BB
    ratio is historic and The King should not be penalized for the M’s offensive ineptitude (though Steve Carlton managed to win 27 games with a 57 win team in 1972.) I think CC is the Yankee MVP this year and I believe CC’s is the Yankee’s best free agent signing
    ever. If he finishes his career here will go down as 1 and 1a with Whitey Ford as the best Yankee pitcher ever. I am already fearing the end of the 2011 season when the opt out kicks in. This is why i feel the signing of Lee is a necessity as a hedge in the event that occurs. I also would not be surprised (especially with Pettitte’s health a question mark)to see CC once again starting on 3 days rest. I would feel much more confident in his ability to turn in several quality starts on 3 days rest than AJ or Javy on 4.

  17. In Lee’s first start with the Mariners, he pitched 7 innings of three-hit shutout ball and got a no decision (the M’s lost 0-2 to the Rangers.)

    In his fourth start, he pitched an 8 inning complete game allowing 5 hits and two runs (10 strikeouts) and took the L in a 1-2 loss to the Rays.

    In his seventh start, Lee pitched 8 innings of 5 hit ball, giving up a solo homer to Michael Cuddyer. He left after the 8th tied at 1-1 and got an ND in an eventual 2-1 Seattle win over the Twins.

    In his ninth start, Lee pitched 7 innings and gave up 3 runs on 7 hits to the Padres in an eventual 1-7 loss to the Padres, taking an L.


    If Cliff Lee had played on a good team before getting traded to the Rangers, he probably would have had a 12-1 record instead of an 8-3 one.

  18. Steve H says:

    I don’t know what they look at for the Cy Young Award any more

    -Joe Morgan

    That to me is a sign that the tide is certainly turning. I would love to see Felix win it to make people who believe in the almighty win do research on it and maybe figure it out.

  19. Tank Foster says:

    Well, on TV last night, Goose Gossage and Ron Guidry agreed with Russ Salzberg that modern pitchers are “babied” so I think they should just do away with the Cy Young award until someone mans up and pitches 300 innings in a season again.

    • Pete says:

      I love it when pitchers who pitched in the “pre-steroid” and “pre-OBP” eras whine about pitchers today being babied.

      • nsalem says:

        Amphetamines were the PED of choice in that era and were more commonly used by the players the than steroid usage in the 90′s.
        The drugs were usually obtained legitimately from the team doctors and trainers.

        • UncleArgyle says:

          Didn’t you get the memo? You’re supposed to completely disregard Amphetamines. They don’t count as PED’s.


          The Media

    • Chris says:

      The advent of innings limits really took hold in baseball between 2004 and 2006 (when everyone saw the effects on Mark Prior). This year, there has been a renaissance in pitching, led by a large group of young pitchers. Without doing a detailed analysis, I would guess that fewer of these top pitchers are getting injured in the minors and are now making it to the major leagues as top notch starters.

      • Tank Foster says:

        Renaissance in pitching….hmmmm….I agree. Probably, it’s been building for years, and it’s probably multi-factoral.

        Paying closer attention to the health of young pitchers must have something to do with it.

        Other things I think matter, comparing the Goose/Guidry era to today:

        1) Huge dilutional effect. 30 teams versus 24 or 26 in G/G days. More pitchers in Majors today who would have been in AAA in the G/G era.

        2) Managers’ practices…or, the “LaRussa effect” (or LaRussa Fallacy, if you prefer). Use 3 pitchers where 1 was used in the past. This means you need more pitchers; see second sentence under no. 1 above.

        3) Ballparks, and hitters’ practices. Waaaaaaaay more hitter friendly parks today than in the G/G era. And, more hitters recognize the virtue of walks and OBP, so they take more pitches. As a result, more homers, more walks, more hits, less foul balls being caught for outs. Makes it more difficult to retire the same number of batters on the same number of pitches as before. Pitchers don’t last as long into games, meaning you need more pitchers on the staff. See no. 1.

        4) Umpires. While this appears to be changing now, it sure seems like the strike zone was pretty small there during the 80′s, 90′s, and the early part of the ‘aughts.

        So, the pitching renaissance is, to me, a reversal of some of these trends.

        1. They are fixing the dilution effect: Maybe there are just more young people, good young athletes, pursuing careers as MLB pitchers. There’s a market for it, and after a generation of hitting dominance, maybe the amateur baseball and minor league pipeline are responding with increased numbers of MLB caliber pitchers. Today, look how many of the Yankees good MLB prospects are pitchers, relative to position players.

        2. Umpires: I think they are fed up with the slow pace of games created by (among other things) the Youkilises and Swishers of the world, and are starting to call the games a bit more in favor of the pitchers.

        3. With homers declining (less PED use? slightly deadened baseballs?), pitchers are becoming more brave, challenging hitters more, and are getting away with it. Pitching and hitting have always been in a cycle, and right now maybe pitchers are finally figuring out how to beat the OBP/power batting approach.

        4. Better conditioning: I don’t think the book is closed on the best way to condition pitchers; I don’t think the “Verducci rule” is anything magic. But in general, they must be doing a better job of managing the workload of pitchers. The net result is that, like you said, compared to maybe 10-15 years ago, pitchers today are on average healthier and in more optimal shape for pitching.

        I know everyone loves homers, and there are probably alot of young people reading (or even writing) this blog that don’t know any type of baseball other than that of 1993 and forward. But for me – growing up on 1970s baseball – I will be happy if we go into a new period where pitchers are more uniformly dominant than today. It was, in my opinion, a better overall game. The games moved along more quickly, which made them less boring, and with fewer homers, the offensive game was a bit more varied, with speed and baserunning playing a larger role than today. It was a great era.

        • But chicks dig the longball, Tank.


        • I think you miss one of the more important aspects: maple bats. Look at how bigger, lighter rods affected tennis.

          Maple bats make a huge, huge difference.

        • Chris says:

          3. With homers declining (less PED use? slightly deadened baseballs?),

          This is what I’m trying to address, not changes over the last 20-30 years. I don’t buy the PED argument. Non-anonymous testing has been going on in baseball for 5 years, and this year everyone finally decides to stop juicing? It makes as much sense as the idea that in mid 1993 everyone just started juicing.

          The baseball theory is more plausible. I just wish that MLB would admit that they changed something (if they did).

          I’m offering a third hypothesis. Of course, since everyone hates babying pitchers and PEDs, people like drawing the connection to less PED use.

    • JGS says:

      Fun fact: Guidry never threw 300 in a year.

  20. bexarama says:

    I would love to see Felix win, if the choice was Felix or CC. But I feel like there are a number of pitchers that have been even better than Felix, Lee among them.

    I don’t think CC will win, even if/when :D he gets 20+ wins. But he’ll likely get votes over deserving pitchers. Blah.

  21. Pete says:

    I like Lee over Felix. Lee’s pitching at a level right now where pretty much nothing apart from luck could improve his performance. I think it’s crazy, though, that in a year where there’s an obvious 1A, 1B, and 1.5C (Lee, Felix, and Liriano), the winner’s probably going to be in the next tier down. Not that Price/Lester/Sabathia aren’t having great years, but none of them deserves the Cy this year.

  22. CS Yankee says:

    I see the the AL Cy (so far) as follows;
    1) Lee
    2) Lirano
    3) King Felix
    4) Weaver
    5) CC
    6) Price
    7) Lester
    8) Mo
    9) Mo
    10) Mo

    Going forward (2011 & beyond), i would want King Felix above any other AL starter. His age, skill set and price trumps the otrhers by a quite a bit for me. I think he should of gotten more votes last year despite that Grienke was worthy. He is a power pitcher that seems to get stronger as the game grows longer. M’s made a very wise move in looking him up, but Felix has to be wondering about the teams direction.

    • bexarama says:

      IMO, no one deserved any first place votes last year outside of Greinke. Felix could’ve gotten all the second place votes or whatever, though. And I agree with your point about him.

      • CS Yankee says:

        Yeah, I’m almost totally on board with your thoughts…

        The Cy votes always seemed to be a blend of W-L, ERA, K’s & popularity which of course is short-sighted, poor equations and old school (wrong).

        Today’s vote seems is getting corrected to a better calcius whereas WAR, FIP, ERA+, etc help correct some of the things a pitcher can’t control.

        I try to look at a blend (which has it flaws as well) and although KC played with a AAA roster behind Greinke it seemed that he left a number of close games after 6 innings (or so) versus Felix taking the ball deeper into games. A SP seldom gets stronger and maybe Greinke gets to 18 W’s by staying around but maybe he gets injured or shelled which would erase his Cy status, so a part of me discounts his stats by not lasting as long.

        Again, no issue with the Cy, but Felix has qualities or was allowed to go longer and that is something else to consider that no matrix can determine.

  23. Dick Whitman says:

    I don’t really get the Lee v. Felix argument. I just don’t see how Felix is ahead of Lee at this point.

  24. nsalem says:

    Ernie Banks won the MVP in both 1957 and 1958 with terrible Cub teams.
    Sparky Lyle in 1972 showed third for MVP but was seventh in the Cy Young voting. BBWA has a history of strange criteria.

  25. After reading all the responses and the points they address, I think I’m going to go about this with a different tack. Here’s my new AL Cy Young ballot:

    1. Cliff Lee
    2. Felix Hernandez
    3. CC Sabathia
    4. Carl Pavano (you heard me)
    5. Trevor Cahill
    6. Jon Lester
    7. Jon Danks
    8. Ricky Romero
    9. Jered Weaver
    10. David Price

    Let me explain myself.

    I think the most important way to evaluate a starter is twofold. Firstly, how good are they at preventing runs and keeping you in position to win every one of their starts? Secondly, and equally important, how good are they at pitching deep into ballgames and preventing you from needing to have a lesser pitcher throw pitches in that ballgame?

    Many pitchers this year have managed to pitch well enough to have ERAs around 3 earned runs per 9 innings, a good standard of successfully shutting down opposing hitters. Where they differ, however, is how many innings per start they accumulate those low ERAs in.

    I think IP/S is probably the most important stat to evaluate a starting pitcher on, because the most valuable starting pitchers of all are the ones who not only don’t give up runs but also pitch nearly the entire ball game, eliminating the need to use less reliable relievers and lessening the chance that the opposition can get meaningful at bats against one of your weaker pitchers.

    ERA and WHIP and K and BB and all that is important, but probably not as important as depth into game.

    ERA might be a little overvalued, to be frank. A starter who only gives up 1 run but has to leave after the 6th inning might be less valuable than one who gives up 2 or 3 but doesn’t leave until after the 8th inning.

    My ballot was thus selected this way: I made an ordered list of pitchers with a sub 4.00 ERA, sorted by largest innings pitched per start. I separated those players into rough tiers of elite IP/S (Lee, Felix, Pavano, Sabathia) and solid (everybody else), and then used personal judgment weighing ERA, WHIP, and quality of opponent (based on division) to break ties and near ties.

    The raw numbers (Starts, IP, WHIP, ERA, IP/S):
    1 Cliff Lee, SEA/TEX - 21 starts, 169.0 IP, 0.95 WHIP, 2.77 ERA, 8.05 IP/S
    2 Felix Hernandez, SEA - 26 starts, 189.0 IP, 1.14 WHIP, 2.62 ERA, 7.27 IP/S
    3 Carl Pavano, MIN - 24 starts, 168.0 IP, 1.11 WHIP, 3.27 ERA, 7.00 IP/S
    4 CC Sabathia, NYY - 26 starts, 181.2 IP, 1.24 WHIP, 3.12 ERA, 6.97 IP/S
    5 John Danks, CHW - 24 starts, 162.1 IP, 1.15 WHIP, 3.33 ERA, 6.75 IP/S
    6 Jon Lester, BOS - 24 starts, 161.0 IP, 1.13 WHIP, 2.80 ERA, 6.71 IP/S
    7 Trevor Cahill, OAK - 21 starts, 140.2 IP, 0.98 WHIP, 2.50 ERA, 6.68 IP/S
    8 Ricky Romero, TOR - 24 starts, 160.0 IP, 1.27 WHIP, 3.43 ERA, 6.67 IP/S
    9 Ervin Santana, LAA - 24 starts, 160.0 IP, 1.33 WHIP, 3.99 ERA, 6.67 IP/S
    10 Zack Greinke, KC - 25 starts, 166.0 IP, 1.20 WHIP, 3.90 ERA, 6.64 IP/S
    11 David Price, TB - 23 starts, 151.2 IP, 1.26 WHIP, 2.85 ERA, 6.57 IP/S
    12 Matt Garza, TB - 24 starts, 156.1 IP, 1.19 WHIP, 3.74 ERA, 6.50 IP/S
    13 Justin Verlander, DET - 25 starts, 162.1 IP, 1.25 WHIP, 3.77 ERA, 6.48 IP/S
    14 Dallas Braden, OAK - 21 starts, 136.0 IP, 1.15 WHIP, 3.44 ERA, 6.48 IP/S
    15 Jered Weaver, LAA - 26 starts, 168.0 IP, 1.10 WHIP, 3.11 ERA, 6.46 IP/S
    16 Colby Lewis, TEX - 23 starts, 148.1 IP, 1.15 WHIP, 3.28 ERA, 6.44 IP/S
    17 Jeff Niemann, TB - 22 starts, 141.1 IP, 1.17 WHIP, 3.12 ERA, 6.41 IP/S
    18 Jeremy Guthrie, BAL - 24 starts, 153.0 IP, 1.21 WHIP, 3.88 ERA, 6.38 IP/S
    19 Francisco Liriano, MIN - 23 starts, 146.1 IP, 1.26 WHIP, 3.26 ERA, 6.35 IP/S
    20 Clay Buchholz, BOS - 21 starts, 133.1 IP, 1.19 WHIP, 2.36 ERA, 6.34 IP/S
    21 Jason Vargas, SEA - 23 starts, 145.2 IP, 1.19 WHIP, 3.15 ERA, 6.31 IP/S
    22 Fausto Carmona, CLE - 24 starts, 151.1 IP, 1.35 WHIP, 3.87 ERA, 6.30 IP/S
    23 Gavin Floyd, CHW - 24 starts, 151.0 IP, 1.28 WHIP, 3.70 ERA, 6.29 IP/S
    24 Shaun Marcum, TOR - 23 starts, 144.0 IP, 1.16 WHIP, 3.69 ERA, 6.26 IP/S
    25 Brett Cecil, TOR - 20 starts, 125.0 IP, 1.21 WHIP, 3.96 ERA, 6.25 IP/S
    26 C.J. Wilson, TEX - 24 starts, 149.1 IP, 1.24 WHIP, 3.19 ERA, 6.21 IP/S
    27 Gio Gonzalez, OAK - 24 starts, 147.0 IP, 1.31 WHIP, 3.49 ERA, 6.13 IP/S
    28 Phil Hughes, NYY - 22 starts, 134.2 IP, 1.23 WHIP, 3.94 ERA, 6.10 IP/S
    29 Doug Fister, SEA - 20 starts, 121.2 IP, 1.26 WHIP, 3.92 ERA, 6.06 IP/S
    30 Max Scherzer, DET - 23 starts, 137.2 IP, 1.33 WHIP, 3.86 ERA, 5.97 IP/S



    • bexarama says:

      As much as I think IP/S is really important, I think it’s a bit difficult to use that as a primary factor unless you know everything about how that pitcher was used in every start. For example, a pitcher could be absolutely cruising through six… then they could get a leg cramp and have to be removed.

      A manager like Leyland is more likely to leave his pitchers in for a million pitches/innings than Girardi. Guys who are going to be upcoming FAs tend to get used more, I’d think – someone was trying to talk about the difference between Lee and Liriano in terms of IP, and he/she pointed out that the Rangers care a lot less about Lee’s arm after 2010 than the Twins care about Liriano’s arm after 2010.

      • Sure, there’s a possibility of statistical noise this way. That’s why I’m not saying to simply run down the list verbatim and give the award to the guy who’s #1.

        Pavano’s not better than Sabathia just because he’s averaged 0.03 more IP/S, that’s silly nitpicking. You’ve got to add common sense to this (just like you would with every stat).

        The point of this is, there seems to be an upper echelon of 4 pitchers who both A.) don’t allow runs and B.) pitch 7 innings or more each time out. That upper echelon that does both should be the top 4 vote getters, IMO, because they’re a class apart from all other starters. Inside that foursome, you weight dominance using the other metrics and break the ties.

    • CS Yankee says:

      I was working on a Bexy reply and just read yours…but yes, having the starter lasts longer into a game is of the utmost importance.

      I have to discount your lists only because of Pavano…if he threw 200 innings of one hit ball, I would still have to look elsewhere for the Cy.


      • I mean, the knock on Pavano is that he doesn’t strike guys out, but he’s been generating great groundballs and just mowing through lineups. He’s not a dynamite power guy like the others on the list, but averaging 7 innings per start is still impressive.

        He’s got 5 complete games and 2 shutouts. He’s gone a full 7 innings in 16 of his 24 starts, and gone 8 full frames in 8 of them. He’s allowed 2 runs or fewer in 16 of his 24 starts.

        Pavano’s been dominant (in a non-traditional way).

    • nsalem says:

      is this post available in an audio book version?

    • Tank Foster says:

      “I think IP/S is probably the most important stat to evaluate a starting pitcher on, because the most valuable starting pitchers of all are the ones who not only don’t give up runs but also pitch nearly the entire ball game, eliminating the need to use less reliable relievers and lessening the chance that the opposition can get meaningful at bats against one of your weaker pitchers.”

      This is the most interesting quote of your long post….and I agree with what you say throughout.

      The analysis shines a light on something I think is interesting in pitching. Maybe it’s obvious to many people, but it wasn’t to me.

      With some exceptions, innings pitched are a pretty good gross measure of how effective a pitcher is overall.

      Because of pitch limits, and because starters are almost always better than most of the relief pitcher corps on any team, AND relief pitchers cannot be overused, either, every starting pitcher in MLB basically stays in the game until his pitch limit is reached, irrespective of how many runs are scored on him or how many innings he completes.

      And since pitch limits are pretty uniformly applied, the better and more efficient a pitcher is, the more innings he will complete per start, and probably the lower his ERA and WHIP will be.

      I think having an arm capable of pitching in MLB is a freak thing – only the fringes of the population will have this – and an arm capable of pitching lots of pitches over many years (Clemens, etc.) is even more rare. So if evolution applies to baseball, we are going to see pitching practices evolve which allow pitchers to be more efficient….to get the most outs on the fewest number of pitches.

      This could mean sacrificing some degree of dominance in exchange for efficiency, but I don’t know. Cliff Lee isn’t a Randy Johnson type strikeout guy, but he’s still pretty dominant.

      • Pretty much.

        This could mean sacrificing some degree of dominance in exchange for efficiency, but I don’t know. Cliff Lee isn’t a Randy Johnson type strikeout guy, but he’s still pretty dominant.

        The point of what I’m saying is, efficiency IS dominance, there’s not much of a difference. The most important result isn’t how many guys you struck out, it’s how many batters you got out total. Guys like Halladay and Lee in their primes are just as dominant as guys like Randy and Pedro and Clemens, because they all limit baserunners to a scant minimum and mow through a lineup and get all 27 outs frequently.

        How those outs are generated is far less important than the total ratio of outs made to non-outs made to pitches thrown. The best pitchers get guys out with the fewest number of pitches (thus enabling them to get more guys out).

        • Tank Foster says:

          The point of what I’m saying is, efficiency IS dominance…

          Oh, I recognize that, and almost said it precisely that way.

          But…what is the most efficient batter-faced episode for a pitcher? One pitch, contact, out recorded. Not three pitches, three strikes.

          Obviously, every pitcher will have some of each, and lots in between. But what I was wondering was whether “power pitching,” – strikeouts, basically – would assume decreased importance in the era of pitch limits.

          Maybe not….maybe the pitcher who can get three straight strikes is also the guy who can coax swings early in the count, with weak contact on those swings.

          I don’t know. But two hypothetical pitchers, one being in the mode of Randy Jones, striking out one batter per game and completing a 5 hit shutout on 86 pitches, the other being in the mode of Nolan Ryan, striking out 12 in a complete game 2 hitter, with 5 walks and 128 pitches….which would you rather have?

          Maybe it’s a false choice.

          Ken Singleton said about Robbie Cano last year [paraphrasing, of course]: “Robbie’s problem is that he rarely misses the ball, so when he swings at a good pitch, he’s going to put it in play and make an out, where someone else would just swing and miss and get another chance.” I’d never thought about hitting that way, and it made me start thinking about pitching in a similar way.

          Is it possible, in the modern era of pitch limits, that the most efficient pitcher might be the one who gives up a couple more hits and runs, but completes more innings.

          Ok, I’m wasting too much time saying the same thing over and over….

    • Bryan says:

      I’m kinda feeling Jon Lester as the runner up.

      • I can’t see how Lester can be judged any better than 5th at the absolute highest.







        Everyone else

        • MikeD says:

          I need another gap between Sabathia and Pavano. Not because there’s a gap in their statistics, but simply because…because…because…because…well, damnit, because it’s Carl “American Idle” Pavano! Still annoyed.

          • Look at it on the bright side: Carl Pavano’s ability to stay healthy and pitch at a high level here in 2010 validates the Yankee braintrust’s desire to acquire him back in 2005. He’s clearly a fairly good pitcher, all things considered.

            It’s not like we made a colossal mistake in choosing to sign him, we were just laughably unlucky with the result of the four year contract. He couldn’t stay on the field to pitch well. Now that he is staying on the field, he’s displaying the promise that attracted us to him.

  26. Zanath says:

    Lee won the Cy Young Award before, right? Or am I mixing him up with CC?

  27. Fun Fact: Three former NL Cy Young winners are still active and on the teams they won the award with. Only one AL Cy Young winner can say the same.

    Can you name those four pitchers?

  28. UncleArgyle says:

    Doesn’t anyone here read Rob Neyer? If you did, you’d know CC Sabathia’s K/BB has gone down since his 3 months pitching in the Nippon, err National League Central, ergo, He’s just a league average innings eater at this point who puts up decent win totals only because of the Yankees offense. The Yankees are CLEARLY regretting giving him that 3 year 66 million dollar deal at this point.

  29. Wil Nieves #1 Fan says:

    Sabathia won the Cy Young with 19 wins, beating out Beckett, who had 20 wins, and comparable ERA while pitching in a tougher division. But the writers chose CC because he helped Cleveland get to the playoffs.

    If CC can carry the Yanks over Tampa/Boston down the stretch and solidify a first place finish, I think Sabathia has a legit shot. 20 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA would be nice, but now I’m just being greedy.

  30. MikeD says:

    I think Cliff Lee should win it.

    I think CC Sabathia will win it (although David Price has a good shot, too).

    While the ’09 Cy Young might have been viewed as a watershed moment, marking a point when enough BBWAA voters no longer viewed wins as the key defining statistic for determining the Cy Young, I however don’t see it that way. Yes, it’s progress and a bit of enlightenment, but there were some unique elements. In the A.L. voting, for example, there was no 20-game winner and Greinke had some sick numbers with a lot of buzz. The door was open to him. This year, I think we are going to have 20-game-plus winners in each league, and while Lee is getting attention, it won’t be enough. (The game the other night where he lost the lead to the Rays won’t help him either.)

    The 8-10 King Felix? Less than a 1% chance of winning.

    Maybe we can view ’09 as a watershed in that the door is open in certain circumstances, but I don’t see 2010 being one of those years. We’ll see the voters fall back to their more traditional voting patterns this year. CC with the lead in wins and Price not far behind will put them in the lead.

  31. Poopy Pants says:

    Nice article. I appreciate the honesty and non-homer-ism.

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