Sunday, November 09, 2014

Hypothetical Ballot: Cy Young

The National League Cy Young voting will not entail much intrigue. Clayton Kershaw will win in a romp, and will probably win the MVP as well. And while I agree that Kershaw deserves the Cy Young, I believe that the margin in the voting will greatly overstate the value difference between Kershaw and his closest competitors, Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright.

Kershaw and Cueto each were worth about 70 RAR through their pitching efforts based on actual runs allowed adjusted for bullpen support. Kershaw had a much better RRA at 1.98 while Cueto’s was 2.55, but Cueto pitched an additional 45.1 IP. The difference between the two in runs allowed amounts to 45.1 innings of 5.07 RRA pitching. I estimate that the replacement level for starting pitchers is 128% of the league average runs allowed, which for the 2014 NL works out to 5.13. Thus there is essentially no difference between Cueto and Kershaw from a replacement level perspective. Cueto essentially tacked 45 innings of replacement level performance onto what Kershaw did.

Of course actual runs allowed are just one way to evaluate a pitcher. Cueto actually closes the gap when using eRA, which estimates runs allowed based on inputs, including actual hits allowed. Kershaw’s eRA was 2.30 to Cueto’s 2.73, a more narrow gap than the difference in actual runs allowed. Figuring RAR based on eRA, Cueto edges Kershaw 65 to 63. Kershaw has a significant advantage in DIPS measures, though, 2.47 to Cueto’s 3.60 in dRA, as Cueto’s BABIP allowed was just .246. And even considering just actual runs allowed, I am slightly biased towards the better performer on a rate basis rather than compiler. I concur that Kershaw is more deserving of the Cy than Cueto, but the gap just isn’t that large given Kershaw’s missed starts and 198 innings.

I’ve focused on Cueto v. Kershaw, but Wainwright is right on Cueto’s heels with 67 RAR. Wainwright also has an edge on Cueto in dRA (3.38 to 3.60), and could easily place ahead if one values the DIPS metrics.

For the rest of the ballot, Cole Hamels is a comfortable pick for fourth, and I have fifth as a close battle between Washington teammates, Tanner Roark and Jordan Zimmermann. Roark ranks ahead in RAR 50 to 46, but Zimmermann’s .78 dRA edge and superior peripherals are enough to slip ahead in my book:

1. Clayton Kershaw, LA
2. Johnny Cueto, CIN
3. Adam Wainwright, STL
4. Cole Hamels, PHI
5. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS

There will be more controversy associated with the AL award as Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber jockey for the top spot. Kluber has become something of a darling among the DIPS-first portion of the sabermetric crowd, as his dRA is better than Hernandez’ (2.88 to 3.07) and he had around 38 additional opponent plate appearances. Cleveland’s fielders, in general, were bad--they ranked second-to-last in the AL in DER while Seattle led the AL.

However, I don’t believe in throwing out all elements of pitching results outside of the three true outcomes, nor do I believe that it’s a trivial matter to parcel out adjustments for fielding support amongst pitchers. For me, Hernandez’ large edge in runs-based metrics (Hernandez has a 12 RAR lead; the two differed in innings pitched by a single out, but Hernandez’ RRA of 2.54 was better than Kluber’s 2.98; using eRA, Hernandez has an even larger advantage of 20 RAR) is too large to ignore.

One point to note when using runs allowed metrics--Hernandez got less help from his bullpen then did Kluber. Hernandez bequeathed 13 runners, and 7 of them came around to score. Kluber bequeathed 20 runners and only 2 were allowed to score. That’s a seven run swing in the King’s favor that is not apparent from the traditional stat line.

Using RRA (which considers bequeathed runners), Hernandez’ advantage is 12 runs. Using eRA, which is just a component estimate, Hernandez leads by 20 runs. Using dRA, Kluber leads by 8. Quality of opposing hitters doesn’t change the picture much; according to Baseball Prospectus, Hernandez’ opponents combined for a .264 True Average, Kluber’s for .263. To vault Kluber ahead, one must put a lot more stock in DIPS or in the quality of adjustments for fielding support than I am willing to grant. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do so, but if you read any columns ripping the choice of Hernandez (and I don’t know there will be any), it’s likely you are dealing with a zealot.

And while I did not consciously consider it in my choice, another plus of choosing Hernandez is that I can dodge charges of pro-Indians bias.

For the rest of the ballot, I have stuck with the RAR order, as I see no particular reason to make any changes. Chris Sale is held back by just 174 innings, but he led the AL in RRA and dRA and was second in eRA to Garret Richards, who pitched five fewer innings:

1. Felix Hernandez, SEA
2. Corey Kluber, CLE
3. Chris Sale, CHA
4. Jon Lester, BOS/OAK
5. Max Scherzer, DET

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