Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hypothetical Ballot: Cy Young

I think that the Cy Young is the most interesting award to write about from a sabermetric perspective. The MVP debate can be fierce, but it often gets bogged down in semantic arguments about "what is value?" rather than substantive arguments about the candidates' resumes. It seems as if consensus about who is the "best player" is readily found in many years, and then people attempt to construct a narrative by which they can justify ignoring it.

On the other hand, the Cy Young debate is blissfully free from the semantic debate about what the award should represent, and instead discussion can be focused on how one determines the best pitcher. In the nascent days of sabermetrics, this could take the form of a classic ERA v. wins debate. Today, it often is sabermetricians and pseudo-sabermetricians duking it out over which type of performance metric should be used.

The NL race has that potential, while the AL race seems much more straightforward. Dallas Keuchel topped David Price by 12 RAR based on actual runs allowed adjusted for bullpen support. He topped Sonny Gray by 13 RAR and Price by 14 if you look at component statistics (including actual hits allowed). Using a DIPS-like approach, Keuchel was three RAR behind David Price and Corey Kluber. I give the most weight to the first, but unless you go full DIPS, Keuchel pretty clearly offers the best blend. Since Gray only had 35 RAR by DIPS, Price is a clear #2.

The last two spots on my ballot go to Kluber and Chris Archer, edging ahead of Jose Quintana and besting his teammate Chris Sale. Quintana had a slight edge in RAR over Kluber and Archer, but his 4.17 eRA was the worst of any contender and is enough for me to put Kluber and Archer, whose peripherals were stronger than their actual runs allowed, ahead. Sale led the league in dRA at 2.98 thanks to allowing a .331 average on balls in play (his teammate Quintana fared little better at .329), but Kluber and Archer's edge in the non-DIPS metrics is enough to get my vote:

1. Dallas Keuchel, HOU
2. David Price, DET/TOR
3. Sonny Gray, OAK
4. Corey Kluber, CLE
5. Chris Archer, TB

The NL race is a three-way battle between Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Jake Arrieta. Greinke has a slight lead in RAR with 88 to Arrieta's 86 and Kershaw's 79. In RAR based on eRA, the two Dodgers are tied with 79 while Arrieta had 85. In dRA (DIPS)-based RAR, Kershaw leads with 72, while Arrieta had 65 and Greinke 48.

In comparing teammates, it becomes more difficult to accept at face value the DIPS position. They pitched in the same park, with the same teammates behind them. That in no way means that the defensive support they received had to have been of equal quality, or that Greinke couldn't have benefitted from random variation on balls in play (this formulation works better than Kershaw being lucky giving that Greinke's BABIP was .235 and Kershaw's .286). The gap in dRA is large, but not large enough for me to wipe out a nine run difference in RAR.

But while Greinke grades out as the Dodger Cy Young, I don't consider his two run lead in RAR over Arrieta significant enough given the latter's edge in the peripherals. While I think Kershaw is the best NL pitcher from a true talent perspective by a significant margin, I think Arrieta is most worthy of the Cy Young.

Max Scherzer is an easy choice for the #4 spot and would probably be in a virtual tie for second with his short-time teammate Price on my AL ballot. The last spot goes to Gerrit Cole over Jacob deGrom and John Lackey; the former was consistently valued by each of the three approaches (51 RAR based on actual runs allowed, 52 based on peripherals and DIPS):

1. Jake Arrieta, CHN
2. Zack Greinke, LA
3. Clayton Kershaw, LA
4. Max Scherzer, WAS
5. Gerrit Cole, PIT

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