Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hypothetical Ballot: Cy Young

The starting pitchers (and they’re the only ones that can possibly accrue enough value to be serious Cy Young candidates if you subscribe to the school of thought that all innings are created equal and the only leveraging effect appropriate to credit to relief aces is that they are used in close games) did a very nice job of separating themselves by RAR into groups of five or six, with a five run gap to the next pitcher. This makes a very convenient cut point to define the ballot candidates:

AL: Kluber 81, Sale 71, Carrasco 62, Verlander 61, Severino 59, Santana 59, Stroman 52

NL: Scherzer 77, Gonzalez 66, Kershaw 64, Strasburg 62, Greinke 57, Ray 51

Corey Kuber has a clear edge over Chris Sale in RAR, but it’s closer (78 to 73) in RAR based on eRA, and in RAR based on DIPS theory (assuming an average rate of hits on balls in play), Sale flips the standard list almost perfectly (80 to 71). My philosophy has always been that the actual runs allowed takes precedence, and while DIPS can serve to narrow the difference, Kluber is still outstanding when viewed in that light (e.g. this is not a Joe Mays or Esteban Loaiza situation). I don’t think it comes close to making up the difference. FWIW, Baseball Prospects WARP, which attempts to account for all matter of situational effects not captured in the conventional statistical record, sees Kluber’s performance as slightly more valuable (8.0 to 7.6).

The rest of my AL ballot goes in order except to flip Severino and Verlander. Severino had significantly better marks in both eRA (3.15 to 3.73) and dRA (3.40 to 4.12). Santana had an even more marked disparity between his actual runs allowed and the component measures (3.82 eRA, 4.75 dRA) which also triggers confirmation bias as he and Jason Vargas’ first-half performances were quite vexing to this Cleveland fan.

1. Corey Kluber, CLE
2. Chris Sale, BOS
3. Carlos Carrasco, CLE
4. Luis Severino, NYA
5. Justin Verlander, DET/HOU

In the NL, I was a little surprised to see that in some circles, Clayton Kershaw is the choice for the award and may well win it. Tom Tango pointed out that Kershaw’s edges over Scherzer in both W-L (18-4 to 16-6) and ERA (2.31 to 2.51) give him a clear edge in the normal thought process of voters. I have been more detached than normal this season from the award debates as you might hear on MLB Tonight, and so seeing a 13 run gap in RAR I didn’t even consider that there might be a groundswell of support for Kershaw. With respect to ERA, Scherzer has a lower RRA (based on runs allowed, adjusting for park, and crudely accounting for bullpen support) and Kershaw’s raw .20 ERA lead drops to just .08 (2.41 to 2.49) when park-adjusting.

What’s more is that Scherzer has a larger edge over Kershaw in eRA (2.71 to 3.26) and dRA (3.20 to 3.73) than he does in RRA (2.56 to 2.72)--leading in all three with a 25 inning advantage. Scherzer led the NL in RRA and eRA, was a narrow second to his teammate Strasburg (3.07 to 3.20) in dRA, and was just seven innings off the league lead (albeit in seventh place). For Cy Young races in non-historic pitcher seasons, I don’t think it gets much more clear than this.

As a final note on Kershaw v. Scherzer, perhaps some of the pro-Kershaw sentiment goes beyond W-L and ERA and into the notion that Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. I don’t think this is relevant to a single season award, and I think it would have a much more obvious application to the AL MVP race, where not only is Mike Trout the best player in baseball, but the best by a tremendous margin, and was easily the most valuable player on a rate basis in the league (NOTE: I am not advocating that Trout should be the MVP, only that he has a better case using this argument than Kershaw). But it may be time to re-evaluate Kershaw as the best pitcher in baseball as a fait accompli. Over the last three seasons, Scherzer has pitched 658 innings with a 2.84 RRA and 211 RAR; Kershaw has pitched 557 innings with a 2.37 RRA and 206 RAR. At some point, the fact that Scherzer has consistently been more durable than Kershaw should factor into the discussion of “best”.

Strasburg placed second to Scherzer in eRA, and as discussed bettered him in dRA, recording one more out than Kershaw did. That’s enough for me to move him into second over teammate Gonzalez as well, who had an even larger peripheral gap than Kershaw (basing RAR on eRA, Strasburg beats Gonzalez 62 to 56; on dRA, 56 to 37), so I see it as:

1. Max Scherzer, WAS
2. Stephen Strasburg, WAS
3. Clayton Kershaw, LA
4. Gio Gonzalez, WAS
5. Zack Greinke, ARI

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