Wednesday, November 09, 2011

IBA Ballot: Cy Young

In retroactively evaluating starting pitchers, I start with their actual runs allowed (crudely adjusted for bequeathed runners to produce what I call RRA). I consider peripherals, primarily what I call eRA (basically a component RA) and dRA (a DIPS RA). However, I do not start with either of those, and if there is a substantial difference in RRA, I usually don’t override it lightly. I’m not sure that this stance makes much of a difference in this year’s Cy Young vote, at least at the top of the ballot--the top guys fare well however you slice it, but it does put me at odds with anyone following what could be called the Fangraphs school of pitcher evaluation.

Everyone has handed the AL Cy Young to Justin Verlander, but consider this:

I don’t think that, looking at these categories, you can come to any sort of clear conclusion about who was the better pitcher. The first guy pitched sixteen more innings, but he allowed .15 more runs per game, so when you compare them to a baseline, they are just about even. The first pitcher had a better eRA, which is a positive, but the second pitcher didn’t grossly outpitch his peripherals. All things outside of this chart being equal, I’d give the edge to the first pitcher, but I would hardly consider it a landslide.

As you probably know, the first pitcher is Justin Verlander; the second pitcher is Jered Weaver. Weaver also trailed Verlander in dRA (3.44 to 3.75), which I purposely omitted in order to make a point, and obviously Verlander has the win-loss angle going for him in the mainstream. I have no qualms about putting Verlander first on my ballot, but Weaver ensured that he didn’t run away from the rest of the AL field.

James Shields has a fairly large lead for the third spot on the RAR list at 77, with Sababthia fourth at 66 and three pitchers tightly clustered just below (Romero 62, Haren 62, Beckett 61). Shields and Romero both benefitted from low BABIPs (.259 and .247). Shields’ Rays teammates did lead the majors in DER by a wide margin; it wasn’t just him who was getting great defensive support. Still, as discussed above, given Shields’ sizeable RAR lead over the others, I’m more comfortable giving him the nod. It is enough to drop Romero out of the running for the last spot on the ballot, which comes down to Haren and Beckett.

Haren worked 45 more innings, but Beckett’s RRA was .51 runs lower and his eRA was .42 runs lower. However, Haren’s dRA was .24 runs lower, and since the peripherals are a split decision, I’m more comfortable going with the guy who worked a lot more. Fried chicken was not a factor in this decision:

1) Justin Verlander, DET
2) Jered Weaver, LAA
3) James Shields, TB
4) CC Sabathia, NYA
5) Dan Haren, LAA

The NL Cy Young is very close. Consider these two pitchers:

It would be tough to get much closer than that, wouldn’t it? While it appears that Clayton Kershaw will win the award and that Roy Halladay is the consensus #2, the top line on that table is Kershaw and the second line is Cliff Lee. Lee’s season is nearly indistinguishable from Kershaw’s in the categories that drive my decision. Halladay’s same categories line: 234, 2.48, 2.70, 2.71, 43, 73.

This race is close enough that I decided to take a look at each pitcher’s performance on a game-by-game basis, using the relatively crude gW% I discussed in this post. However, looking at each game on its own does little more than verify that these pitchers were all very close: Lee leads the way at .685, but Halladay at .680 and Kershaw at .679 are right behind.

We could consider strength of schedule. On the team level, and considering just the opponent’s overall quality rather than isolating opposing offense as would be more useful for comparing pitchers, my crude team rankings indicate that PHI and LA played nearly the same caliber of opposition--PHI has a 95 SOS and LA a 94. Baseball Prospectus’ data on quality of opposing hitter reveals that Halladay’s average opponent hit .260/.330/.413, Kershaw’s .263/.327/.416, and Lee’s .266/.332/.423. Respectively, those lines translate to approximate runs/game of 4.69, 4.67, and 4.83. But over 233 innings, even the difference between the high (Lee, 4.83) and the low (Kershaw, 4.67) is just 4 runs, and those figures probably shouldn’t be applied without any sort of regression.

From the game-by-game analysis, I can also compute the pitcher’s personal park factor weighted by innings pitched in each park rather than assuming that each pitcher logged a 50/50 home/road innings split. My standard park factor for PHI is 101 versus 97 for LA. Halladay and Lee’s personal park factors are both 101, while Kershaw’s is 96, making any sort of deviation from just using the team PFs an exercise in futility.

I put next to zero stock in win-loss record, but Kershaw’s is 21-5 mark is obviously more impressive than Halladay’s 19-6 and Lee’s 17-8 when compared to their team’s winning percentage. The pitcher’s run support (from were 5.89, 5.52, and 4.95 respectively, which helps explain why Lee’s record lags behind the other two, but does next to nothing to help us sort out how effective they all were.

In the end, I give the nod to Halladay--he led the three pitchers in all three run averages, and he does have a 5 RAR lead. That doesn't prove he was better, but I have no reason to override it. I think that a reasonable person could easily conclude that Kershaw or Lee deserved the award as well.

For the other two spots on the ballot, the RAR list highly recommends Ian Kennedy (61 RAR) and Cole Hamels (59), as Tim Lincecum is sixth on the list a full eight runs behind Hamels. Hamels has slightly better peripherals than Kennedy, and while batted ball metrics are of questionable value, he does much better in those categories than Kennedy. In this case it confirms my default position (Hamels > Kennedy), and so I’ll give in and fill out my ballot as follows:

1) Roy Halladay, PHI
2) Clayton Kershaw, LA
3) Cliff Lee, PHI
4) Cole Hamels, PHI
5) Ian Kennedy, ARI

1 comment:

  1. Kershaw has won the pitcher's triple crown; the discussion should end there. But for any doubters, here's the cincher: compare how the top three candidates Kershaw, Halladay, and Kennedy fared against the top twenty NL hitters and the rest of the league. Against the rest of the league: OPS allowed was .548, .547, and .601 for Ker, Hal, and Ken, respectively. Now, against the 20 hitters Hal's was .912, Ken's was .948, and Kershaw... .610!

    I included Kennedy instead of Lee because of Lee's 17 wins not being enough to beat Kershaw or Halladay. Although I concede that good arguments can be made to include Lee over Kennedy, it doesn't change the fact that Kershaw should win.


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