Wednesday, November 06, 2013

IBA Ballot: Cy Young

There were four AL pitchers who I estimate to have been worth 60 or more RAR in 2013, then a pack of four pitchers with 53 or 54 RAR. These two groups make a natural candidate set for the Cy Young ballot. The less interesting question is which of the four lower RAR pitchers get the #5 position. Bartolo Colon, Chris Sale, Anibal Sanchez, and Felix Hernandez can’t be distinguished based on their RAR, so I go to peripherals to give Sanchez the nod--he has the best eRA of the bunch (just edging out Sale 3.17 to 3.19) and the best dRA (my Base Runs DIPS-style run average); in fact, Sanchez’ 2.88 dRA led all AL pitchers.

The four pitchers vying for the top spot are Hisashi Iwakuma, Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, and James Shields. Iwaukuma actually leads in RAR at 67, but has two major drawbacks. The first has nothing to do with his pitching but rather with that calculation--it is assuming that Safeco was a neutral park in 2013 based on one-year of data. While my standard procedure is to reset the park factor for a dimension change, it’s truly not correct to treat it as a completely new park. If we assume that Seattle’s PF is a more pitcher-friendly .96, his RAR lead over Darvish dissipates. Iwakuma also benefited from a very low BABIP (.259), although that is not unique to him as Darvish (.267) and Scherzer (.263) also had low figures. However, Iwakuma’s dRA is the worst among the pack at 4.02 (Darvish 3.50, Scherzer 3.19) and his eRA trails as well (3.35, 3.05, 2.81).

Ultimately, it’s Scherzer’s superiority in both peripheral run averages that compels me to place him first. My philosophy has always been that, when assessing value, one should start with the actual runs allowed by the pitcher, but that in cases where two pitchers are very close, peripherals act as a good tiebreaker. The difference of three RAR between Iwakuma/Darvish and Scherzer is minuscule, but Scherzer’s advantages in the peripherals are more significant. When it comes to pitchers, actual runs allowed is very meaningful, and yet still leaves things like bullpen and defensive support completely unaccounted for. Using RAR based on eRA (eRAR) and dRA (dRAR):

Iwakuma (using 1.00 PF): 67 RAR, 54 eRAR, 36 dRAR
Darvish: 64, 58, 47
Scherzer: 61, 65, 66
Shields: 60, 47, 43

Thus, I would fill out my ballot as follows:

1. Max Scherzer, DET
2. Yu Darvish, TEX
3. Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA
4. James Shields, KC
5. Anibal Sanchez, DET

In the NL, there’s no competition at all for the top spot. Clayton Kershaw had 77 RAR, 22 more than his closest competitor. Both Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey posted similar RRA, eRA, and dRA to Kershaw, but Kershaw pitched 63 more innings than Fernandez and 58 more innings than Harvey, making it no competition from a value perspective. Of the pitchers that could compete on bulk, none come close on quality. Kershaw’s 236 innings trailed only Adam Wainwright (242), and Cliff Lee was next at 223. The only question regarding Kershaw is whether the Cy Young is enough, or whether he was the NL MVP as well.

The spots behind Kershaw on the ballot come down to choosing between two young pitchers in Harvey and Fernandez who pitched brilliantly but didn’t turn in full seasons, and two veteran workhorses in Wainwright and Lee. These four are very closely bunched in terms of RAR, but the youngsters had much lower RRAs and eRAs. In terms of dRA, it’s much closer, but Harvey and Fernandez still both were lower than the vets:

I really don’t see any reason to deviate from the RAR rankings, and filled out my ballot accordingly. That doesn’t mean I’m claiming that the differences in RAR are meaningful; I think they indicate that these four pitchers are indistinguishable in value as measured by RAR. If you believe that the replacement level is set too high, that would be reason to push Lee and Wainwright ahead; I don’t, obviously--my starting pitcher baseline is 128% of the league average runs allowed, which in W% terms is roughly .380. If I felt it was too high (quality wise rather than RA--you can see why people like to use ERA+ even if the scale distorts), I’d lower it; if anything, my inclination would be to raise the replacement level, which would benefit Harvey and Fernandez.

In the end, though, quibbling about spots 2-5 is irrelevant; this is not a year in which down ballot votes should have any impact on the outcome, which should be Clayton Kershaw, unanimous Cy Young winner:

1. Clayton Kershaw, LA
2. Matt Harvey, NYN
3. Jose Fernandez, MIA
4. Cliff Lee, PHI
5. Adam Wainwright, STL

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