Let us start with a common argument during September that will crop up again soon once the Cy Young awards are given out. How do we value C.C. Sabathia’s win total against Felix Hernandez pretty much putting up better numbers in virtually every important statistic? Sabathia was 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA. Hernandez was 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA. Wins have historically been the benchmark pitchers are judged by, but perhaps that’s not totally fair. Pitchers cannot win games, except in the NL with a bat. On the simplest level a baseball game is won by the team that scores more runs than the other team. A pitcher only can affect half of this.
While the voting for Cy Young is a little less of a sham than the Gold Gloves, there is always big disagreement over who the best pitcher is, and how to figure it out. I’d definitely be in favor of ironing out specific rules as to how the voters should think about the award, or which stats are more important. Should the award go the guy that threw the ball the best? That fooled the most hitters? That was the “most valuable” pitcher? One of the biggest problems is that every voter defines the award differently, and is actually voting for different things.
It should be obvious to most people that the Yankees scored a ton more runs than the Mariners, and as a result C.C. Sabathia had a better chance to win games. If Felix Hernandez had been on the Yankees, he would’ve won more games, but would he have won eight more to match Sabathia’s 21? Does it even matter? I think if these two pitchers swapped team, we’d be having no debate that King Felix was better in 2010, but there is no way to measure that. It’s as fruitless as trying to nail down exactly how a pitcher will do before the season. Hernandez would have to face different batters, with different approaches and with different scouting reports. He wouldn’t have to face the Yankees three times and would be able to face the weak Mariners lineup.
Some, such as Michael Kay, suggest that C.C. Sabathia’s numbers were hurt because of something called “pitching to the score.” It is inferred that Sabathia is capable to adjusting to the game and if his team scores 2, he’ll let up 1, but if they score 8 he’ll be okay with letting them score 6. The idea being that if the Yankees were up 8-1, he was less careful about his pitches. The stress of the game may be less, but Sabathia is not just chucking it down the middle of the plate and hoping a fielder catches it. Run support plays a huge role in whether or not a pitcher wins a game, and C.C. Sabathia got 5.89 runs a game to Felix Hernandez’s 3.07. The Yankees only scored less than 4 runs 7 times during Sabathia’s starts. The Mariners scored less than 4 runs 19 times during Hernandez’s starts.
It certainly makes sense that pitchers will pitch differently based on the score of the game. The margin for error is greater in a blowout, and it’s possible that a pitcher will risk a pitch catching a little more of the plate to avoid possibly walking a batter and giving the opposing team more chances for a big inning. If we look at games Sabathia pitched badly in, do they suggest that he let up a lot of meaningless runs that don’t necessarily mean he was pitching badly? Sabathia was 1-4 in 7 starts when he allowed 5 or more earned runs. Of those games, one he left with a huge lead and the bullpen exploded to give him a no-decision. You could reasonable claim that he wasn’t worried about the score and may have relaxed and let batters put good swings on balls. Maybe. The other no-decision was Opening Day, where he left a tight game with a one run lead and a batter on third that scored. In the game he won against the White Sox he let up all the runs early and the Yankees didn’t take a big lead until later in the game. The numbers just don’t support that he was pitching to the score.
Felix Hernandez had only 3 games where he let up 5 or more runs. He lost all three of them; his team never bailing him out when he struggled. He had one more game where he allowed 4 runs, and lost that one as well. Every other game he allowed 3 runs or less. He left three separate games with the score 0-0, one after 7 innings, one after 8 innings and one after 9. He faced the feared Yankees lineup three times, shutting them out twice and allowing one run over 26 innings and two complete games. He led the league in innings pitched, and in hits per nine innings. He had 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings for a total of 232. He was first in pitching WAR.
Ultimately I do believe that wins matter. They are the very essence of what a baseball game is. I do believe that there are levels of effort, and that it’s possible to take your foot off the gas occasionally during a long season, and that it’s possible to bare down and battle when you need to, in clutch situations. Wins don’t play a part in the 2010 AL Cy Young award however, Felix Hernandez is simply in a different class as far as pitchers go. The next best pitcher may have been David Price of the Rays, who’s numbers come a lot closer to Hernandez’s, but still fall short.
I’ve clearly shown here that I favor King Felix for the award, but what will the writers pick? That it’s even a discussion suggests to me that at least some voters are going to value the wins over Hernandez’s clearly superior stats. I suspect these voters will vote David Price first, Sabathia second, and Hernandez third. Others may look at the stats and vote Hernandez, Price, Sabathia. Or even another pitcher I haven’t mentioned here. I think when the votes are tallied that David Price will come out ahead. So that’s my vote and prediction. We shall soon see.