November 21, 2011
Resident Fantasy Genius
We’re not out of the woods yet, fellow awards-voting onlookers. Last week, the Baseball Writers Association of America made several errors in handing out year-end hardware—some arguable, some egregious. While many thought 2010 to be a turning point when voters gave Felix Hernandez—he of 13 wins—the American League Cy Young award over CC Sabathia (21 wins) and David Price (19 wins), 2011 shows that we’re only looking at a tiny step forward, if that.
The target of my ire this season falls upon the National League Cy Young voting and the American League Rookie of the Year voting. While I don’t have a big problem with Clayton Kershaw winning the NL Cy Young award, my beef is with the fact that he ran away with 27 of 32 first-place votes, while Roy Halladay received just four and Cliff Lee failed to secure a single one. Check out their ERA estimators for this season without names attached and tell me who was better.
It’s not an easy call, is it? Not nearly the kind of parity that should lead to one candidate receiving 85 percent of the first-place votes. Now we’ll attach the names and throw on some more traditional metrics:
Kershaw runs away with the traditional categories, and it seems to me like all the voters needed was to see that Kershaw won the “Pitching Triple Crown” before they called it a day. If that wasn’t the case, we would have seen a much more even split among the three candidates. Given that Cliff Lee was best in xFIP and SIERA while facing a slightly tougher schedule than the other two, I think he makes for a very strong candidate, and I’d venture to say that he’d get my vote if I had one (he did get it in the Internet Baseball Awards voting).
My qualm isn’t that Lee didn’t win—it’s obviously very close, and I wouldn’t begrudge a vote for any of the three—my qualm is with people claiming that Kershaw was the obvious choice, and his win coming in such a landslide. In fact, he’s quite obviously not the obvious choice and is made out to be solely as a result of his surface stats—namely his wins, where he holds the greatest edge over his competitors, and his ERA. Maybe voters have moved beyond using wins as their sole measure of pitcher effectiveness, but they obviously still place a great deal of weight on it, and when they see a pitcher with the most wins and lowest ERA, that combination gets them salivating like a fat kid around cake.
Moving on to the AL Rookie of the Year award race, amid two worthy corner-infield candidates (Eric Hosmer and Mark Trumbo), three pitchers finished in the top five of the voting—and they may well have finished in reverse order of what they deserved.
As we all know, Jeremy Hellickson won the award (netting 61 percent of the first-place votes), but not as widely known is the fact that Ivan Nova finished fourth—one spot ahead of Michael Pineda. If there were ever a piece of evidence proving that the writers still rely heavily upon wins, this is it. Despite nearly identical ERAs and vastly more Ks for Pineda, Nova’s Yankee-induced win total netted him a first-place vote and a greater share of the total votes than Pineda earned. You could argue that the AL East provided a tougher environment, but you’d be wrong, since the two faced a virtually equal quality of opposition. And, of course, the peripheral stats are ever in Pineda’s favor.
There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for this disgraceful result. I challenge anyone to give me a single reason why Nova is a better choice for Rookie of the Year than Pineda. Just one.
I’m even willing to give more leeway with defining Rookie of the Year than I am for MVP or Cy Young. While the latter two should pretty clearly go to the player/pitcher who was the most valuable, I’m okay with giving RotY to a player who might not have been the most valuable, given certain conditions. If the guy played in the minors for a couple months (lowering his overall value) but was better than a player who was in the majors the whole season, I’m okay with that. If a guy’s numbers weren’t phenomenal but he showed great stuff or still has a lot of upside, I’m okay with giving him a vote. The award is for the best rookie, and that shouldn’t be restricted to the player who was the best this season. It’s just as much about deciding who will continue to be great players and who will be tomorrow’s MVP and Cy Young candidates.
This is why I’m not outraged at Hellickson winning. Yes, his peripherals aren’t great and his BABIP was incredibly lucky, but I think he’s a better pitcher than those numbers reflect. Yes, Pineda was even better and has a greater ceiling, but Hellickson will still wind up as a very good pitcher. And to some extent, one comes to expect that the voters will be drawn to Hellickson’s sparkly 2.95 ERA, the same as a fish is drawn to anything shiny. It’s par for the course. I just can’t see an argument for Nova. His numbers, aside from wins, were significantly worse than Pineda’s. He doesn’t have top-notch stuff (nowhere close to Pineda’s), and he’s already reached his ceiling. But he won 16 games and plays in the national spotlight in New York. I’d hope that the voters didn’t merely vote for him because he’s more familiar than Pineda, being a Yankee, and I don’t think they did. I do give them more credit than that… but not much more. It seems again that the wins combined with the practically equivalent ERA and perceived tougher competition won the day.
To those who say the voters have moved beyond wins, citing King Felix: you’re going to need to reassess. Indeed, there still appears to be a heavy weight placed upon wins, and for those voters who are looking at something else, it doesn’t appear to run much deeper than ERA, which is almost as bad.