Examining past MVP and Cy Young winners and the differences between their winning seasons and non-winning seasons.
With the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards announced in the last two weeks, we saw a first-time MVP in each league, a first-time American League Cy Young winner and a National League Cy Young winner who had won the American League Cy Young Award seven years prior. Winning consecutive MVP or Cy Young awards is a rarity, though we have seen recent repeats by Albert Pujols and Tim Lincecum. In the last 18 years (1993-2010, which encompasses the last two rounds of expansion), we have seen just six of 36 MVP awards go to the previous year’s winner, and just nine Cy Young Awards to the previous recipient. But the best hitter or best pitcher in the league is usually not a different person every year.
Taking a look at what goes into some teams outplaying or underplaying their expected records.
In 2007, the Angels won 94 games despite a third order win total of 86. In 2008, the Angels won 100 games despite a third order win total of just 84. In 2009, the Angels won 97 games with just a third order win total of 87. Going into 2010, we were left wondering whether the Angels were the luckiest team in the world or whether they were doing something that made them appear to be a slightly above average team but actually among the best in the league. A clue was thrown our way in 2010 when the Angels came back to earth, dipping to a record of 80-82. This might have resolved the issue if the Angels third order win total had been more than 72, because even a mediocre team beat the stuffing out of its third order record! The Adjusted Standings that we publish under our Statistics tab here at Baseball Prospectus are designed to give fans a clue about how lucky teams have been, but the Angels’ performances have thrown some major question marks our way in recent years about the methodology of those standings.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
Tim Linceum tries to clinch the title for the Giants while Cliff Lee tries to keep the Rangers alive in a matchup of No. 1 starters.
Cliff Lee: 3.18 ERA, 3.03 SIERA Lee looked like he might be on his way to another playoff gem through the first two innings of Game One of the World Series against the Giants, but things immediately soured. He gave up seven runs (six earned) en route to a shortened 4 2/3-innings start. He allowed eight hits, including five doubles. Of course, Lee’s peripherals from Game One look like a patented Cliftonian performance: seven strikeouts, one walk. This is where the philosophy of DIPS Theory and metrics like SIERA face a real challenge, because the Saber Orthodoxy would declare that Lee was unlucky in Game One and leave it at that. They would say that pitchers do not exert much control over balls in play, and the fact that he allowed 15 batted balls and eight went for hits would be an indication that he had bad luck. Well… he certainly was not receiving any good luck.
As the Series shifts to Texas, the Rangers will look to their Japanese import to stay afloat while the Giants look for a bounceback outing from a talented lefty.
Jonathan Sanchez: 3.07 ERA, 3.70 SIERA Sanchez’s ERA has been all over the place the last three years, but his SIERA has stayed in the same range, gradually falling from 3.92 in 2008 to 3.80 in 2009, and now to 3.70 in 2010. His walk and strikeout numbers are both extremely high, while his batted-ball rates are pretty average across the board. Sanchez has struck out 25 percent of hitters he has faced in each of the last two seasons, while walking 12 percent, making him a pitcher who is bound to aggregate large pitch counts quickly. In fact, Sanchez has averaged 4.0 pitches per hitter in each of the last two years and thus only 5.8 innings per start in 2010 and 5.4 in 2009. The key for the Rangers will be to drive his pitch count up, because he is tough to hit otherwise. Sanchez has been the beneficiary of a lucky BABIP this year (.255 overall), thanks to a .114 on outfield fly balls—well below the .179 league average—and he also has just a .667 BABIP on line drives, below the league average of .716. These have enabled him to accumulate more innings this season than last. As his luck normalizes, he can be chased after closer to five innings than six, and if the Rangers are patient they will have a chance to get into the Giants' bullpen early. The contrast between what can happen when Sanchez is on his game and when he is not has been crystal clear thus far in the playoffs. Sanchez whiffed 11 Braves and walked only one in 7 1/3 dominant innings in NLDS Game Three, but the Phillies fared better, netting four runs in eight innings across two starts in the NLCS. The Phillies scored a first-inning run off of Sanchez with the help of three walks in Game Two of the NLCS, but he shut them down the rest of the way. However, the Phillies did manage to chase him in the third inning of Game Six of the NLCS, but failed to capitalize against the Giants' bullpen and were shut out the rest of the way. Beating Sanchez is tough to do without free passes, but he is not stingy with them. If the Rangers are patient, they could put up a crooked number or two against Sanchez en route to a victory to shrink the Giants 2-0 lead in the World Series before it gets out of reach.
A look at the hurlers as the Giants try to take a 2-0 advantage in the series.
Matt Cain: 3.14 ERA, 3.90 SIERA DIPS metrics like SIERA do not work well for Cain. They are bound to estimate skill level effectively for the vast majority of pitchers, but some will be the exception to the rule. However, one must be careful not to stick a feather in the cap of every rookie who beats his SIERA, and then not fall victim to confirmation bias for those who have a second year of beating their peripherals. There will be a handful of pitchers that are lucky two years in a row and appear to have SIERA-beating skills but really do not. However, it is now four years in a row with Cain. After posting a 4.15 ERA in 2006, just above his 4.03 SIERA, Cain has transformed into a pitcher that pitches ahead of his peripherals by quite a large margin. In 2007, he had a 3.65 ERA and a 4.20 SIERA; in 2008, he had a 3.76 ERA and a 4.23 SIERA; in 2009, he had a 2.89 ERA and a 4.09 SIERA; and in 2010, he had a 3.14 ERA and a 3.90 SIERA. None of these are bad SIERAs. Cain strikes out 20 percent of hitters and walks only 6.8 percent. He is by no means a ground-ball wizard, but he induces popups regularly (11.4 percent of balls in play in 2010) suppressing his BABIP. His BABIP in his career is .270 (with a .259 BABIP at home and .283 on the road), and his HR/OFB is just 9.6 percent. Chances are that Cain has been a little bit lucky in this string of SIERA-beating ERAs, if for no other reason than it seems almost impossible that he was unlucky. However, Cain is one of the better pitchers in the postseason and gives the Giants a solid one-two punch with Tim Lincecum to bring into the World Series. His playoff performance thus far has been masterful. Cain has not allowed an earned run in 13 2/3 innings, despite a mediocre 11:5 K:BB ratio. In 38 balls in play, only 13 have been on the ground and he has generated two infield popups. Yet, somehow Cain has kept runs off the board. The usually dominant Giants bullpen surrendered a lead in Game Two of the NLDS against the Braves, costing Cain a win, but he led a combined shutout of the Phillies in Game Three of the NLCS that gave them a series lead they did not surrender. The Rangers have the better lineup in this series, but Cain gives the Giants every reason to believe that their pitching staff can make up the difference.
A pair of aces are set to duel as the Fall Classic is set to kick off in San Francisco.
Tim Lincecum: 3.43 ERA, 3.16 SIERA This might have seemed like a more insurmountable challenge for the Rangers a year ago when Lincecum won his second straight National League Cy Young award, but the 25-year-old’s ERA increased by 0.95 runs in 2010. However, his SIERA only went up by 0.43 runs, indicating some of his return to mortality was rooted in bad luck. His strikeout rate did decline from his lofty 2008 and 2009 levels of 28.6 and 28.8 percent to 25.8 in 2010. While striking out as many hitters as any starting pitcher did during his Cy Young years, Lincecum was able to get away with mediocre walk and ground-ball rates. However, as his velocity declined, he became slightly more hittable and batters were able to get more runs off him. Lincecum did put up a career-best 50 percent ground-ball rate in 2010, suggesting that he is learning how to pitch smarter. However, he also had some bad luck as well—his BABIP was .315, primarily due to a 20.9 percent line-drive rate. This sounds bad, but line-drive rate is the least persistent pitcher statistic. In his career, Lincecum has allowed a .301 BABIP, so there is little reason to expect this to change. Lincecum will still strike out about a quarter of hitters he faces, and in the 2010 postseason he has struck out 34 percent of hitters he has faced. While this came in part due to striking out 14 of 30 Braves in Game One of the NLDS, he still struck out 16 of 59 Phillies he faced in the NLCS. The righty may not be the best pitcher in the league anymore, but he definitely is among the best. As the Giants go up against Cliff Lee in Game One of the World Series, Lincecum will probably need to be on top of his game, but there is little doubt that The Freak is a formidable opponent.
A look at the men on the hill as the Giants try again to wrap up the pennant and Phillies attempt to stave off elimination.
Phillies vs. Giants Jonathan Sanchez: 3.07 ERA, 3.70 SIERA Sanchez’s modus operandi has been that he strikes many batters out, but walks many as well. When facing with the Braves in Game Three of the NLDS, Sanchez only followed the first part of that plan—he walked just one hitter while striking out 11 of the 25 batters he faced. However, Sanchez fell victim to walks as well in his NLCS Game Two start against the Phillies, letting three walks push a run across in the first inning. However, he also struck out three in the first and four more before rebounding to complete seven innings. This was not enough for the Giants, who surrendered the series lead to the Phillies. For Game Six, the series lead is at stake again as the Giants lead 3-2. Sanchez was handled reasonably well by the Phillies’ left-handers in Game Two, but he is a good bet to dominate them Saturday given his career trends against lefties. The key will be preventing the Phillies right-handers from reaching base. If Sanchez is wild again, he could put the Giants in a big hole in their attempt to clinch the pennant. If he controls the strike zone and strikes hitters out like he can, he will be a formidable opponent to the Phillies as they face elimination again.
A breakdown of the duo set to toe the slab in the lone game of the day.
Giants at Phillies Roy Halladay: 2.44 ERA, 2.93 SIERA Halladay was far more hittable in his second post-season start than his first, evidenced primarily by the fact that the Giants actually got hits against him, unlike the Reds in the NLDS opener. Halladay was stronger than his four runs surrendered would suggest, striking out seven and walking none in seven innings of a loss to the Giants in Game One. He gave up a pair of home runs to unexpected hero Cody Ross, and a dropped fly ball at the wall by Raul Ibanez led to another pair of runs in the fifth. Even still, Halladay continued his dominance of the strike zone that made him the league leader in SIERA, and he will be even tougher to score against in AT&T Park, where home runs are scarcer.
A breakdown of the pitchers taking to the mound for the day's slate of games.
NLCS Game Four: Phillies at Giants Joe Blanton: 4.82 ERA, 4.01 SIERA Blanton gets his first start of the 2010 postseason, and at first glance, he would appear to be a liability for the Phillies after struggling to get his ERA below 5.00 all season. However, with a 4.01 SIERA, Blanton gives the Phillies one of the best fourth starters in baseball to carry them in Game Four. His 2009 SIERA was even stronger at 3.92. The story that people tell about Blanton is that he is a mediocre, hittable pitcher, but that was before he increased his strikeout rate. In 2008, he had punched out only 11.3 percent of batters when the Athletics traded him to the Phillie then he increase that to 16.1 after moving to the National League. However, Blanton also walked more batters as a 2008 Phillie as well. In 2009, Blanton suddenly began punching hitters out—19.5 percent struck out against him, the best rate in his career. In 2010, he did not fall back much, continuing to strike out 17.6 percent of hitters faced. Unfortunately, Blanton had already allowed a lot of hits, and also struggled early when returning from an oblique injury, so he spent the rest of 2010 trying to bring down his ERA. However, the reality told by SIERA is pretty clear—the control pitcher from the A’s has become a well-rounded pitcher with the Phillies who can also strike hitters out. He even lowered his walk rate in 2010 as well, from 7.1 in 2009 to just 4.8. The Giants will have an easier opponent in Game Four than any other game in this series, but seeing Blanton as a soft spot would be a mistake. This pitching matchup is not decisive either way, and the Giants could be in for a surprise from Kentucky Joe.
With a pair of games on slate, here's the breakdown of the men on the bump in the AL and NL.
Giants vs. Phillies Cole Hamels: 3.06 ERA,3.19SIERA
Hamels was dominant in his 2010 post-season debut, pitching a shutout to give the Phillies a clinching Game Three win over the Reds in the NLDS. Hamels struck out nine, walked none, and scattered five hits. It was a great example of the difference between the Hamels that the Giants go up against Tuesda and the Hamels of the past couple years. As explained below, the outlier year in the last three is not 2009, but 2010. His pitching skill in 2008 and 2009 was exactly the same when you dig into the numbers, but in 2010, he added a cutter and more importantly added a couple ticks to his fastball. His fastball was geared up in the NLDS, as Hamels mowed down Reds hitters, giving him the opportunity to surprise hitters with the changeup while they were preparing for a fastball that even touched 96 mph a few times. The norm for Hamels is 92, but when his fastball is coming in hard and he is keeping his pitches down in the zone, he is all but unhittable. The Giants have their work cut out for them in Game Three.