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It’s been an interesting year in baseball and in general (and it’s not over!). Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but I’m personally looking forward to seeing what happens in the voting in November. The Cy Young voting. (Is there another vote thing going on?)

This was an interesting year, especially in the American League, where a bunch of starters had really good seasons, though no one had a far-and-away great one. It’s possible to make a case for Corey Kluber or Chris Sale or Justin Verlander (just not Rick Porcello because of the 22 wins, OK?) Then there will be those who vote for Zach Britton.

But I think the National League has a much more interesting Cy Young race this year, because there’s a candidate whom I think should be getting a lot of support, but probably won’t. He’s the candidate that no one’s talking about. I know that the votes have already been cast (they were due the Monday after the regular season ended) and I didn’t get to cast one, so on behalf of the committee of one, I’d like to cast my vote for the NL Cy Young.

There will be the folks who cast their votes for the late Jose Fernandez, who left this world far too early a few weeks ago. And it wouldn’t be a silly vote. Fernandez really did have a demonstrably good season. There will be those who prefer the raw power of Noah Syndegaard, or the dominance of Max Scherzer. There will be those who will overlook Clayton Kershaw’s time on the disabled list and who will note that when he did pitch, he was that good. With no disrespect to JF16, Thor, Scherzer, or the Claw, I think this year’s NL Cy Young should go to a man wearing Black and Orange.

This year’s NL Cy Young belongs to Buster Posey.

Wait.

What?

Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!

I know. The Cy Young Award is supposed to given to the best pitcher in the league. But open your mind for a moment and let me make the case for Posey. The act of pitching has two parts. There’s the guy throwing the ball and, as Yogi Berra reminded us, you also need a catcher because otherwise you have too many passed balls. For a long time, the assumption was that the pitcher was out there doing all the work and the catcher was just some dolt who happened to be willing to wear some armor and have his career shortened by all the squatting.

We now understand better. We understand that there are some things that a pitcher has more control over (strikeouts, walks) and those that he has less control over (balls that go into play). And we understand that the catcher can play a rather big role in the outcome of a pitch and whether it is called a ball or a strike (and how important a lot of those little calls can be over the course of a season).

In fact, over the last year here at Baseball Prospectus, we’ve introduced a couple of metrics aimed at more accurately modeling the contributions that pitchers make, based on what they do have more control over and divorced from what they do not. Deserved Run Average (DRA) uses random effects to model the impact that a pitcher had independent of the quality of the batters he faced, the park that he played in, and even the impact of his catcher. It also properly “shrinks” some components because we know that for some outcomes, the pitcher may be credited with “getting an out” but we know that there was a healthy dose of good luck in there. In effect, it only credits the pitcher for the runs that he deserved.

When we look at the National League leaders in DRA, we can see how the various pitchers stacked up against each other.

Pitcher

NIP Runs

Hit Runs

Out Runs

Total

Jose Fernandez

-29.4

-1.7

5.2

-25.9

Max Scherzer

-27.1

1.5

2.7

-22.9

Clayton Kershaw

-21.5

-7.0

1.7

-26.8

Noah Syndegaard

-17.8

-9.9

2.2

-25.5

Madison Bumgarner

-14.8

0.1

2.7

-12.0

For DRA, negative numbers are good (pitchers want fewer runs to score), and in 2016, the pitcher who “deservedly” prevented the most runs was Clayton Kershaw with -26.8, compared to a league-average (note, not a replacement-level) pitcher. This is an additive stat, so if Kershaw would have been healthy the whole year, he probably would have collected even more runs, but as it is, he actually led the league in runs prevented.

But let’s flip over to BP’s catching stats, particularly the ones that have to do with making the pitcher look good (or less bad): catcher framing and blocking. We know that these stats are relatively quick to stabilize, unlike some of the pitching stats out there, and so there’s relatively little need for shrinkage, and again, we are comparing these guys to the average (not replacement-level) catcher.

Catcher

Framing Runs

Blocking Runs

Total

Buster Posey

27.6

0.4

28.0

Yasmani Grandal

26.7

0.6

27.3

Jason Castro

17.0

0.5

17.5

In this case, the scale is scored so that positive scores are better. And look here: Buster Posey saved more runs with his framing than Clayton Kershaw did with his pitching. In fact, note that Yasmani Grandal had a pretty good year too, meaning that Kershaw was not even the best “pitcher” on the Dodgers this year.

If we’re going to give the Cy Young award to the player who helped prevent the most runs during the act of pitching, then the numbers say that Buster Posey should win the National League award this year.

Cy What?

Yeah, I know Buster Posey isn’t going to win the NL Cy Young, the same way that Jonathan Lucroy (33.2 runs in framing and blocking) didn’t win over Cliff Lee (24.5 runs in DRA) in 2013. It won’t happen because the rules say that you have to be a pitcher to win. Can we talk about where that rule came from?

For a moment, consider the ways in which pitching and run prevention in general has been represented over the years. We subtitle games by their pitching matchups. We assign wins and losses to pitchers. There’s a section of the box score that talks about what the pitchers did. Sure, the pitcher is important. In retelling the story of one game, he’s the person who had the most control over what happened. And we’re used to seeing a season as a series of games, so we focus on the pitcher.

The poor catcher, on the other hand, appears in more games than the pitcher (a starting catcher might catch 120-130 games, compared to a starter making 33 starts over a season), and provides his value in small increments over that time. But now we know that over the course of a year, the best catcher can provide value with his framing/blocking abilities that is, at the very least, on the same order of magnitude as the best pitcher can provide with his pitching abilities. That’s something we really had no way of quantifying until a few years ago. Now we do. If the Cy Young award were created tomorrow rather than decades ago, would it continue to be only for the best pitcher?

Consider what might happen if catchers were eligible. There’s a certain cache that goes along with being a Cy Young winner. There’s also a certain amount of cash. Former winners of the award (and even those who have come close!) have done nicely when they have reached free agency. (And it’s not like Posey is going to be begging for cash at a highway exit any time soon.)

But let’s consider the case of Yasmani Grandal, who has yet to reach free agency. We see above that his framing/blocking contribution was worth more than any other pitcher in the NL. (Just so I’m not accused of playing the “fun fact” game, he beat everyone in the AL as well.) In 2015, he had 25.4 runs saved, which would have put him behind only Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, and Chris Sale. If catchers were allowed to win the Cy Young (and if the voters went strictly by the numbers), Grandal would have two second-place finishes to his name. It’s a nice calling card out in the free agent market.

It’s likely that Noah Syndegaard will finish near the top of the Cy Young balloting this year, and perhaps again next year. It’ll be interesting to see whether the market values what will likely be a couple of top-five Cy Young finishes from Syndegaard similarly to how the market evaluates Grandal when they both hit free agency. Maybe there’s still some market inefficiency to be squeezed out of this yet.

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ErikBFlom
10/12
It appears you are not correcting the pitchers NIP runs for the catcher's framing runs. Is that correction in there, but unstated? It would seem terrible to give Bumgarner and Kershaw such high numbers if part of that is resting on Posey and Grandal. After all, given how those catchers did, those pitchers may not be as good as all that (though still good, as the correction would be on the order of 4 runs).
pizzacutter
10/12
Pitchers have a separate accounting for the framing runs that their catchers so generously provide them (or take away from them)
slascher
10/12
Where can we find info on how you calculate framing runs for catchers? I am wondering how you avoid the circularity problem of separating the catcher's contribution from the pitcher's.
cmaczkow
10/12
I think this type of value is always going to be fighting an uphill battle for recognition. As a viewer, you can occasionally see where a catcher might steal a strike for a pitcher, but it certainly doesn't jump out at you, and it usually (just judging by appearance) can be chalked up to the umpire giving a generous strike call. You can see a pitcher's stuff much, much more easily. I think most people also have considerable questions regarding how certain we are of the value of catcher framing. We've had ERA (and wins) for a century. We've had framing runs saved for a couple of years now. ERA and wins are simple to calculate; and even if they are grossly imperfect measures, they are transparent. Fans are completely unable to do this for catcher framing value, and there will always be considerably less trust in a stat that you need a computer to generate for you - especially if the magnitude of the stat goes against our ingrained perceptions of player value. Even if catchers were eligible, I'd have a hard time seeing much support for this anytime in the near future.
Oleoay
10/12
Out in Colorado, we've had Tony Wolters join our team who finished 2016 5th in the league in CSAA. Broadcasters became aware of his framing ability and were able to educate viewers. It wasn't that hard showing how gently he catches the ball with no jerky movements.
lipitorkid
10/12
If jerky movements are what qualify a bad pitch framer than Brian McCann must be the worst pitch framer in the bigs.
GBSimons
10/14
I'm not trying to pick on this comment, but it's an opportunity to discuss something I've thought about for some time - and which I'm sure others have mentioned numerous times. "and there will always be considerably less trust in a stat that you need a computer to generate for you" Why don't NFL fans complain about their lack of understanding of how QB Rating is calculated? I imagine only a small percentage of them have even a decent idea of how the number is determined, but no one seems to say anything. A QB has a 90 QBR? Great. A 60? Ugh. Where do those numbers come from? Who knows?!?!? Is this another case of baseball beating itself up while another sport pushes on? It sure seems like it.
Oleoay
10/12
Does NIP take into account framing runs i.e. how much of the -14.8 runs saved by Bumgarner are because Buster Posey caught some of his games and benefitted from his framing skills? Could it be that the adage that a pitcher controls walks, strikeouts and home runs really be more catcher-dependent than we thought?
Oleoay
10/12
Never mind I should've read the earlier comments.

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