Who Should Win the AL Cy Young Award?
On Tuesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America released their finalists for the 2014 awards. In the AL, starting pitchers Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber and Chris Sale were announced as finalist for the AL Cy Young. All three pitched outstanding this year, and while the winner won't be announced until November 12, let's break down who should win the AL Cy Young.
None of the pitchers guided their team to the playoffs, so the writers won't give any advantage there. Both Kluber's Indians and Hernandez' Mariners were in the hunt until the end, but neither team could pull it out. In the end, the writers should be voting purely based on each pitchers' performance, so let's take a look at how some of their numbers break down.
All three put up spectacular numbers. Hernandez leads the trio in innings pitched (IP), earned run average (ERA), and expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP), but was weaker from a strikeout per nine innings (K/9) perspective. Kluber bests Sale and Hernandez in fielding independent pitching (FIP), while Sale leads the three in strikeouts per nine innings. Even so, the differences between the three are so minute that it's too close to call. Let's take a look at where they ranked among AL Starters in these categories.
Immediately what jumps out is that, in just about every category, Kluber, Hernandez and Sale are the top three pitchers in the AL, or at least in the top five. The only category where none of them made the top five was in walks per nine innings. But taking a look at innings pitched, Sale's rank jumps out. While Hernandez and Kluber are one and two, Sale's 30th in the AL. Due to injury, Sale pitched more than 61 innings less than Kluber and Hernandez.
And that's where it really becomes a two-horse race. Although Sale's numbers stack up well against the other two, he pitched more than 60 fewer innings. Who knows how he would have held up? Would he have been able to keep up? Had he, Sale might have been the favorite for the Cy Young, instead, he's just a finalist and more than likely not to win the award.
So it's down to Kluber and Hernandez. But their numbers are too close to give the Cy Young to either just yet. Taking a look at their opponent batting average, Hernandez limited hitters to a .197 average, while Kluber held opponents to just .232. But Hernandez was also luckier than Kluber, with a .258 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), while Kluber was unlucky, with a .316 BABIP.
And while Hernandez had the seventh-ranked defense in the AL playing behind him, Kluber had the second-worst defense in the AL behind him. The Indians were the worst in the MLB with 116 errors, while the Mariners only committed 82, good for second best in the MLB, and best in the AL. It's astonishing Kluber was able to pitch so well with a poor defense behind him. Kluber leads Hernandez in strikeouts, 269 to 248, but Hernandez gave up fewer walks, 46 to 51. And in terms of WHIP, walks plus hits per inning pitched, Hernandez leads Kluber, 0.96 to 1.09. Kluber also had more wins, 18 to Felix's 15, but more losses as well, 9 to 6.
But still the race is too close to call. Kluber and Hernandez are neck and neck. So let's take a look at their analytics to see who was more valuable over the course of the season.
Based on the sabermetrics, it seems like Kluber was the better pitcher. He leads Hernandez in both FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) and Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement (bWAR). He also leads Hernandez in nERD, numberFire's metric which measures the number of runs prevented by a pitcher compared to the league average on a per game basis. In fWAR, bWAR and nERD, Kluber easily bests Hernandez.
ERA-, FIP- and xFIP- measure how good a pitcher was in relation the league average, where 100 is league average. Both were over 30 percent better than the league average in every category, but Hernandez best's Kluber in ERA-, Kluber bests him in FIP-, partially due to the difference in defenses behind them.
In a really tight race, Kluber and Hernandez are neck and neck in just about every category. Both pitchers deserve the award, and to pick between the two is almost splitting hairs. But in the end, only one pitcher can hoist the trophy and it has to come down to who was more valuable based on the three main, all-inclusive metrics, fWAR, bWAR and nERD. And Kluber bested Hernandez in all three.
Corey Kluber was a more valuable pitcher and a better pitcher overall, and therefore should win the AL Cy Young.