Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why Rick Porcello Deserved the Cy Young Award

The announcement yesterday that Rick Porcello had won the AL Cy Young Award was immediately met with derision from the lovely Kate Upton, fiancée of second-place finisher Justin Verlander. Verlander received more first-place votes but was left off of two ballots and Porcello won the overall count by a 137-132 score (voters can choose 5 pitchers with points awarded on a 7-4-3-2-1 basis). So if those two writers had given Verlander third place votes or better, he would have won.

Porcello does sport a gaudy 22-4 record, helped by the best run support in the league, while Verlander was squarely at 16-9. Of course, Porcello's Red Sox also made the playoffs, while Verlander's Tigers did not. No doubt these differences influenced the voters, but wins, losses, and overall team success are a function of much more than just the pitcher, as most baseball fans are aware. So was Verlander robbed? Are his stats that much better than Porcello’s?

My go-to statistic in this situation is Bases per Out because that is essentially what pitchers can control. Before any sabermetricians raise objections, I do appreciate the concepts of FIP and BABIP but want to keep this analysis simple, and BPO is just that. For pitchers, the formula takes the total number of bases given up (TB+BB+HBP+WP+BK+SB+SAC+SF) and divides by the number of outs recorded (IP*3). Note that strikeouts are not given any additional value here other than the out achieved, which hurts Verlander who led the league with 254 (Porcello had 189). Taking all qualifiers in the AL, here are the top 7 in BPO:
Pitcher          Outs Bases BPO
Rick Porcello    669  368   0.550
Corey Kluber     645  363   0.563
Chris Sale       680  388   0.571
Aaron Sanchez    576  329   0.571
Justin Verlander 683  391   0.572
Masahiro Tanaka  599  343   0.573
J.A. Happ        585  351   0.600
So there you have it. Porcello was actually the best pitcher in the league by BPO, giving up just 0.55 bases per out. Verlander was fifth. Sorry Kate, but the voters (surprisingly) got it right.

You will note that I used the term qualifier. That means a hurler who averaged at least 1 inning pitched per game, or 162 IP over the season. This eliminates relievers, particularly Baltimore's Zach Britton, who had an unbelievable season, giving up 68 bases in 67 innings pitched (for a BPO of 0.338). Personally, I don’t believe relievers should be eligible for the Cy Young Award; they already have their own trophy. Yes, Britton was incredible, but he pitched just a third of the innings of the top starters. Why not include pitchers that pitched 50 innings, or 40 or 30 or 1? It is a lot easier to be dominant when you know you only have one inning to get through. Starters and relievers have different assignments and I think the Cy Young should only be awarded to starters.

So in conclusion, Rick Porcello was a worthy winner of the 2016 American League Cy Young Award. Frankly, any of the top 5 would have been an acceptable choice, but it is good to know that the voters did not make a huge mistake as many assume. At least in the AL. In the NL however, Kyle Hendricks was robbed. His BPO was 0.519, while Cy Young winner Max Scherzer was 6th in the league at 0.564. So if anyone should be upset, it should be Hendricks' fiancée Emma Cain.

I'll look at the MVP awards tomorrow.



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