A breakdown of Red Sox starter Rick Porcello’s Cy Young candidacy

Boston Red Sox starter Rick Porcello is on the short list of AL hurlers worthy of the 2016 Cy Young Award. How has Porcello separated himself from the also-rans?

Rick Porcello is pitching today for his 22nd victory of the 2016 campaign. If he were successful in doing so, the Red Sox would possess a double-digit winning streak for the first occasion since April 2009.

As of today, September 24, 2016, Porcello deserves the American League Cy Young Award, and by quite a comprehensive margin.

In fact, ESPN has a tool on its website known as the “Cy Young Predictor.” It has correctly predicted 10 of the 12 Cy Young Award recipients from the years 2010 through 2015.

This tool, co-authored by Bill James and ESPN’s Rob Neyer, uses the following formula to assign “Cy Young Points.” In the formula below, the term, “VB” stands for a twelve-point addition to the scores of pitchers who play on division-winning teams.

This is the Formula used for assigning points:

Cy Young Points (CYP) = ((5*IP/9)-ER) + (SO/12) + (SV*2.5) + Shutouts + ((W*6)-(L*2)) + VB

Personally, I am of the opinion that the formula assigns too much weight to a pitcher’s won-loss record. In addition, I would eliminate the “Victory Bonus.”

In any event, said tool declares Porcello as the front-runner for the Award. Currently, he is leading the second-place pitcher, Corey Kluber, by a score of 189.5 to 166.9 Cy Young Points.

While the tool has an exceptional record for correctly predicting the award winner, I would like to mention some other germane statistics that should support Porcello’s claim to the award.

Despite Porcello possessing a record of 21 victories accompanied by only four defeats, admittedly, other important measures require consideration when evaluating a pitcher’s effectiveness. In no particular order, my criteria for the Cy Young Award include innings pitched, ERA, quality starts, strikeouts/walk ratio, WHIP, and Won-Loss record.

The reason that I must assign some value to a pitcher’s won-loss record is that the goal of a starting pitcher is to keep his team in the game and allow said team to emerge triumphant. A pitcher is only credited with the win if he is pitching well enough for the team to assume the lead while he is still in the game. The best indicator of the frequency of such performances is the pitcher’s won-loss record.

Innings pitched are extremely important for two reasons: they allow the bullpen to rest and, as most games are decided in the latter third of the ballgame, a pitcher who pitches deep into games gives himself a much better opportunity to pick up the win. As a result, innings and accumulating pitching wins are highly correlated.

To narrow the pool of potential candidates, I eliminated all pitchers who have less than 13 victories. Of those remaining candidates, I eliminated those whom have thrown less than 200 innings. Upon doing so, the 2016 AL CYA candidates are Rick Porcello, Cory Kluber, Justin Verlander, and Chris Sale.

All four candidates have thrown between 210.2 and 214.2 innings rendering that criterion insufficient for providing any separation among the candidates.

Innings Comparison
Name Team Innings
Rick Porcello BOS 210.2
Corey Kluber CLE 211
Chris Sale CHW 214.2
Justin Verlander DET 213

The ERA values of the four candidates are nearly identical, rendering that criterion insufficient for separation.

ERA Comparison
Name Team ERA
Rick Porcello BOS 3.08
Corey Kluber CLE 3.11
Chris Sale CHW 3.19
Justin Verlander DET 3.21

 
The number of Quality starts is a very important stat because one would hope that the best pitcher in the league could keep his team in the game, pitching well enough for his team to emerge triumphant.

Therefore, pitching a minimum of six innings and allowing no more than three earned runs consistently in each start is an excellent criterion to use to evaluate effective pitchers.

Quality Starts Comparison
Name Team QS GS
Rick Porcello BOS 24 31
Corey Kluber CLE 22 31
Chris Sale CHW 22 30
Justin Verlander DET 25 32

Verlander leads the Major Leagues with 25 Quality Starts; however, he does have one more Game Start than Porcello. If Porcello tosses a Quality Start today, they will both be tied with 25 Quality Starts in 32 Game Starts.

This metric is very close and, again, is unable to provide any separation among the candidates.

Won-Loss Record is important for two reasons: A pitcher whom is credited with a “Win,” pitched well enough for his team to win, and pitched deep enough into the contest for his team to acquire the “Win.” Victories are at the heart of professional athletics and their significance requires no justification.

Record Comparison
Name Team Wins Losses
Rick Porcello BOS 21 4
Corey Kluber CLE 18 9
Chris Sale CHW 16 9
Justin Verlander DET 15 8

This selection criterion goes to Porcello without argument. I am awarding him one point, while the other candidates receive no points.

WHIP is an extremely important metric to evaluate effective pitching. As a measure of the amount of baserunners allowed by a pitcher, a low WHIP means fewer baserunners and fewer opportunities for the opposing team to score. It logically follows that a low WHIP is a necessary constituent of effective pitching.

WHIP Comparison
Name Team WHIP
Rick Porcello BOS 0.98
Corey Kluber CLE 1.05
Chris Sale CHW 1.02
Justin Verlander DET 1.01

It is not a coincidence that the four pitchers that have been the most successful in 2016 occupy the top four positions on the leader board for the lowest WHIP. (Only the values of the four pitchers are depicted here; however, these are the four lowest WHIP values in the AL). WHIP is likely the single greatest predictor of pitching success. It is obvious why, the more men on base, the more likely that some of them will score.

Porcello actually leads the American League in WHIP; however, the four players occupy the top four spots in the league leaders for WHIP. This selection criterion is rendered a Push and no points are awarded.

Strikeout/Walk Ratio is the final component used to determine the Cy Young Award Winner. It is a crucial metric because anytime a runner draws a base on balls and assumes his position at first base; he may advance in myriad of ways. One way that he cannot be advanced is via the strikeout. Hence, not all outs are created equal. A pitcher who puts more base runners on via the walk is unlikely to sustain any level of success unless he also strikes out a large number of batters.

K:BB Ratio Comparison
Name Team K/BB Ratio
Rick Porcello BOS 6.00
Corey Kluber CLE 4.00
Chris Sale CHW 5.00
Justin Verlander DET 4.25

Porcello clearly wins this category. While he does not strikeout nearly as many batters as the other three pitchers, he more than compensates for this by issuing a ridiculously low number of free passes.

In Porcello’s last six starts, he has struck out 37 batters while walking only one! I would imagine that excepting Clayton Kershaw, there does not exist another Major League hurler capable of duplicating this feat.

Of the four primary AL Cy Young Contenders, Porcello has the lowest ERA by a minuscule margin, and is on pace to be tied for the league lead in Quality Starts with Justin Verlander. He is also on pace to lead the group in innings pitched after today’s start by a minuscule margin, and leads the league in WHIP by a small margin.

After that round up, four of my six criteria for determining the recipient of the Cy Young Award can be considered even. This leaves K:BB ratio and Win-loss record as the tiebreakers.

Porcello is the clear leader in both of the aforementioned criteria. Thus, if the Cy Young Award were to be handed out on September 24, 2016, the winner would be Rick Porcello.

Congratulations Rick.

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