Yes, I voted for David Price over Justin Verlander for American League Cy Young. And yes, I am happy to defend that selection, and would defend it publicly even if the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were not revealing all of our ballots for the first time.
The new transparency is a fantastic development, requiring every voter to be accountable. You’ll still see some curious choices, but that’s the beauty of an open election. I’ve always loved awards season – the analyses, the arguments, even the shrieking on Twitter. And now, the process is even better than before.
So, why Price? It wasn’t an easy choice, not for me or many of the other voters — Price won by only four points, the narrowest margin of victory since voters began selecting more than one pitcher in 1970. My ballot went like this: Price, Verlander, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, Fernando Rodney.
I voted Rodney fifth because of his Eckersley-like season, but generally value innings greatly in choosing my Cy Young. The better the pitcher, the more innings he works. The more innings he works, the greater the burden he assumes, easing the strain on the team’s other pitchers — and thus, making an even greater contribution to his team.
Verlander threw 238 1/3 innings, Price 211 and Jered Weaver 188 2/3 — that’s right, nearly 50 fewer than the Tigers’ ace. Verlander also finished a narrow second to Price in ERA while ranking ahead of him in strikeout rate, WHIP and opponents’ OPS, though only by slight margins in the latter two categories.
Price, believe it or not, even had better run support from the supposedly anemic Rays than Verlander had from the supposedly powerful Tigers — by nearly a full run per nine innings!
So again: Why Price?
My answer boils down to this: Price pitched in the AL East, making 16 of his 31 starts against four of the league’s top nine offenses — and going 10-2 with a 2.51 ERA in those games.
The hitters who faced Price had a higher aggregate OPS (.763) than the hitters who faced Verlander and Weaver, according to Baseball Prospectus. Plain and simple, Price pitched with the greatest degree of difficulty — and delivered consistently excellent performances.
Please understand — a vote for Price is not a knock on Verlander or even Weaver. I would not have been the least bit upset if Verlander had won. And Weaver easily could have finished first if he had not been sidelined with a strained lower back from May 29 to June 20.
One other thing: Two writers from each AL chapter voted, producing 28 votes in all. Weaver received his only second-place votes from the Angels’ beat writers, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register and Michael Martinez of FoxSportsWest.com. Both of those writers had Verlander third.
Those votes did not cost Verlander the award — if they had been reversed, he still would lost to Price by two points under the 7-4-3-2-1 scoring system. But fans looking for bias often harp on this kind of thing, and understandably so.
As a former beat writer, I’m probably more sympathetic than the average fan to the rationale behind such votes. It’s not necessarily that voters “root” for the hometown guy — that’s not what journalists do (and remember, Plunkett and Martinez voted Weaver second behind Price, not first). But a beat writer has a greater familiarity with players on his or her own team — and in many cases, a deeper appreciation for their accomplishments.
That, in my view, is where such votes come from. If you go to BBWAA.com and examine the breakdown of the 28 individual ballots, you’ll see many cases of local writers who did not give any edge to players they cover. With few exceptions, most everyone’s heart is in the right place. And while we’re not perfect, we usually get it right.
Which leads me to the NL Cy race — frankly, I thought it would be closer. The Mets’ R.A. Dickey, Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez all had strong cases, not unlike Price, Verlander and Weaver. But no one should be too upset that Dickey won handily, receiving 27 of the 32 first-place votes (I did not vote for this award).
Dickey led the league in innings and strikeouts, and finished only one win behind Gonzalez while pitching for an inferior team. Gonzalez, though, had the league’s best strikeout rate and lowest opponents’ OPS. Kershaw, meanwhile, led the league in ERA and WHIP, and his low win total (14) was largely a reflection of poor run support. The Mets actually scored more runs for Dickey than the Dodgers did for Kershaw.
I leaned toward Kershaw, but I’ll admit it — I was a sucker for Dickey’s rags-to-riches narrative, both in his personal and professional lives, and love that he is the first knuckleballer to win the award.
I wouldn’t have voted for Dickey because of his backstory, but if it influenced some others, so be it. The race certainly was close enough to justify his selection, and some of my sabermetrically inclined friends endorsed him, too. And heaven knows, they’re not falling in love with narratives, except perhaps Nate Silver’s life story.
Anyway, we’re down to our final awards — the AL and NL MVPs, both of which will be announced Thursday. The AL race, centered on the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera and Angels’ Mike Trout, might be the most hotly debated of all time.
I do not have a vote, but I would have picked Trout, the superior all-around player who — in my view — offered greater value to his team (No Verlander for Cy? No Cabrera for MVP? And no Verlander for MVP last year? My anti-Detroit bias is revealed!) I did vote in the NL, but cannot reveal my choice until after the award is announced.
It has been a fun few weeks. No need to stop arguing now.