King Felix will win the AL Cy Young Award, but Kluber deserves it
Let’s be honest and admit this isn’t much of an awards season. There are eight big ones, if you count the managers, and five of them were dead cinches for most of the voters. I will play the devil’s advocate with a few of the results, and will lodge a formal protest, however preliminary, regarding the expected result of another balloting, announced shortly after this column appears …
First, the Managers of the Year.
I don’t think one can argue much with the jobs done by Matt Williams and Buck Showalter. After all, both their clubs won 96 games, tied for second-most in the major leagues. Still, I can’t help wondering exactly what Williams did with the Nationals, roundly considered NL East favorites before the season. Maybe he gets bonus points for never having managed before? I might have voted for Bruce Bochy, who essentially lost two highly paid starting pitchers during the season, and I hope I would have said the same thing before October.
In the American League, I would likely have voted for Showalter, too. Because the Orioles were supposed to finish fourth or fifth, and that was before they lost a bunch of key players. But I can sure see good cases for Mike Scioscia and Ned Yost and Lloyd McClendon, too. I guess this is one of those cases where you just hope the voters had some inside information that the rest of us didn’t. Because otherwise I’m not sure how anybody would know (for example) that Yost was more effective than McClendon.
Rookie of the Year in the American League was easy, as Jose Abreu was the unanimous winner and probably deserved to be. It was closer in the National League, but only because so many voters agreed on Billy Hamilton in second place; 26 of 30 chose Jacob deGrom for first place. That’s a highly defensible choice, as deGrom pitched quite well over his 140 1/3 innings. You might prefer Hamilton’s every-day presence, but his .292 on-base percentage just wasn’t balanced by his excellent work in center field. Speaking of which, Diamondbacks rookie Ender Inciarte trumped both deGrom and Hamilton in Baseball-Reference.com’s Wins Above Replacement, but a) Inciarte played in just 118 games, and b) most of his value comes from his outstanding numbers in center field, and it’s difficult to trust those.
Which brings me to my preemptive editorial comment … because I’m fairly certain that Felix Hernandez will soon win his second Cy Young Award, which bothers me. Oh, not because he didn’t pitch brilliantly this year. He did, obviously. This bothers me, or will bother me if it actually happens, because I think Corey Kluber pitched even more brilliantly than Hernandez. And please don’t tell me that King Felix somehow deserves an award for his pre-2014 work. For one thing, he’s already got a Cy Young Award. For another, these are single-season awards and nothing in the past should come into play. Nothing I can think of, anyway. So we can agree, right, that the American League Cy Young Award should go to the pitcher in the American League who pitched the best?
In my estimation, Hernandez and Kluber are the only two serious candidates. Chris Sale just didn’t make enough starts. Jon Lester pitched slightly fewer innings than Hernandez and Kluber, and also struck out substantially fewer.
Some weeks ago, I received a highly informative e-mail message from the Seattle Mariners, in which I learned (among other things) that Hernandez led the American League in ERA, tied for the league lead with 27 quality starts, posted a 1.66 ERA in his six September starts, and held opposing batters to a 0.915 WHIP, easily the lowest in the league.
As it happens, I also received a highly informative message from the Cleveland Indians, in which I learned that Kluber went 5-0 with a 1.12 ERA in his last five starts.
Realistically, the raw numbers do support Hernandez’s case, especially if you don’t buy into the worth of BABiP as a method for backward evaluations. After all, he did give up 37 fewer hits than Kluber. Otherwise they were roughly or exactly the same when it comes to runs allowed, innings pitched, home runs, walks and quality starts. Kluber did strike out 21 more hitters than Hernandez. Can that possibly balance those 37 hits, though?
Maybe or maybe not, but I don’t believe it needs to. As I wrote a week before the season ended, all the things that don’t show up in the usual statistics favor Kluber.
Kluber pitched in the hitter-friendlier ballpark. Kluber pitched to (slightly) better (or at least more effective) hitters. And Kluber wasn’t blessed with fielders as good as those backing Hernandez.
Yes, these all seem like small things. But the small things do add up to a damn fine tiebreaker. I expect Hernandez to win, because of his ERA. Which would be ironic, or something. Four years ago, we applauded the Cy Young voters for looking past King Felix’s 13-12 record. But as someone pointed out, the voters simply shifted their allegiance from wins and losses to earned-run average. Well, this year Hernandez’s ERA is even lower than it was in 2010. Granted, that season he probably was the best pitcher in the league. It’s just not really as clear that he is this year, too.