Felix, The Cy Young, And The Referendum On Wins

Dave · September 8, 2010 at 8:35 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Over the last few days, it has become hard to avoid articles about Felix Hernandez’s chances to win the AL Cy Young award. Whether its Ken Davidoff in Newsday or John Hickey at FanHouse, mainstream members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are talking up Felix as a legitimate Cy Young candidate, even though his Win-Loss record stands at just 11-10.

While Felix has been great of late, and has certainly earned the compliments, the discussion has essentially ceased to be about him. Instead, comparisons between Felix and CC Sabathia, the other generally accepted top contender for the award, have turned into a discussion of the merits of Wins as a metric worth using.

For years, we’ve been banging the drum of evaluating players based on what they can control, and the sabermetric community long ago abandoned wins as any kind of marker of player ability. For all the reasons that have been obvious with Felix this year, they simply don’t measure the performance of a pitcher all that well. Felix has been brilliant all year, but has been shorted in the win total because of the failures of his teammates. Most of us realize that we shouldn’t hold the ineptitude of this offense against a pitcher, since it has nothing to do with how well he’s actually pitching.

The members of the BBWAA are recognizing this as well. In a separate piece at FanHouse, their writers discuss the issue, and noted veteran scribe Jeff Fletcher said the following:

I’m living proof that voting is evolving. I had always considered myself an enlightened voter, but I voted for Barry Zito over Pedro Martinez in 2002, my first year with a Cy Young ballot. I also voted for Bartolo Colon over Johan Santana in 2005 under similar circumstances. In both cases, I voted for the guy who eventually won, but in both cases, I now believe I picked the wrong guy.

Fletcher is right – both times, he picked the wrong guy. Now, he’s willing to look beyond pitcher wins. He might not like FIP (yet), but he’s clearly open to new ways of thinking. He is a prime example of why I keep repeating that the BBWAA is getting smarter. And that’s why I hope that the Cy Young race doesn’t turn into a litmus test for the BBWAA.

In reality, only 28 people will vote on the AL Cy Young award this year. That’s less than 5 percent of the membership of the organization. It’s a very small slice of the pie, and we can be pretty sure that the difference between Felix and CC will end up being a fraction of that number. Both will get votes, and the award will probably be decided by a half dozen or fewer guys who may currently be on the fence. It might end up being similar to last year’s NL race, where the race was decided not by first place votes, but by second and third place ballots.

Felix might win. He might not. Regardless of the outcome, however, we have to acknowledge that mainstream baseball writers are making huge strides in their understanding of the game. Read Hickey’s piece, and then remember that he was the guy who put Alex Rodriguez seventh in his MVP ballot in 1996, when A-Rod had one of the great years in the history of the game but lost out to Juan Gonzalez because voters relied almost exclusively on RBI when deciding who to vote for. Now, he’s writing a piece where FIP and WAR are prominently featured and is openly discussing giving the Cy Young to a guy with one more win than loss.

The winner of the battle over the value of pitcher wins won’t be decided when the Cy Young award is announced. It’s being decided right now, and those who still cling to an outdated statistic are getting overrun. The anti-win crowd is no longer just a group of outsiders banging on the doors – it now includes a heavy dose of beat writers and national scribes who have leaned heavily on wins in prior years. The discussion about the award voting is more than enough proof that the BBWAA is getting it. Sure, maybe they’re just moving from Wins to ERA, but they’re moving. This is progress.

Ken Davidoff doesn’t have an AL Cy Young vote this year. That he’s willing to vote for Felix, 11 wins and all, won’t matter when the award is announced. It’s certainly possible that enough of the 28 guys who do have ballots this year will still value the win high enough to deny Felix the award, even if he deserves it (and, we should point out, he might not – there’s a month left in the season and he’s not the only good candidate). Regardless of the outcome, though, it seems clear to me that wins are being discarded as a metric of much value by mainstream writers all over the country, and for this, they should be applauded.


31 Responses to “Felix, The Cy Young, And The Referendum On Wins”

  1. Rusty on September 8th, 2010 8:54 am

    It’s interesting to note that one of the other top candidates this year, Jered Weaver, also has a crummy win-loss record, 11-11. The voters have a lot to think about.

  2. kenshabby on September 8th, 2010 9:53 am

    This is refreshing to read. For years I’ve agonized over the poor award choices made by BBWAA–with that ’96 AL MVP toward the top of the list. There have been so many other examples; for instance, the ’04 Cy Young in which Clemens beat out RJ almost entirely due to Clemens’ superior W-L %.

    So glad the winds of change are blowing.

  3. The_Waco_Kid on September 8th, 2010 10:07 am

    A lot of people who cling to W-L record view it as a stat that measures a guy’s ability to hold narrow leads and outduel other pitchers in high pressure situations, even though W-L record doesn’t really do that. Is there a stat that does?

  4. Dave on September 8th, 2010 10:20 am

    We have leverage splits for every pitcher on his FanGraphs splits page. That will measure how pitchers perform in situations when the game is on the line. Felix has been lights out, by the way.

  5. diderot on September 8th, 2010 10:29 am

    I’m wondering why you don’t think those 28 people will consider Price seriously.

  6. Rayvensdad on September 8th, 2010 10:29 am

    A perfect example on just how retarded the Win-Loss records are and how they are extremely deceiving is this: 2 Felix starts ago, he goes 7 innings, gives up like 3 hits, no runs, strikes out 8 and will end up getting a no decision because his team hadn’t scored a run either. Brandon League goes ((( 1 ))) inning, gives up 1 run and 2 hits, 1 walk……. and because the M’s finally score a few runs later in the inning, ((( Brandon League ))) gets the WIN. The one pitcher for the winning team that definitely doesn’t deserve the win on his stats GETS IT. So how credible is the Win-Loss record when this type of thing has been happening to Felix all year long?!?!?!

  7. Chris_From_Bothell on September 8th, 2010 10:30 am

    To his credit, Geoff Baker’s been working hard to advance this position too, and he was doing it early enough in his blogs and articles that he may even have been having a positive effect on the larger conversation.

  8. smb on September 8th, 2010 10:42 am

    I’m still stuck on what seems obvious to me…that finishing this season with a W-L record above .500 on a Mariners team with a historically inept offense is the most amazing achievement of all. Felix for CY2010.

  9. Rayvensdad on September 8th, 2010 10:43 am

    Dear diderot,

    Here are the comparisons: Felix / Price

    Era: 2.30 / 2.87
    K’s: 209 / 163
    Innings Pitched: 219.1 / 178.2
    CG’s: 5 / 2
    BB: 60 / 71
    Opponent’s Avg: 2.19 / 2.25
    WHIP: 1.09 / 1.23

    Fact is, Price is having a great year, without question, but Felix is having a better year. If Felix was playing on the Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, White Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, or Texas he’d have 20 wins right now. The only stat that Felix is behind Price right now is the Win/Loss stat, the only real stat pitchers are given where they don’t much control over. Looking at Felix’s season stats would dictate him having a high Win record with the obvious exception of his team forgetting to hit the ball a few times for him. While I am a M’s fan, it is ludicrous for him NOT to get the award. He leads in all major categories except the win tallies and is 2nd in ERA, and Buckholz’s ERA (He’s 1st place) is somewhat irrelevant due to the fact he’s pitched 70 less innings than Felix. Felix deserves the CY Young without question!!!

  10. Rayvensdad on September 8th, 2010 10:51 am

    Something I looked over just a second ago, though I didn’t check the entire season, which I could but might take a while…

    Sabathia, in his last 10 starts, has pitched against 5 teams who are under .500 in Win/Loss for the season.

    Felix, in his last 10 starts, has pitched against 2 teams who are under .500 in Win/Loss for the season.

    The problems with stats like Win/Loss for a pitcher also has to be looked at the competition that they have had to pitch against. Sabathia never had to pitch against the Yankees, and Felix was never given the luxury to pitch against the Mariners, who he’d probably throw a perfect game against if given the opportunity.

  11. diderot on September 8th, 2010 11:06 am

    I agree it should be Felix. But my question was why the BBWA guys wouldn’t fall for Price’s mix of stats and W/L. Being in that division, he gets a lot of notice on the east coast.

  12. smb on September 8th, 2010 11:11 am

    Price was a sexier pick before the break…he’s trailed off a bit since then, at least in the results category. I seem to remember his walks kicking up a bit after an April-May in which he had pinpoint control.

  13. analogkid on September 8th, 2010 11:14 am

    What an interesting dichotomy this is setting up to be. Imagine the M’s are better, not even a whole lot better, but enough such that Felix has several more wins under his belt. Instead, we have the season that the M’s are having, where wins have been hard to come by for Felix, through largely no fault of his own.

    In one scenario, assuming other data is relatively the same, Felix may win outright without much of this discussion and, maybe, not much changes regarding the vote. Instead the M’s suck, Felix doesn’t, and new Cy Young benchmarks may (should) be revealed.

  14. scott19 on September 8th, 2010 11:35 am

    It’s a shame in a way that the BBWAA hadn’t figured this out back in the days when Nolan Ryan toiled away to ~.500 records every year with the Angels only to continually get gypped out of the CYA, but it is a testament of how much the valuation metrics of the game have evolved over time.

  15. 6-4-3 on September 8th, 2010 11:36 am

    Something I’m hoping will work in Felix’s favor is that he’s been nasty both at Safeco and away. The same can’t be said of Carsten Charles, who has been great in NY, but pretty mediocre on the road.

  16. joser on September 8th, 2010 11:42 am

    That Greinke managed to win it last year “despite having only 16 wins” may be an indication things are changing too. Progress in things like this is slow, depending almost literally on people dying off.

    We have leverage splits for every pitcher on his FanGraphs splits page. That will measure how pitchers perform in situations when the game is on the line. Felix has been lights out, by the way.

    See also this post by Jeff at LL yesterday.

  17. joser on September 8th, 2010 11:47 am

    It’s a shame in a way that the BBWAA hadn’t figured this out back in the days when Nolan Ryan toiled away to ~.500 records every year with the Angels only to continually get gypped out of the CYA,

    It’s a shame because a Ryan satisfied with his raft of CYAs would be off fishing instead of turning the Rangers into the most feared team in the division?

  18. sstadnicki on September 8th, 2010 12:02 pm

    I think in the last few years there’ve been huge strides on both wins and batting average – whether you want to attribute it to Moneyball or otherwise, even the most diehard announcers have been acknowledging that OBP might better represent a hitter’s talent than BA does.

    It seems like the big frontier right now isn’t wins or even ERA, but saves; they’re the only stat that seems actively harmful to the game right now, in that they’re the one that seems most likely to actually induce managers to make bad decisions. Unfortunately, I’m seeing next to no movement on that one yet…

  19. zackr on September 8th, 2010 12:22 pm


    Regarding the last paragraph of your comment, I’ve been wondering the same – why don’t aren’t the voters valuing the fact that CC never has to face the Yankees’ all-star lineup?

  20. msfanmike on September 8th, 2010 1:13 pm

    Felix was the 2nd best pitcher on his own team for more than half of the season. He is a horse, young, awesome and stayed healthy. If he wins his next 4-5 starts (and with this offense, that is a gynormous “if”) he might just have a chance to pull it off, but I doubt it will actually happen.

    For those who will vote based off of W-L record and ERA, Felix did recently get an ERA “benefit” when he gave up six runs against Cleveland on the road after a Figgins error that should have ended the inning. The fact is, Felix could have gotten out of that inning, but he got lit up instead … and said “lighting” was in perfect sync with the ERA stat Gods not punishing him. It allowed for his blip on the radar screen to go completely un-noticed in ERA-speak.

    In regard to Rayvensdad point (a point that I tend to agree with, but have no answers on how to rectify) – sometimes the scoring rules help you, and sometimes they don’t. On balance, over the long haul they tend to even out.

  21. Westside guy on September 8th, 2010 1:28 pm

    I remember Rob Neyer beating this drum quite a few years ago – not about Felix, obviously. The folks who use wins as a metric (Joe Morgan has been the poster child for defending this point of view, and of course as one of the greatest players ever he must know better than us mortals by golly) usually, at some point in the discussion, make a knowing statement about pitchers either “knowing how to win” or not – and if they’re on bad teams, they just have to find that extra bit of manliness and do whatever it takes. Pick up their game, give 110%, etc. etc.

    Neyer didn’t actually use advanced stats to make his case; but he was using Nolan Ryan’s career as an example of the silliness behind this argument. Basically if you buy into the notion that pitchers have to “know how to win”, then you have to somehow believe that Ryan “forgot how to win” several times during his career. Fortunately he regained that “knowledge” after each of these less manly periods, but unfortunately somehow let it slip from his grasp again once or twice.

  22. joser on September 8th, 2010 1:32 pm

    why don’t aren’t the voters valuing the fact that CC never has to face the Yankees’ all-star lineup?

    Because he plays in the AL East, where he has to more frequently face the high-powered offenses of the Rays, Red Sox, and Jays, all of whom are over .500 (only the Jays wouldn’t be leading the AL West if they played in this division). Whereas Felix pitches in a division where two of the three other teams are under .500 and only Texas has an offense that comes close to high-powered.

    At least, that’s the perception. In fact Sabbathia has faced Boston four times, Tampa Bay three times, and Toronto somehow not at all. But he’s feasted on the likes of lowly Baltimore, who he’s faced five times (and recorded four wins). Doing a comparison of “vs over .500 teams” is a little tricky — do you look at how the were playing when they faced him, or their cumulative record now? — but we can go ahead and do the quick and dirty version (using records as of today). Both pitchers have 30 starts.

    Felix vs winning teams: 7 for 15 (6 losses, 2 ND)
    CC vs winning teams: 5 for 10 (1 loss, 4 ND)

    Felix vs losing teams: 4 for 15 (4 losses, 7 ND)
    CC vs losing teams: 14 for 20 (5 losses, 1 ND)

    (Counting the Tigers and Dodgers as under-.500, though they’re right at the line.)

    So one way to spin that is that they have similar winning % against winning teams, but Felix somehow doesn’t will his teammates to score against losers. Or that CC is just winning against the teams he’s expected to win against. Of course, he’s also facing a far larger percentage of teams he’d be expected to win against. Weaker opponents should return better results.

    Which is weird when you think about it, because he’s in the AL East, home of all those over-.500 teams, right? In fact, as I said, he’s only faced BOS+TBR+TOR a total of seven times. Felix has faced over-.500 AL East teams (NYY+BOS+TBR+TOR) four times (three of those, admittedly, were the yankees).

    In fact, when looking at their records, what really jumps out isn’t so much the results in the AL East and West; it’s the match-ups in the AL Central and interleague play. The AL Central has two over-.500 teams (MIN and CHW): Felix has faced MIN+CHW four times; CC only once. In interleague, Felix faced four NL teams, and three of them (CIN and SDP twice) had over-.500 records; CC also faced four but only one (PHI) was over-.500 (That damn “natural rival” thing: each pitcher faced their team’s NL rival twice: for Sabbathia, it was the collapsing Mets, whereas for Felix it was the NL West-leading Padres.)

    I don’t know how “strength of schedule” gets calculated by the various folk who attempt that, but at the very least the fact that Felix started against 15 over-.500 teams and CC started against only 10 should be in the discussion.

  23. 6-4-3 on September 8th, 2010 1:37 pm

    My gut tells me that if the season ended today Felix would not win. The majority of voters just aren’t going to get past that 11-10 record. I think to have a good chance he needs to reach 15 wins.

  24. rerantz on September 8th, 2010 1:45 pm

    A rough comparison to prove a point on win loss record is looking at how CC would fare on the Mariners with Felix’s run support. If you take CC Sabathia’s earned runs allowed in each game and plug those in to each of Felix’s starts CC would be 12-16 on the Mariners where Felix is 11-10. Now this doesn’t take into account the fact that CC was pitching against different teams but still it’s a rough comparison that should prove a point that win loss is not a good measurement for the Cy Young.

  25. spankystout on September 8th, 2010 2:54 pm

    Billy Ripken and Tom Verducci just debated their pick for Cy Young on MLB network. Billy Ripken shouldn’t get a FO position very soon with comments like “I gotta have my wins” then picks CC Sabathia as his Cy Young choice. Thankfully Verducci assisted in lifting my jaw off the floor with comments pro-Felix.

  26. Rboyle0628 on September 8th, 2010 3:00 pm

    IMO, if Felix hits the 15 wins mark he’ll get the CYA. I think he is borderline right now, 11 wins will hurt him with some voters. But, his other stats are so good that its hard to find a valid argument against him. When I hear someone argue the validity of the W-L argument it reminds me of elementary school, when that one kid doesn’t get what he wants than he sulks, takes his ball and goes home. That’s kind of how I feel about voters taking away the CYA from a deserving candidate due playing on a terrible team. But, again, Greinke last year gives Felix winning the CYA legs. And, correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Brandon Webb win it with 16 wins a few years back?

  27. Rayvensdad on September 8th, 2010 4:41 pm

    Joser, very good research and what you found, which I was wayyyy too lazy to do myself, was my very point exactly. Wins/Losses and general stats themselves are flawed when trying to compare one guy to another. Too many factors to throw into the pot to get a legitimate guaranteed stat for anything. Wins/Losses need to be tossed. It is the best pitcher for his performance throughout the year. Not the pitcher who won the most games. The fact Felix has the personal stats he has, pitched against more .500+ teams then Sabathia just makes it that much more of a Felix wins and CC watches. But try convincing the East Coast of that… not gonna happen. Felix DOES have to win the next 5 games, throw at least 1 more CG and add a Shut out with that CG to make it a possibility. Average 9 k’s per game will help to. I also feel that if he gets lit up in just ONE of the next five, he’s done. The voters will be watching him closely over the next few weeks.

  28. Westside guy on September 8th, 2010 6:03 pm

    One problem with the whole idea that Sabathia won’t win: If you go for the Grienke scenario, the pitchers that are close to C.C. in wins, like Price and Pavano, are not necessarily pitching better than Sabathia. The ones who are demonstrably pitching better – Felix, Lee – are just too far off the pace in terms of wins. Plus the perception regarding Lee is that he’s wilted since moving to Texas (I’m not saying that’s the truth; just that’s what some people seem to think).

    Part of me wonders if someone like Jon Lester could sneak by and grab it.

  29. New England Fan on September 8th, 2010 6:14 pm

    There is so much wrong with the W-L stat it’s hard to even start with it. You are responsible either directly (by getting charged with a loss) or indirectly (by ending up with a ND) for the failures of the bullpen. You are responsible for the failures of your own offense. If you get shut out, the best you can do is get an ND. Way back in the dark ages when I was a little league pitcher (more than 50 years ago) I though I was hot stuff when I got a win for coming in with the game tied, throwing one pitch for a pop foul, and having the first guy up in the bottom of the 6th hit a walk-off home run (okay not a walk off because we had no fences). I got a win for throwing one freakin’ pitch. In retrospect it was blind luck, but it seemed cool at the time. The point is that the W-L stat is so flawed and so dependent on factors other than the quality of pitching that it should be ignored.

  30. henryv on September 8th, 2010 9:08 pm

    Another grim reality is that most of those 28 individuals (probably 20 of them) have only seen Felix throw 2-3 games this year.

    In fact, by the time Felix is through 3, half of those folks are three sheets to the wind, with the copy already on their editor’s desk.

    The real reason that Felix has been getting more press for the Cy Young has to do with the fact that he just dominated in the towns where most sports writers live.

    What I would love to ask a half-drunk NY sports writer is why don’t they judge position players on how well their pitchers do? I mean, if you are willing to ignore FIP, ERA, K/BB, K/9, etc for the Cy Young, why should you pay attention to most offensive stats? Why not just give it to the player with the most RBIs on the best team?

    Anyways, baseball writers are stupid, so what’s the point anyways?

    Personally, I would like it if the folks at Fangraphs decided to release their own awards, such as the “Skip Bayless should be beaten into a bloody pulp” MVP and the “Why is Rob Dibble allowed to speak?” Best Pitcher award.

  31. eric on September 9th, 2010 4:27 pm


    True, but most likely the ones they saw were him shutting out the Ysnkees:-)

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