Felix, The Cy Young, And The Referendum On Wins
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.