Entering last night I thought the AL Cy Young race could be the closest of all the awards handed out this week. There was a real case to be made for all three finalists in Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander, and Corey Kluber. As tight as I thought the voting would be I was still surprised to hear Porcello won. The reason being I thought it meant voters gave too much importance to the 22 wins Porcello earned this year. However, after taking a closer look at the numbers the race was even tighter than I originally thought.
Let's start with the wins. 22 wins is good. But as we have learned wins are a flawed stat. Yes one can argue the starting pitcher's job is to win the game. But too often wins and losses are determined by things out of his control, such as his team's offense, defense, and bullpen. Many smart people think wins are entirely useless. If you want to tell me they have value I won't fight you to the death on that, but there is no way they have close to the value that ERA, WHIP, FIP, K/9, and BB/9 do.
I thought Verlander would win the award. As you can see in the table below he won most categories head to head against Porcello:
However, many of the categories Verlander "won" can be considered virtual ties because of how close the numbers were. For example, Verlander won ERA but only 3.04 to 3.15. He won innings pitched 227 to 223. He won WHIP 1.00 to 1.01. Porcello has slight edges in FIP (3.40 to 3.48) and complete games (3 to 2).
If we exclude wins there were three categories where there was a significant difference: home runs, walks, and strikeouts. Oddly enough these are the three stats that pitchers truly control. For example, many people think hits are out of a pitchers control since your defense can have an affect on it. ERA, therefore, can be a little fluky since it involves hits given up. In my opinion there is still some skill involved in giving up hits, but it is more random than homers, walks, and strikeouts.
Getting back to the numbers Porcello had the edge in homers allowed (23 to 30) and BB/9 (1.3 to 2.3). He ranked second in the AL in BB/9 and first in strikeout to walk ratio. Verlander, meanwhile, had a huge edge in strikeouts (254 to 189). He led the American League. With the rest of the numbers being so close the decision could come down to what you value more in a pitcher: striking batters out or limiting walks and homers. Porcello won two of the three categories, which combined with the 22 wins could be the tie breaker.
Lastly let's take a look at the ballot. This is where the argument Verlander got robbed comes in.
He received more first place than Porcello and was left off of two ballots entirely. That's insane. Whether or not you think Verlander should have finished first is one thing but there is no argument that he wasn't one of the five best pitchers in the American League this year. If we count those votes where he was left off as third place votes Verlander wins the Cy. That, of course, did not happen though and Porcello's numbers were actually much better than I originally thought. I would be fascinated to know if Porcello would have won the Cy with the same 16 wins Verlander had as opposed to the 22 he finished with, but ultimately am fine with him winning.