Thursday, November 13, 2008

2008 BBWAA American League Cy Young

I was reading a comment by Pete Toms which asked the question, "why do we care about the awards given by the BBWAA?" This is a very valid question.

Despite spending a lot of time reading about baseball, I rarely, if ever, will closely read a baseball column in the newspaper. If I am somewhere that happens to have a Toronto newspaper handy, I will eventually make it to the baseball portion of the sports section. But that is a rarity, maybe once a week.

So why do we care?

I suppose it is a matter of integrity. The winners of these awards will be immortalized in baseball history. The average fan will forever know that Tim Lincecum was the "best" pitcher in the National League during the 2008 season. But that same fan shouldn't have to personally evaluate the performance of each pitcher in the National League during that season to figure out who was the second best.

That is, since the BBWAA do not properly evaluate the players merits, if the average baseball fan wants to know, for example, who the top three pitchers were, they will have to do their own homework. This is due to the fact that the BBWAA simply cannot be trusted. The writers can make anyone they choose into stars, and slander any player that doesn't provide a good interview.

It is because of that desire to have a personal relationship with the players, that 'press' writers should stand off from voting for the post-season awards. Let them paint their pictures of the play on the field, but let the analysts do their jobs.


The reason for the tangent is in response to the BBWAA's American League Cy Young voting. While the voters did not swing and miss to the extent of their National League brethren, there was a great deal of voters who simply do not get it.

Cliff Lee won the award, and while there is certainly an argument supporting his candidacy, there is also an argument against it. I'm not going to lose any sleep over this selection, although I would have taken the runner-up, Roy Halladay (explanation tomorrow). Rounding out those given votes were Francisco Rodriguez, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, and Ervin Santana.

I spend a lot of time harping on the BBWAA, and this award does not come away unscathed. Here are cases against the BBWAA based solely on the American League Cy Young ballots for the 2008 season. Put in other terms, if the writers credibility were to be up for trial, this would be one of the areas they could be attacked.

Case #1

Roy Halladay. As I mentioned, not picking Halladay as the winner is fine. What isn't fine is the 3 writers who left Doc off of their ballots altogether. The only possible excuse I could think up for these 3 writers, is that they felt so stupid for not naming Halladay as the 2nd best pitcher, that they simply left him off altogether.

There is a legitimate argument that Halladay was the best pitcher in the American League. That 9 writers felt he wasn't in the top 2 is embarrassing and evidence to the lack of understanding these writer have.

Case #2

Francisco Rodriguez. Other then saves, what category did Rodriguez lead American League relievers in? I'm not willing to look hard enough to find that category, but I will list some important ones that he trailed his leaguemates in.
  • Save Percentage: KRod's 89% is outstanding, Rivera's 97.5% happens to be better. So too was Jensen Lewis' 93% rounding out the three American League relievers with 10 or more saves.
  • Win Probability Added: Another area where Rodriguez had a fine season, albeit, not as fine as Rivera, Joakim Soria, and Bobby Jenks.
  • Pitching Runs Created: Rodriguez wasn't even the best reliever on his team in this aspect. He trailed closers Rivera, Joe Nathan, and Sora.
  • Win Shares Above Bench: Probably the most interesting stat to utilize here, and one that arguably convinced the Angels to let Rodriguez walk in Free Agency. KRod is tied as the third best closer in this category, behind Rivera and Soria, tied with Jonathan Papelbon and Nathan. Oh, KRod is also behind teammate (and rookie) Jose Arredondo.
  • Adjusted Runs Prevented from Scoring: A key stat for relievers, not so key for closers specifically, but important nonetheless. For this category, Rodriguez ranks behind top closers Rivera, Nathan, Soria, Papelbon, and Jenks.
  • Expected Wins Added Over a Replacement Level Pitcher: KRod finishes second in this category, behind Rivera.
  • Value Over Replacement Player: Rivera, Nathan, and Soria all rate higher then Rodriguez here. Papelbon and Jenks trail Rodriguez by a marginal amount.
That is seven stats where Rodriguez trails Rivera in every single one, not to mention trailing Soria and Nathan in nearly every one. Seven stats where on average, Rodriguez compares very closely with Papelbon and Jenks-great closers in their own right, by Cy Young candidates?

Don't get me wrong, Rodriguez had a very strong season. Not only do closers have the pressure of shutting the door on some close games, but he was also dealing with the spotlight of breaking Bobby Thigpen's 18 year old record.

However, his performance was vastly inferior to Mariano Rivera's, and there is even an argument for a handful of other closers, even relievers, who performed at a higher level then Rodriguez. To hand top 3 votes to a player because of one category is ridiculous.


These are two major cases against the credibility of the BBWAA. Obviously the organization as a whole is not lacking credibility, but there are a good amount of writers whom should be scrapped from the voting process. Otherwise, baseball's post-season awards and the hall-of-fame will lose much of it's value.

I would truly like to see a major corporate sponsor step up, and put together a legitimate vote. One where the voters are educated analysts. One where home team biases are eliminated through facts and information-not lead stories.

That is, imagine a situation where some of baseball's brightest minds, Bill James, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan, I'll even give Ken Rosenthal a vote, and others. Couple this with "Pepsi presents..." and enough people would at least hear about this award to eventually legitimize it.

Dream on, dreamer...

BallHype: hype it up!

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