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2005 Cy Young Awards

What constitutes a Cy Young Award winner?

This is a question that gets posed every year, especially in years with relief pitchers as options. This year, one league has relief pitchers as legitimate picks for the Cy. The other has 5-6 starter candidates, all with more impressive resumes than those of the Cy candidates from the other league.

It's certainly an interesting year for the Cy Young award.

The major aspect that we should look for in starting pitchers is RUN PREVENTION. How many runs did the other team score? How many did this pitcher save? Is that better than average? Best in the league?

Let's start with the NL. I crafted a metric to calculate pitchers' value added above average, based on the number of earned runs they gave up, the number of innings they pitched, and the park in which they played. This was not an ideal metric, but, based on the stats I had available to me, it served its purpose.

I started with PK_RA, used from Prospectus' VORP report. This is simply a park-adjustment of a pitchers RA: RA*9/IP. I then worked backwards from that number to calculate the adjusted amount of runs allowed.

The next part was in crediting pitchers for doing work. The average National League team played 1441 innings, meaning that the average team gave up around 721 earned runs. I used the following equation to determine the number of runs that an average team would give up in innings NOT pitched by the candidate:

(1441-IP)*4.45/8.895. I then added the adjusted earned runs and the runs from the innings not pitched by the player. Then that number was subtracted from 721, and you have a version of RSAA: Runs Saved Above Average, much like a lot of the work of Lee Sinins. I don't know if he calculates it the same way as I did, to be honest, but that concept is the inspiration for this. I would not credit myself with "inventing this" because it's really just another way to look at the numbers.

So, who were the NL's leaders?

Roger Clemens: 54.9
Andy Pettitte: 45.4
Chris Carpenter: 38.3
Pedro Martinez: 38.3
Roy Oswalt: 35.9
Dontrelle Willis: 34.3
John Smoltz: 32.8
Jake Peavy: 25.6
Jorge Sosa: 25.6
Carlos Zambrano: 25.5

I've stated in the past that I don't like relying on just one stat to determine the Cy Young award winner or any award winner, for that matter. If you were, though, you'd like to rely on something like this. It accounts for quality and quantity of a pitcher's work and assesses the value that a pitcher had, in terms of runs.

I argued in a chat session that Chris Carpenter should be given extra credit for saving his bullpen over a span of X-innings. This year, though, Clemens does appear to be the best choice, at least by value.

You can use DIPS, FIP, whatever you will, for assessing the pitcher's "true ability." Clemens led the NL in FIP at 2.85. Considering how many runs he did save, he does deserve yet another Cy Young. You can't fault anyone for going with Willis or Carpenter, though -- they're all worthy candidates. Pettitte and Pedro would be in different years, too. There's also the element of the "makeup award." Clemens won a Cy Young last year that he really wasn't qualified for... but this year, the opposite could very easily happen.

With all the talk of starting pitchers and value, though, relievers kind of get left out. My crude method is not really a fair way to evaluate the contributions of relievers. A relief pitcher CAN be the "best pitcher" in the game without really being at the top of a "runs saved" list, especially with an unremarkable cast of characters as the starting pitcher candidates.

Here's the AL's list.

Johan Santana: 47.6
Roy Halladay: 37.7
Mark Buerhle: 29.5
Jon Garland: 27.0
Kevin Millwood: 26.9
Rich Harden: 26.4
Jarrod Washburn: 26.0
Huston Street: 24.8
Mariano Rivera: 23.8
John Lackey: 23.2

Santana appears to be the choice (although Roy Halladay would have run away with the award if he remained healthy), according to this metric.

I voted for Mo Rivera for the AL Cy Young, though, and he did crack into the AL's Top 10 in this Runs Above Average stat.

Here's why:

  1. Rivera posted a 1.38 ERA.
  2. Rivera's career, to date, will be remembered as the greatest ever by a closer, but he has never won a Cy Young.
  3. Santana's stats failed to overwhelm me when I first looked.
If you're dead set on voting for a starting pitcher for AL Cy Young, I'd definitely say that Santana is the man. His numbers at the end of the year ended up being much better than I thought, largely due to another great 2nd half (1.59 ERA after the Break). Bartolo Colon will get votes, but his credentials, this year, are weak. He ranked 13th in the AL in our little stat, and his 3.48 ERA and 3.79 FIP should tell the rest of the story. They most likely will be overrun by his 21 wins, of course.

For fun, a nice little game to play would be to make a Cy Young award-giver, by using three categories of stats:

  1. Traditional Value - Wins / Saves.
  2. True Value - Pitching Runs / RSAA-type stat / VORP
  3. Peripheral stats - DIPS + component-ERA
Weighting would be at your own discretion. Mine would probably be 1 + 2 + 2.

If you'd like to go with a reliever, though, and politicize the process, go with Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the sport's history.

Or hell, go with Huston Street. He was actually a bit better.

I voted for Dontrellle and Rivera on my IBA ballot. I should have voted for Clemens and Santana, last year's winners. There are a bunch of good candidates this year, so it's difficult to go wrong, though. We'll see what the writers think.