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Bill James and the Cy Young Awards

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Yesterday I decided to begin reading a few more of the essays in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (I would highly recommend any book by either to anyone who even mildly likes baseball) so after I got through the Bob Friend and injury pieces I ran across one entitle "E=M CY Squared." (Page 467) Amazingly the piece is quite timely since one of the hot topics right now is the Cy Young races, and in this article, by Bill James, he created a formula that is about 80% accurate in predicting the Cy Young winners and does a nice job picking the top three overall.

Naturally I decided this could be worth replicating on site. If nothing else we have an 80% chance at nailing them. To begin here's the formula, per James:

Wins multiplied by six, then minus losses times two, then add strikeouts divided by 12, then add saves times 2.5, then add shutouts, then add runs saved versus a pitcher with a 5 ERA, then add 12 points for a first place team.

For runs saved I took the ERA, divided it by nine, then times it by the innings that pitcher pitched. I am assuming this is correct and there is no pre-set measure on innings for the 5.00 ERA pitcher. As for my sample group I simply went to THT and took the pitchers with 10 or more wins from each of the leagues (with one very special exception). Since simply giving the top three isn't fun I will provide the top five and then post the entire list at the conclusion of this article.


First up, due to alphabetical order and such, the American League.

Pitcher Team Points
Lee  CLE  205
Halladay  TOR  162
Matsuzaka  BOS  158
Lester  BOS  147
Santana  LAA  146

This probably is not too much of a surprise. Lee runs away with the award due to his wins and runs saved. Lee is having an incredible season in every regard. Even if most of his success has come against weaker foes I’m not sure you can discredit his victory. After all Lee’s tRA is almost a half run better than Halladay; 2.86 to 3.35. What’s amazing is that Lee was offered this past off-season for Delmon Young yet the Rays passed. There’s no guarantee he repeats this performance on any other team but talk about a diversity in seasons between those two.

The first place team bump puts Matsuzaka far too close to Halladay despite Halladay being the supreme pitcher in every regard except losses. That is perhaps the trickiest part about this. James knows and takes into account the mainstream voter’s mindset. The award is not truly about who is the best pitcher, otherwise win-loss records would obviously be the first thing discarded. To the voters Matsuzaka is a good pitcher, but to the more informed, he is okay, but not even a top 20 American League starter.

Onto the National League…

Pitcher Team Points
Lincecum  SF  176
Webb  ARI  160
Sabathia MIL  152
Dempster  CHN  146
Santana  NYN  146

As is the case in the A.L. neither league has a pitcher on a first place team in the top two spots. Lincecum is incredible however that shutout was not the cake but rather the sprinkles. His strikeout numbers are beyond amazing and on an awful team, going 17-3 is quite the accomplishment.

Then there is Brandon Webb. His team has a legitimate shot at the playoffs which would help his case, yet even if the Diamondbacks were in first he would need to make up four points on Lincecum somehow. Perhaps winning out with Lincecum losing out and not striking anyone out would help. Of course relying on Lincecum to fail all but seals Webb as the runner up this year, but I hear Bruce Bochy wants to ensure that this will not be a problem in the future.

Now, Sabathia. With his N.L stats Sabathia finished with 102 points, blame only nine wins – despite the limited playing time – for that. I had a bit of a debate with someone when discussing whether I should include his Indians stats as well and we were split. He argued that voters should only talk about what he did in the N.L. due to the league specific award, I argue that you simply cannot ignore half of his season. Since I am the one writing this I included them. Whether the writers will or will not consider his Indians half is irrelevant to me.

The rest: American League

Pitcher Team Points
Lee  CLE  205
Halladay  TOR  162
Matsuzaka  BOS  158
Lester  BOS  147
Santana  LAA  146
Burnett  TOR  124
Mussina  NYA  123
Saunders  LAA  123
Floyd  CHA  123
Shields  TB  122
Lackey  LAA  110
Buehrle  CHA  104
Danks  CHA  101
Kazmir  TB  100
Garza  TB  99
Garland  LAA  98
Sonnanstine  TB  96
Galarraga  DET  95
Beckett  BOS  95
Vazquez  CHA  93
Duchscherer  OAK  92
Greinke  KC  87
Slowey  MIN  86
Weaver  LAA  83
Litsch  TOR  80
Perkins  MIN  80
Padilla  TEX  79
Guthrie  BAL  78
Jackson  TB  77
Meche  KC  76
Pettitte  NYA  75
Blackburn  MIN  72
Verlander  DET  45
Hernandez  MIN  41

The rest: National League

Pitcher Team Points
Lincecum  SF  176
Webb  ARI  160
Sabathia MIL  152
Dempster  CHN  146
Santana  NYN  146
Billingsley  LAN  140
Volquez  CIN  138
Zambrano  CHN  130
Hamels  PHI  122
Sheets  MIL  122
Haren  ARI  118
Oswalt  HOU  117
Lilly  CHN  117
Nolasco  FLA  116
Lowe  LAN  112
Cook  COL  109
Moyer  PHI  106
Lohse  STL  100
Jurrjens  ATL  98
Wellemeyer  STL  94
Pelfrey  NYN  93
Hudson  ATL  89
Arroyo  CIN  83
Maine  NYN  79
Perez  NYN  78
Looper  STL  76
Johnson  ARI  71
Myers  PHI  71
Moehler  HOU  69
Parra  MIL  69
Jimenez  COL  65
Marquis  CHN  62
Redding  WAS  61
Suppan  MIL  52
Kendrick  PHI  46


The Hardball Times stats database

The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (buy it!) page 467.