Felix Hernandez captured over 60 percent of the votes, and no one else was even close. Francisco Liriano finished second with just under 11 percent, while CC Sabathia came in third at a bit over 9 percent. Cliff Lee was fourth at 7 percent, while David Price rounded out the top five at just over 4 percent. Clay Buchholz, Trevor Cahill, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver, and Jon Lester were essentially non-factors – we probably could have left them off the ballot without seeing any real change in the outcome.
There are a few interesting thing about the results, to me. I was surprised by the measure with which Felix dominated the voting, honestly. As often as the FanGraphs crowd is referred to as “stat zombies”, the perception is that our authors and readers just look at the numbers and make no adjustments beyond what the leaderboard says, yet the guy who dominated the voting doesn’t lead the league in any of the “FanGraphs Stats” – WAR, FIP, xFIP, or WPA.
Cliff Lee is first in WAR, yet finished a distant fourth, as voters presumably held his recent struggles and higher ERA against him. Francisco Liriano is first in both FIP and xFIP, but only 1 reader out of 10 gave him their vote, likely because of his lower innings total and his higher ERA. And perhaps most surprisingly, CC Sabathia finished third, even though he’s not appreciably better than the also-rans in anything other than Win-Loss record.
Sabathia ranks 15th in FIP, 11th in xFIP, and 10th in WAR, yet he did significantly better than guys like Jon Lester and Jered Weaver, who have him beat in most of the “advanced metrics”. Let’s compare Lester and Sabathia, for instance, as both play in the AL East and are the aces of large market, nationally prominent clubs.
BB/9: Sabathia (2.84) over Lester (3.36)
K/9: Lester (9.69) over Sabathia (7.32)
HR/9: Lester (0.59) over Sabathia (0.78)
FIP: Lester (3.09) over Sabathia (3.62)
xFIP: Lester (3.26) over Sabathia (3.86)
WAR: Lester (5.0) over Sabathia (4.0)
Sabathia has the lower walk rate, but Lester’s huge advantage in strikeouts and lower HR rate more than cancels that out. It would be hard to build a case that Sabathia has outpitched Lester based on the numbers above. However, when you look at two traditional metrics, we can see why Sabathia got so many more votes than Lester.
ERA: Sabathia (3.14) over Lester (3.26)
Innings: Sabathia (209) over Lester (182)
Sabathia has a marginally better ERA than Lester and he’s thrown nearly 30 more innings to boot, which is why he’s considered a frontrunner for the award while Lester is never seriously brought up in conversation. Even among our readership, Sabathia dominates Lester with 518 votes to Lester’s 69. While our stats show that Lester has been better, our readers prefer CC’s quantity of innings with essentially the same rate of run prevention, and don’t really seem to care that the difference is almost entirely driven by BABIP.
I would be tempted to chalk this up to the power of the narrative, where people were voting for Sabathia because the media has kept him at the forefront of the discussion, but we see this same rejection of DIPS theory in the vote totals for Hernandez, Liriano, and Lee. Even though you’re spending your Friday afternoon reading FanGraphs, most of you guys still seem to vote along the lines of innings and ERA. To me, that’s interesting.
Perhaps the divide between the traditional media and people who like nerd stats is not as big as the generally perception. In the end, both camps appear to prefer results to process when it comes to handing out awards. The only question now is whether the baseball writers agree that results can be judged without leaning heavily on Win-Loss record as a factor. If they’ve come to the same conclusions as our readers, then King Felix is line for a new crown.
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