AL Cy Young Crowdsourcing Results

On Friday, we ran a poll asking who you’d vote for the AL Cy Young Award. With 5,500 votes in, the votes were decisive, to say the least.

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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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.



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Joe
Guest
Joe

I think it’s great people don’t put 100% faith into approximate formula. Anyone who thinks Player A is definitively better than Player B because he has .1 more WAR is a fool. For example, a player like Matt Cain won’t get as much credit from those advanced metrics even though he’s shown over the course of his career they don’t apply to him. So why should be put absolute faith in them when it comes to something like this?

Locke
Guest
Locke

I’d like to hear whether Dave thinks he “lead the crowd” or not with his Felix-laden intro to this poll:

“Of course, Felix isn’t blowing the field away like Josh Hamilton is in the MVP race. He’s had a great year, but he’s not the only pitcher having a great year. You can make an argument for pitchers other than Felix without resorting to craziness. So, I figured we’d put it to you guys. If the season ended today, who is your American League Cy Young Award winner?”

There’s no chance he gets 60% of the vote if the poll had a neutral intro.

Wally
Guest
Wally

Its true enough that in polling we shouldn’t try to lead the poll takers, however I believe in this case some mild leading isn’t such a problem for a couple of reasons:

1) People at fangraphs tend not to be the kind of folks that just go along with the crowd, will do their own research and make an informed independent choice.

2) I also don’t believe descibing what most of the debate has been up to this point to be particularly leading. If Dave were to list of several stats that make a biased argument for one player or the other I’d agree with you, but he was pretty mild in pro-Cy statements regarding Felix, and clearly mentioned that other pitchers are having great seasons as well.

Finally, I’m not surprised by the results. A lot of people here surely love their FIP, xFIP and WAR, but between the 3 stats no one pitcher really comes across as a clear winner. As such, it seems perfectly logical to pick the guy with the best results outside of W-L record. I chose WPA, others have looked to ERA. Doesn’t really change the outcome.

Locke
Guest
Locke

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that in his short, two paragraph intro to this poll there were 4 names written out:

Felix’s three times
CC’s once
Liriano/Lee/Everyone else = 0

I mean, READ THIS SENTENCE

“The narrative being told at the moment is that Felix Hernandez is, by far, the most deserving candidate,”

Needless to say, this type of thing has concrete implications on polls. It’s not even really a discussion. I guarantee if you run this poll on Baseball Prospectus with no intro, the numbers are nowhere close to this.

I wish I could say I’m surprised Dave missed this type of thing.

Wally
Guest
Wally

Locke,

First, what’s up with hostility man?

I agree with you and fully understand the concept of leading poll questions. I just disagree with level of skew you are attributing to this particularly case. Go ahead, run a more neutral poll and see if the numbers turn out to be different. Though to do this you had better establish some idea of the mindset in your new sample group and determine it to be a rough equivalent of that found here at fangraphs. Simply going to BP is not going to be enough (where say they may defer to tERA or RA or something, where here we generally defer to (x)FIP/WAR), especially from a guy so worked up about this particular polling issue.

Anyway, I doubt you’ll find them to be “no where close to this.” When Felix is basically in a three way tie using the more advanced metrics, it perfectly reasonable to look at the actual results as the tie breaker. Also, when you look at advanced metrics used at other sites, such as VORP or WAR on B-R.com, Felix leads by decent margin. Other readers may have used that as further evidence to give Felix the nod.

Socrates
Guest
Socrates

Locke is unquestionably correct. The intro to the poll was very leading. I dont care if you where polling major league managers, and not lowly fangraphs readers. I think it actually influenced me. I started looking at the results. Had trouble assigning value to certain stats (by the way, I also gave more points to pitchers on playoff teams… Sorry Lester). Still at the end, I couldnt decide between Felix, CC, and Liriano. I chose Felix, maybe because of that intro.

I work in a field where polling used very often and I am invovled in drafting probably a poll or two a week this time of year (guess the field). Anything that leading would result in a massively skewed result.

I still think that Felix should be #1 on radars at this point. He is just so good right now.

Wally
Guest
Wally

Socrates,

I’m not questioning if Locke is right or wrong regarding leading poll takers, I’m questioning just how much he seems to think the effect was.

By your own statements it seems that you believe him to be the front runner as well, regardless of the narrative.

I’d be interested to see the results of a non-leading poll in a similar set of poll takers.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen

I had this exact same argument with someone I know on facebook. I’ve done a Cy Young Watch (and at the time) Francisco Liriano led in WAR by .1. He argued against my entire system based on the fact that I choose WAR as my leading stat, though I mentioned that in the end I would choose Cliff Lee over Liriano because of his innings pitched, quality of starts, and so on and so forth. WAR isn’t perfect but it is a GREAT stat. I use it in arguments but absolute faith is easy to put into it (I put absolute faith in it) because it is a stat. It’s not lying, not deceiving, nor misleading, it’s a stat run through a formula, whether you believe it has merit, that’s another discussion.

Joe
Guest
Joe

My echo and bunnymen: You shouldn’t put absolute faith into anything approximate. As you said, it’s a great tool, but to use it definitively is misguided. I guarantee in 10 years the formula will be better than it is today. That being the case, how can you say with absolute confidence it is correct?

Mafrth77
Member
Mafrth77

“1 more WAR” or between Lester and Sabatthia 25 percent differnce in the two players players value.

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