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Cy Young-ian Archetypes
2003-09-12 01:43
by Mike Carminati

Roy Halladay beat the Devil Rays tonight, 3-1, to record his 20th win of the season against sis losses. Meanwhile Esteban Loaiza lost in his bid to record twenty wins as the White Sox lost, 5-2, to the Twins at home evening their records in the AL Central standings yet again. Loaiza fell to 19-7.

Some would say that these two events alone place Halladay in front of Loaiza for the AL Cy Young. Halladay has twenty wins, his win-loss differential is 14 as opposed to Loaiza's 12, his .769 winning percentage edges Loaiza's by 38 points, and Halladay has pitched more innings.

However, I wouldn't and I hope most of you would agree. If we base the award solely on wins and losses Halladay and Loaiza were tied going into today's games and one faced one of the worst teams in the AL and the other faced one of the hottest teams in the AL playing a division rival. As far as the innings, Halladay has had three more starts in which to collect them. Couldn't one turn around and state that Halladay's extra starts while entering the day with the same record as Loaiza is a detriment as easily as someone could say they are an asset? Besides, Loaiza's ERA is nearly six-tenths of a run lower and ERA is the most important individual stat for a starting pitcher. Isn't it?

Well, according to the estimable Rick Sutcliffe, whose chats make Joe Morgan's seem an Algonquin Roundtable, it aint. Perhaps it's due to his winning the ERA crown one year and receiving "a piece of paper that was folded so many times I couldn't even put it in a frame." (Thanks to Matthew Lovell for the tip.) Witness:

John (San Francisco): Hi Rick! Do you agree with Joe Morgan's assertion that wins are more important than ERA for a pitcher? To me, a pitcher can only put you in position to win a game, he can't win the game himself. The Dodgers have scored only 11 runs in Nomo's 10 losses this year. Is he a worse pitcher than if he played for the Braves who would bash in more runs and get him more wins?

ERA can be deceiving, I mean, that can be determined by who plays centerfield for you. Just like BA are deceiving. The most important stat for a starer, well there's a couple, innings pitched is key, and then, another stat to look at is 3the difference between your wins and losses. You can win 20 games but if you lose 20, that doesn't make you the best pitcher. A team needs to be over .500. I won an ERA title in 1982 with Cleveland, I figured that I would get a trophy or something. All they sent was a piece of paper that was folded so many times I couldn't even put it in a frame -- this tells you how important -- or how unimportant is to me. Innings, a lot of innings. You need those first as a pitcher. Then go to wins and losses. You have to be careful of ERA.

Yeah, I've seen ERAs explode by one single Joe Mesa appearance. They are not things to be trifled with.

So in Rick Sutcliffe's world, "Innings, a lot of innings" and "the difference between your wins and losses" are the two keys to winning a Cy Young. Of course, Sutcliffe himself only pitched 150.1 in the NL the year that he won the award (plus nearly one hundred execrable innings in the AL-4-5 with a 5.15 ERA).

The first person these criteria made me think of was Mike Norris who went 22-9 with a 2.53 ERA while pitching 24-count 'em 24!-complete games and over 280 innings in 1980. Norris finished second to fellow one-year wonder Steve Stone in the Cy Young voting that year. Stone was 25-7 with a 3.23 ERA in 251 innings that year. Both were very quickly out of baseball, Stone because of age and Norris because of abuse. Of the two, I would have voted for Norris in a heartbeat-.7 difference in ERA.

However, maybe Sutcliffe in all his bluster is right about the criteria employed by the voters in selecting Cy Young candidates. I decided to put his assertion to the test.

I created a table of pitching superlatives since 1956, the first year of the Cy Young award. I included Sutcliffe' win-loss differential and innings pitched, along with ERA, wins, won-lost percentage, WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), strikeouts, and strikeouts-to-walks ratio (why not?). From 1956 to 1966 the award was given to the only one pitcher in all of baseball, but since 1967 it has been given to one pitcher per league. Therefore, I based my yearly leader table on all of baseball from 1956 to 1966 and on each league from 1967 until 2002.

I then calculated the percentage of the Cy Young winner's votes the leader in each criterion received (a 1.00 would indicate that the criterion leader won the Cy Young; also, if there were multiple leaders, I averaged the vote percentage). Then I averaged out those percentages over time to determine which criterion was viewed as most important by the voters.

Here are the results:

Since 199070.69%45.64%69.20%56.37%63.53%47.08%50.13%33.27%

So what does it all mean? Well, the award is the Cy Young Award-and like it's namesake, winning is the most important criterion historically. It does seem that Sutcliffe is correct in that the voters have been slightly more impressed by a better won-lost differential than win total since 1990, but then again that is a rather small sample.

Since 1990 leading in ERA is becoming more important to the voters, and being a league leader in one of the criteria has impressed the voters more of late. One could still say that they are not extremely sabermetrically minded however. Heck, they might even vote a guy who only tosses 80 innings the NL winner this year.

One last note on Sutcliffe's comments, total innings have been and continue to be a minor criterion for Cy Young voters. I guess I would begrudgingly give him a 1-for-2 on that set of ABs. Though if I were the pitcher in this at-bat analogy, the next pitch might be headed straight for him, though I would never throw at his head-that's his least vulnerable spot.

I guess "Sut" has his finger on the pulse of the award voters more than I do. Perhaps that is the best explanation possible for all of the carping by the fans once the award winners are announced.

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