SBN Awards: Pitcher of the Year

David Maxwell

SB Nation is giving out its own awards this off-season and the results are in for Pitcher of the Year in each league. The staff at Let's Go Tribe had two ballots in the American League voting, which was won handily by a man Indians fans are familiar with. The National League race was much, much closer.

Before getting into the actual results, it seems fair that I share my own ballot, because I think voting in this sort of thing should be fairly transparent. There's a legitimate question about whether or not such transparency leads to "group think," because some voters may not want it to be known that they held a different opinion, but I think most people are willing to stand by their opinions, when said opinion are at all reasonable.

For starting pitchers, I like to look at bWAR and fWAR, but because fWAR basically ignores balls in play and I find that a little extreme (though I understand their logic), I prefer bWAR. I don't think either one of those stats is enough by itself though. I look at ERA+, FIP, and SIERA too, along with strikeout and walk rates, and innings pitched (don't underestimate the importance of one guy throwing 25 more innings than another).

Anyway, here's the ballot I submitted for the American League "Pitcher of the Year" Award:

Rank Pitcher Team
1 Justin Verlander Detroit Tigers
2 David Price Tampa Bay Rays
3 Chris Sale Chicago White Sox
4 Felix Hernandez Seattle Mariners
5 Matt Harrison Texas Rangers

Verlander was an easy choice for me. He easily led the league (both leagues, in fact) in both bWAR and fWAR, along with innings pitched, strikeouts, and ERA+. Because he didn't have nearly as many wins in 2012 as he did in 2011, many have the impression that Verlander wasn't the same pitcher, but his rate stats are all close to identical and I should think we're sophisticated enough not too put much stock in pitcher wins as a barometer of a pitcher's performance anymore.

Price was a pretty easy choice for me at #2. He was second in the American League in ERA+ and SIERA, as well as bWAR, and third in fWAR. Price also led the A.L. in ERA, for those of you who still like the numbers we grew up with. Sale edged Hernandez for me at #3, largely because I prefer Baseball-Reference's calculations for WAR to Fangraphs' (where Hernandez was second only to only Verlander).

For me, those were the clear top four. Fifth place had a few candidates:

Jered Weaver might have won the award even ten years ago, because he won 20 games with a very pretty 2.82 ERA (actually, Price would have won it, because he also won 20 and had an even prettier 2.56 ERA), but if you buy into more modern metrics at all, you have to see that Weaver wasn't in the same class as Verlander and Price (or Sale and Hernandez). He pitches in a pitchers' park and three fewer innings than any of the other four guys.

I love, love, LOVE the season Fernando Rodney had, putting up the best ERA and ERA+ of any pitcher with at least 50 innings in baseball history (with a goofy bow and arrow routine after every save). In the end though, 74.2 incredible innings still probably don't quite do as much to help a team as 200 great ones.

In the end, I think Matt Harrison was the fifth best pitcher in the American League this year. He's another guy, in looking at the more advanced numbers, whose standing depends on whether you favor the B-R model, or that of Fangraphs (not that those are the only two schools of thought, Baseball Prospectus also has incredible work). At Baseball-Reference you see Harrison at third in bWAR and fourth in ERA+. Whereas he's 11th in fWAR. As I've said, I like the B-R methodology for pitcher's WAR a bit more, so I see him as having been very, very good.

Here are the full SB Nation results:

Player Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Points
Justin Verlander Detroit Tigers 23 1 2 171
David Price Tampa Bay Rays 2 17 7 103
Felix Hernandez Seattle Mariners 6 11 7 1 72
Chris Sale Chicago White Sox 4 10 4 36
Jered Weaver Los Angeles Angels 1 2 3 4 23
Fernando Rodney Tampa Bay Rays 2 3 4 18
Matt Harrison Texas Rangers 1 3 5
CC Sabathia New York Yankees 1 1 3
Max Scherzer Detroit Tigers 3 3
Yu Darvish Texas Rangers 3 3
Jim Johnson Baltimore Orioles 1 2
Hiroki Kuroda New York Yankees 1 1
Jake Peavy Chicago White Sox 1 1
James Shields Tampa Bay Rays 1 1

I am shocked (SHOCKED!) and outraged that no Indians made the cut. Surely some kind voter could have found a place in his heart for the fine work of Ubaldo Jimenez...

It's Verlander in a walk, which is as it should be. Price also quite comfortable in second place, with both of those guys landing in the top three of all 26 ballots. I have a hard time with that first place vote for Weaver, because even if you like the stats that put him in the best light (wins and ERA), David Price looks even better (and in more innings). I'm glad to see Rodney getting some love, even though I couldn't pull the trigger on him, but 2nd place seems sort of crazy. Jim Johnson getting a 4th place votes seems nuts too. All in all though, I think those are very solid results.

Now onto the National League (in which Let's Go Tribe had no say):

Player Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Points
R.A. Dickey New York Mets 13 11 6 2 157
Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers 11 12 8 2 1 154
Gio Gonzalez Washington Nationals 9 7 7 6 5 129
Johnny Cueto Cincinnati Reds 2 4 7 8 6 73
Cliff Lee Philadelphia Phillies 5 4 3 26
Matt Cain San Francisco Giants 1 5 4 17
Cole Hamels Philadelphia Phillies 1 3 5 15
Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves 1 2 6 13
Wade Miley Arizona Diamondbacks 3 1 7
Kris Medlen Atlanta Braves 3 3
Lance Lynn St. Louis Cardinals 1 1

VERY close!

I don't think Dickey is much of a surprise. The top guys were all pretty close together in bWAR, fWAR, and ERA+, and Dickey led the league in innings and strikeouts and won twenty games, all while being a knuckleballer, which makes for a great story (and many voters find it hard to resist a great story).

If I'd had a ballot, Kershaw would have gotten my 1st place vote, followed by Dickey, Cueto, Gonzalez, and Lee. A ballot which would have led to Kershaw and Dickey finishing in a tie (which Dickey may have won due to an extra 1st place vote).

Kershaw led the N.L. in bWAR and fWAR, along with ERA, and was a close second in innings, strikeouts, and ERA+. I think it's pretty hard to get too bent out of shape over any particular order for those top guys. Cliff Lee had a fascinating season and I'm happy to see him finish in 5th, right where I'd have had him. He won just six games all season, SIX, despite pitched 211 innings with an ERA of 3.16 and an ERA+ of 127. You know how many pitchers had ever won so few games with such a good ERA or ERA+ over so many innings? ZERO. Not one, ever. Like I said, pitcher wins are mostly nonsense.

Matt Cain in 3rd seems a stretch (he fell off quite a bit in the second-half) and Lance Lynn anywhere on a ballot is wishful thinking, but I think these are pretty solid results too (even if I'd have voted for Kershaw).

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