So, I’m gonna bust a chart at you that’s absolutely insane. It’s so big, I had to bust it into two separate image files before the blog would even let me load it up.
It’s also not that useful. But I think it’s a pretty way to look at how the Cy Young Award has changed over the years. Here’s the basic premise: I took every Cy Young Award winner, and looked at where they ranked among qualifying pitchers in that year and league for a handful of stats – from the very traditional to more ‘new=age’ statistics. I used percentile rank, so ’1′ or ’0′ is the league leader depending on whether it’s better for the stat to be high or low – those are all marked in red. Being in the top five %ile is marked in orange, and in the top 10% is marked in yellow. It’s a little problematic, because if you have enough individuals tied for the league lead, then none of them are considered in the ’100 %ile’ category. Without further ado: here you go.
I will make a couple general points, here.
- WAR has turned into a pretty nice indicator of Cy Young status. That makes sense, as it’s a stat that aggregrates other statistics and rewards pitchers who throw a lot of innings, well. Essentially, that’s what the Cy Young is all about, right? But it’s worth noting that that wasn’t the case, for years. WAR encapsulates what we think is important in pitchers now, and by ‘we’, that does include the baseball writers, these days.
- In fact, in the last ten years, WAR is a better indicator of the Cy Young award winner than any single stat. Again – sensible, because it’s aggregates good stats, but in the 19 winners since 2002 (not including Eric Gagne, because let’s not add that complication), the leader in WAR has won more often than the leader in ERA, the leader in strikeouts, or the leader in wins. Let’s be real, though, it’s still only correct about half the time.
- Speaking of which, Wins is losing the dominance it once held of the Cy Young Award. The wins leader still frequently wins the Cy Young, but it doesn’t hurt that the wins leader is still frequently very good at baseball. But Felix Hernandez wasn’t even in the top half of qualified pitchers in wins, and he still got his – that was the first time that had ever happened.
- Interestingly, since 2005, each winner has either led the league in ERA or in WAR.
- Of course, this still misses a lot of the voting dynamics that change so much from year to year. Like the 2011 NL award: Clayton Kershaw might have beat Roy Halladay because he had two more wins (and a magic 20+ wins season), or because he had a phenomenal strikeout rate – but it probably wasn’t because his ERA was 0.07 lower than Halladay’s. A bunch of orange and red boxes can only tell you so much.
So what does that tell us about Johnny Cueto?
Here, I want to give a little hat tip to AC Slider over at Red Reporter. He put up a very similar chart in a veritable sabremetrics smorgasbord earlier today. I swear, I’ve been working on this for like three days though.
Hooray for slightly less ridiculously large charts.
Obviously, there’s less pretty colors, since these are a selection of the top pitchers in the NL with their %ile rankings among qualifying pitchers. Right now, I’d say there’s no clear frontrunner. I’d say Cueto’s got almost as good an argument as anyone – tied for the league lead in wins, and also very near the top in ERA and WAR right now. Dickey might have better case – tied for wins, and leading in Ks, that’s two arms of the triple crown. It’d be near unbeatable if he wasn’t reasonably far behind in terms of ERA.
In terms of voting dynamics, the Chapman/Cueto issue could have an impact. Given that they vote out to five places in the voting, it’s probably not too big a deal, but the premium for first place votes could make a pretty big difference. First place votes are worth seven points, and second place votes just over half that, with 4 points. So, just hypothetically, if Cueto and Chapman split the first place votes among voters who thought a winning team is really important, or that pitching well in GABP is really impressive – that could let someone like Dickey take a plurality of first place votes – giving him a much better position. That’s all extremely hypothetical though.
MVP and Cy Young and Rookie of the Year voting is all very chaotic, and I suspect it’s highly narrative driven – thus my fear that Todd Frazier will lose to Bryce Harper’s superlative hype and mediocre OPS. I can run as many silly excel spreadsheets as I want, but sometimes you just have to sit back and wait.