2017 AL Cy Young

All due respect to Luis Severino, Justin Verlander, Carlos Carrasco and Marcus Stroman, the AL CY Young is either Chris Sale or Corey Kluber.  (Keep in mind, the voting was done prior to Sale’s awful game 1 start in the ALDS.  Hopefully, Kluber will have a similar start against the Yankees today…)

Before getting to the nitty gritty, I need to preface my thoughts with two items:

  1. I would never say “never” but if your goal was to convince me that a relief pitcher is the best pitcher in the league, that’d be a tough sell. Maybe – maybe – in the event of a season where there was no dominant starter I would consider a reliever, but that’s not the case today.  It’s simply much harder to succeed over 200 innings than over 60.  It’s much harder to succeed over seven innings than one inning using max velocity.  It’s much harder to succeed against batters who’ve seen you two or three times than ones who haven’t.
  2. As I mentioned in the MVP write ups, when it comes to pitchers, in my mind they can influence the outcome of at bats and games by a) missing bats, b) not issuing bases on balls. Everything else is reliant on luck, randomness, defense, the park, etc. to varying degrees.  Perhaps to a slightly lesser degree with preventing Home Runs as it can be argued that generating soft contact on the ground is a valuable skill that can be measured.  To wit, I go with strikeout percentage to walk percentage and expected fielding independent pitching as my measuring sticks.  I do consider both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement ratings as they factor in everything a pitcher does for his team, and if all of the above can’t separate the pitchers, I lean toward batters faced and innings pitched.  As I said, it’s harder to be good over 220 innings than over 140.

The comparison – Sale vs. Kluber:

In K% to BB%, Sale had an edge over Kluber 31% to 29%, which were numbers 1 and 2 respectively in the American League.

In xFIP, Kluber edged Sale 2.52 to 2.65 – again, numbers 1 and 2 in the AL.

In the WAR department, it’s a push: Kluber beats Sale in bWAR, Sale bests Kluber in fWAR.

So it’s a toss-up, thus far.

Sale has a big edge in batters faced and a small edge in innings pitched.  Kluber has an edge in opponents’ on base and slugging percentages, as well as a big edge in ERA+.  As I mentioned, those stats are somewhat influenced by external factors, but they aren’t insignificant ones to be ignored, either.

Again, still a toss-up.

So as I did with the AL MVP discussion, I’m going to go with a non-quantifiable measuring tool.  (Yes, again, it isn’t all about numbers with me…)

Chris Sale is your 2017 AL Cy Young award winner.  Here’s why:

Because despite this decision being a razor thin toss up, almost everybody I’ve heard or read has Kluber as the winner.  In my experience, when you’re dealing with mass media, the herd is almost always wrong.  If this were a runaway case, I would agree with the John Smoltzes, John (“the award should go to the pitcher with the most wins, period”) Kruks and A.J. Pierzynskis of the world.

But this isn’t a runaway, this is close.  If John Smotlz, who I’m pretty sure still uses a rotary phone and takes a horse to work, is that sure about Kluber, it probably ain’t Kluber.

Along the same lines, baseball fans and media have a very bad habit of using recency bias thinking.  Despite agreeing how much we like the long season, how 162 games separates the contenders from the pretenders, most of us are guilty of the “what have you done lately” mindset.

As I’ve said all season:  The 4th inning counts just as much as the 9th.  May games count just as much as September games.  And I think many people are guilty of recency bias thinking in the case of this season’s Cy Young discussions.  Specifically, over the 2nd half of the year, Corey Kluber was Christy Mathewson, so he’s getting the push from that mindset.

But I think people are forgetting how dominant Sale was early in the year before regressing to being just merely “great”.  He was Randy Johnson – maybe better – when Kluber was alternating between being on the disabled list and average performance.

For some perspective on this, Sale’s ERA was 1.92 on May 7th.  Kluber’s was 5.06.

I’m not saying Kluber isn’t a worthy Cy Young choice, because he obviously is.  But we need to consider performances from April through September when assigning end of season honors, not just what have you done lately.  And I think, similar to Jose Altuve getting the “small and scrappy” voting boost, I think Kluber is getting the recency bias boost.

I may be one of the only people outside of Boston to think it, but Sale deserves the award.

 

As always, thanks to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference for the statistics.

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