AL Cy Young Race: Price Good, Verlander Better

This afternoon, Matt Klaassen detailed the NL Cy Young decision, which basically comes down to Clayton Kershaw and R.A. Dickey. Both had excellent seasons, and it’s essentially hair-splitting to pick one or the other, though as Matt notes, most of the hairs tend to fall Kershaw’s way when you actually do split them. Over in the AL, the story is similar, though in this case, the lines are a bit more pronounced.

Quite simply, there’s just not much of a case for anyone besides Justin Verlander. This isn’t to take anything away from David Price, who had an excellent season, but unless you’re still evaluating a pitcher by wins and losses, there’s really nothing you can point to that puts Price ahead of Verlander.

Verlander threw 238 innings. Price threw 211.
Verlander posted an ERA- of 64. Price posted an ERA- of 66.
Verlander posted a FIP- of 70. Price posted a FIP- of 77.

Whether you evaluate a pitcher by the things he’s mostly in control of (walks, strikeouts, and home runs) or by everything that occurs when he’s on the mound (runs allowed), Verlander was slightly better. He was better in front of a worse defense, with an inferior bullpen, in a park that is more conducive to offense than the one in Tampa Bay. Even if they threw the exact same amount of innings, you’d probably lean slightly towards Verlander, but of course, Verlander threw an additional 27 innings, or essentially three complete games worth of extra pitching. Price would have to have been significantly better in terms of quality to make up for that kind of quantity, but there’s no real evidence that he was any better on a rate basis than Verlander.

The one factor that gets pushed as a plus for Price is quality opposition. After all, Price pitched in the AL East, while Verlander got to run through a series of lousy AL Central opponents thanks to the unbalanced schedule. However, once you get past the labels and the reputations, even that argument falls apart.

Here are the AL ranks in wRC+ for each non-Detroit and non-Tampa Bay team in the AL Central and AL East, pitcher hitting excluded.

AL Central

Chicago: 98 wRC+ (7th)
Indians: 97 wRC+ (t-8th)
Twins: 97 wRC+ (t-8th)
Royals: 95 wRC+ (t-11th)

AL East

New York: 114 wRC+ (1st)
Orioles: 96 wRC+ (10th)
Red Sox: 95 wRC+ (t-11th)
Blue Jays: 94 wRC+ (12th)

The Yankees can hit, but the rest of the AL East was no better offensively than the AL Central this year. Price didn’t face legions of match-ups against tough divisional opponents – he faced one tough match-up in the five instances he was lined up against the Yankees.

Overall, the average OPS of opponents who hit against Price this year was .763. Against Verlander, it was .758. It’s not inconsequential, but it’s a narrow gap that doesn’t move the needle much at all. If we were talking about Jarrod Parker, who continually matched up against Texas and Anaheim and faced batters with an average .771 OPS, this would be a bigger factor, but this wasn’t a normal offensive year for the AL East, and we can’t give Price too big of a boost because of the division he plays in.

Verlander didn’t blow Price out of the water, but he was a little better across the board, and in the final tally, it’s hard to make much of a pro-Price argument. Verlander remains the best pitcher in baseball, and he had the best season of any pitcher in baseball. Tip of the cap to David Price for an excellent season, but he just got bested by a slightly better pitcher.

We’ll see in about two hours whether or not voters saw it the same way, but Verlander should walk away with his second straight Cy Young Award tonight. He earned it.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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10 years ago

Felix good, Price better, Verlander best.

10 years ago
Reply to  Slats

Verlander is the top choice for the CY but King Felix should be the runner-up, then Price. (WAR) Verlander 6.8, Felix 6.1, Price 5.1 (INN) Verlander 238, Felix 232, Price 188 (K’s) Verlander 239, Felix 223, Price 212 (FIP) Felix 2.84, Verlander 2.89, Price 3.05 (t-ERA) Felix 3.21, Price 3.23, Verlander 3.43 (HR\9) Felix 0.54, Price 0.68, Verlander 0.72. But at least you thought KING FELIX as it seems everyone else has forgotten about him in this debate.

10 years ago
Reply to  Crix

AL RA9-win leaders – verlander 7.6, price 7.2, sale 6.2, harrison 6.1, felix 5.9

10 years ago
Reply to  Crix

sorry brain error. Price’s innings 211 as mentioned in this article. sorry again.

10 years ago
Reply to  Crix

He had a bit of an underperformance at the end. Yeah, Seattle sucked, but you still gotta look at the whole set of numbers. But yeah, JV, Felix, then Price.

Was honestly surprised it went to Price. At least in the pitching world, a more holistic approach has been taken the last several years, instead of now just relying on raw win loss stats.

10 years ago
Reply to  Crix

Silly how Weaver somehow always gets overlooked, but King Felix really can’t be considered better than 4th in 2012. He got punched around a handful of times and punted away his Cy Young chances with a pretty lame September.