David and Cliff: The Cy Young Race

A hot topic in today’s chat was the AL Cy Young race. I think Cliff Lee is the clear favorite to win the award, but a lot of folks chimed in that they believe that David Price would win the award if voting were held today, due to his superior win totals and the way the BBWAA has voted in the past. To support their argument, they point to this article by Jon Heyman, in which he gives his mid-season Cy Young vote to Price over Lee.

I think most members of the BBWAA are smarter than Jon Heyman. And I think when they actually look at the facts, Price’s win total won’t be as impressive to them as one might think. Let’s take a look through the game logs and see just how he’s performed in the 14 games he’s been awarded a victory, using just basic stats that every sportswriter will look at.

April 9th, 9-3 win vs NYY: 7 2/3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 3 BB, 7 K
April 14th, 9-1 win vs BAL: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 7 K
April 25th, 6-0 win vs TOR: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 9 K
May 7th, 4-1 win vs OAK: 7 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 4 BB, 6 K
May 12th, 4-3 win vs LAA: 6 1/3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 3 BB, 6 K
May 18th, 6-2 win vs CLE: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 3 BB, 5 K
May 23rd, 10-6 vs HOU: 5 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 2 HR, 3 BB, 2 K
June 2nd, 7-3 vs TOR: 8 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 0 HR, 0 BB, 3 K
June 9th, 10-1 vs TOR: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 5 BB, 4 K
June 15th, 10-4 vs ATL: 5 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 3 BB, 7 K
June 26th, 5-3 vs ARI: 8 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 11 K
July 7th, 6-4 vs BOS: 7 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 10 K
July 24th, 6-3 vs CLE: 7 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 5 K
July 29th, 4-2 vs DET: 6 1/3 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 0 HR, 2 BB, 9 K

In those 14 starts, the Rays have scored 96 runs, or 6.85 runs per game, including scoring 9+ runs on five different occasions. In those games, it really didn’t matter how Price pitched – if he went five innings, he was getting a win. In one of the starts, he got a win despite giving up as many runs as innings pitched.

In addition, look at how many “short” starts he had. In six of the 14 starts, he failed to finish the 7th inning, relying on the bullpen to get at least the final eight outs. He only got through the 8th inning three times, and has only one complete game in his 14 wins.

By comparison, Cliff Lee has completed at least eight innings in nine consecutive starts, throwing the full nine innings in six of those. In 18 starts, he’s only failed to finish the 7th inning once. While he may only have nine victories, his teammates have scored a grand total of 14 runs in the nine starts where he was credited with a loss or a no decision.

Regardless of what you think of BBWAA members, they are smart enough to realize that the difference in win totals between Price and Lee is entirely a function of the production of their respective teammates. Price has gotten a lot of run support and relied heavily on his bullpen, while Lee has given his relievers the night off nearly every time he took the hill and routinely got nothing from his hitters.

It’s no secret to anyone reading this site that Lee has pitched better than Price this year. But, I’d argue that even despite the win totals, that distinction is pretty clear to most of the baseball writers in America as well. Once they look at the game logs (and most of them do), they’ll see the picture above, and they’ll discount the difference in wins between the two. At least, all the ones not named Heyman.

My bet – there are more smart writers in the BBWAA than you might think. Assuming that nothing changes all that much over the final two months, I think Lee wins the AL Cy Young fairly easily. And deservedly so.

We hoped you liked reading David and Cliff: The Cy Young Race by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted
JJ
Guest

What about Liriano? I’m guessing he won’t have much of a chance despite being as, if not more, deserving than Lee.

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy

no he isn’t. not even close.

just because his FIP is low doesn’t make him better than a pitcher going 8+ every start and putting up Maddux prime numbers.

Sixto Lezcano
Guest
Sixto Lezcano

Actually, yeah that does make him the better pitcher.

Liriano deserves the Cy Young were it awarded today, but obviously wouldn’t get it in the real world.

Lee Trocinski
Member
Member
Lee Trocinski

The Cy Young Award is not about how well you are predicted to do in the future; it’s about how well you did that season. I think the Rally WAR system is perfect for that, using the actual runs allowed to figure out a RAR total. Lee is first in the AL at 4.3 WAR, with Weaver, Pavano, Liriano, and Felix within .6 WAR, and Price is 11th at 3.1 WAR. I think Lee will win it, but it’s not a runaway yet.

JH
Guest
JH

Lee has pitched 11 more innings than Liriano despite three fewer starts. I fully expect that gap to widen. By the end of the year, the 20-25 extra innings Cliff Lee gave his teams will outweigh the less than half-run difference in FIP between them, IMO.

tpain
Guest
tpain

So LeeTro, pitchers should be punished for poor fielders? I know thats not all of the different between xFIP and ERA, but its part of the equation.

Bill@TDS
Guest

LeeTro’s post completely misinterprets FIP. Liriano’s FIP/xFIP show how well he’s done, not how well he’s predicted to do in the future. He’s been the best pitcher in the AL this season. The rest is bad outfield defense and bad luck.

Lee Trocinski
Member
Member
Lee Trocinski

There is a defensive adjustment in the number of expected runs allowed by a replacement pitcher. As far as the bad luck, I think if 2 pitchers in same environment have the same FIP and IP, but A allowed 70 runs and B allowed 80, A should win the award. It’s more of a Most Valuable Pitcher definition, but I think that’s what the award signifies.

I had a bad choice of words about FIP. I meant to say it’s the expected ERA with those peripherals, not how they’ll do in the future.

Tyler
Guest
Tyler

What is the story on Liriano’s season?

He leads in WAR, FIP, xFIP, his K/9 is third, yet he seems to have no noise being made about him. Is there something misleading in his numbers? I feel like those alone would point to him being the front runner for the Cy Young.

MauerPower
Member

I agree, Liriano has been pitching very well this season. Sure his record is 10-7 but at least 2 of those losses should be wins. W/L isn’t a great stat but you get my point. Like you mentioned he leads WAR, FIP and xFIP. That alone should give it to him.

Disco
Guest
Disco

I was gonna write the same exact thing.

Xeifrank
Guest

I agree, Lirano deserves it… but in the world we live in – it will probably go to the 2.6 WAR pitcher listed in this article.
vr, Xeifrank

James
Guest
James

I think the bottom line on Liriano vs. Lee is that Lee’s on-field performance trumps nebulous hypothetical metrics. The 20-30 innings make a tangible difference in that it reduces the risk for blown saves and saves the bullpen, thereby adding roster flexibility (you could carry an additional position player or a lefty specialist type). The Liriano’s “should’ve been” wins argument doesn’t hold much water. xFIP, WAR, and the like are only worth the paper they are printed on. The reality is that Liriano’s cumulative on-field performance hasn’t been clearly superior to Lee’s, but there’s a lot of baseball left.