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.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.