On the Cy Young and Pitcher Hitting

10 days ago, I was informed that I will be voting for the National League Cy Young Award this year. This will be my first time voting on the pitcher awards — last year, I was tasked with voting for Manager of the Year and MVP — and so I’ve spent the last week and a half trying to work through what kind of factors I’m going to want to consider in putting my ballot together. And as I work through the process, I’ve come to realize that there’s one potentially significant factor that I’m not sure whether to consider or not; a pitcher’s performance while batting.

My initial reaction to the idea of using a pitcher’s batting line as a variable was to reject the notion, considering that it’s an award designed to honor the best pitcher of the season, and a pitcher’s job is to prevent runs. What a pitcher does at the plate can be rewarded when they vote on the Silver Slugger Award. I think that’s generally the commonly accepted approach, and when I broached this topic with a few people at Saber Seminar this weekend, most of them — even Brian Bannister, the former MLB pitcher who posted a career .276/.300/.414 batting line — suggested that a pitcher’s hitting performance shouldn’t be a factor in the Cy Young voting.

But I guess I’m still not convinced. I certainly haven’t made up my mind to definitely include a pitcher’s batting performance as a factor in my vote, but I don’t know that I can accept the idea that we should only be evaluating a pitcher’s contribution to run prevention, when National League pitchers are also required to hit as a function of their jobs. It’s a smaller part of their job, certainly, but it is something they have to do, much like big lumbering sluggers who are selected for their ability to hit the ball a long way still have to run the bases, even though that is definitely not the skill they are being paid for.

Or perhaps more compellingly, do we believe that a pitcher’s own fielding value should be extracted from his run prevention and not considered, because fielding is not pitching, and this is an award solely for rewarding what these athletes did in the act of throwing the ball to the plate? Probably not, right? I haven’t heard anyone argue that fielding should be ignored, and everyone seems to be mostly fine with rewarding the pitcher who best prevented runs from scoring, however you choose to measure that goal.

But when we say that a pitcher’s job is to prevent runs, is that any different than saying that Miguel Cabrera’s job is to create offense, and we just shouldn’t bother accounting for the other parts of the game he’s forced to do to get his bat in the line-up in the first place? In the National League, if you want to be a starting pitcher, you also have to hit a couple of times per game. It’s part of the job requirement.

In the AL, it’s not part of the job requirement, but the National League has specifically rejected adopting the DH, which implies that the NL sees the occasional at-bat as part of a pitcher’s job description. And if this is part of the job, and some pitchers are clearly better at it than others, should we really not consider it as a factor when deciding which pitcher had the best season?

For instance, as a hitter this season, Madison Bumgarner has generated 10 runs for the Giants, relative to what we’d expect from a normal pitcher in those same number of at-bats. Those 10 runs have directly contributed to the Giants ability to win the games in which Bumgarner has started, and it is part of the reason why the Giants are 16-9 in games that Bumgarner takes the hill.

If Bumgarner had instead been a typical pitcher while at the plate, but had allowed 10 fewer runs on the mound, he’d have a 2.49 ERA instead of his current 3.02 mark; that would jump him into a tie for 5th place in the NL in ERA, rather than being in 14th place, as he is now. Most likely, Bumgarner would receive more support in the Cy Young race if he had prevented those 10 runs while pitching than by adding them through his hitting exploits, but those runs affected the Giants in the same way, right? When it comes to determining a winner at the end of the game, a run scored is a equal in value to a run allowed, and it’s probably more accurate to say that a pitcher’s job is to help his team win, rather to narrowly define his job as simply prevent runs.

So, a non-zero part of me thinks that I really should consider a pitcher’s batting line when voting for the NL Cy Young Award. But, I’m certainly open to other viewpoints, especially if the case is made on logic and reason. It probably won’t change my mind if you just write “You’re a moron, Cameron” in the comments section, but I’m guessing a lot of you will probably take the opposite position on this, and I’d love to hear your reasons for why I should end up on your side. Why should I only consider a pitcher’s run prevention, and not run creation, when NL pitchers are required to hit? And if the award is solely for evaluating who pitched the best, why shouldn’t I then take that to its logical extension, penalizing good fielding pitchers for propping up their pitching statistics with non-pitching value?

There’s a pretty decent chance that, at the end of the day, this won’t have a material impact on the winner, as the guy who is probably most people’s current Cy Young favorite also happens to be hitting pretty well himself, but with five spots on the ballot, this could definitely end up playing a role in who makes the cut and who doesn’t. And, realistically, I want my vote to be as logically sound as it can be, and so even if this doesn’t have a tangible impact, I want to make sure I’ve considered every potential source of information.

So, let’s end with a poll, and then let’s hear your thoughts in the comments. Should I consider a pitcher’s hitting performance in the Cy Young process, or is this really just a run prevention award?





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Jim
7 years ago

I’d say no for Cy Young, yes for MVP. The CY should be strictly a pitching award, similar to the Hank Aaron award, which is for the best hitter.

Whereas the CY and Aaron awards are for strictly pitching and hitting, respectively, the MVP should take into account all aspects of a player’s game.

cody k
7 years ago
Reply to  Jim

I agree with this

Cy Young no, MVP yes

Bipmember
7 years ago
Reply to  Jim

I agree with this as well… except for the fact that pitchers are strangely and, i think, stupidly, excluded from MVP consideration by a lot of people. A lot of people think pitchers simply can’t be valuable enough, and even more think a pitcher should only eligible when there is no outstanding position player. As long as that is that case, I kind of want the Cy Young to be like the MVP-for-pitchers, and include hitting.

However, if people abandon this weird idea and consider position players and pitchers equally for MVP, then I would Cy Young voting should be based on pitching only.

Famous Mortimer
7 years ago
Reply to  Bip

But they already have, right? I mean, a pitcher won MVP last year with decent competition.

jerry60555
7 years ago
Reply to  Jim

Agree.

Dreamin
7 years ago
Reply to  Jim

Including, if needing, penalizing a pitcher if he’s truly awful at the plate in the MVP race. Sure he’s being paid to pitch, but if we want the MVP race to encompass all parts of the game it should all count, for better or worse.

JayT
7 years ago
Reply to  Jim

I agree as well. Also,if you start taking hitting into effect for the Cy Young then it will destroy any chance of my lifelong dream of one pitcher winning the Cy Young and a different pitcher winning the MVP of happening.

TKDC
7 years ago
Reply to  JayT

Which, while unlikely, seems like it could happen this year, with two pitchers from the same team, no less!

durn
7 years ago
Reply to  JayT

That’s a great lifelong dream.

One Mississippi
7 years ago
Reply to  Jim

Agreed as well. For reference, Cy Young himself provided about 131 WAR from his pitching, and about 0.8 WAR from his batting, lifetime.

Orsulakfan
7 years ago

When I read this article, I was just going to go look up Cy Young’s hitting stats, but you beat me to it. Nice one!

francis
7 years ago
Reply to  Orsulakfan

Lifetime OPS+ of 45

ElJimador
7 years ago
Reply to  Jim

I disagree. The Hank Aaron award is specifically for the best hitter, not the best position player or for that matter even the best offensive player overall (notably ignoring baserunning in cases where it might have tipped the scales like Trout/Cabrera). So best hitter means best at that specific aspect of the game.

Pitcher, on the other hand, refers not just to an aspect of the game but to an actual position. So I think it’s better to read “best pitcher” to mean best overall at that position, and not just best at pitching only.

TKDC
7 years ago
Reply to  ElJimador

I don’t think that’s what is meant by pitcher. Keep in mind that when someone says “position player” they are excluding pitchers, so what’s going on there?

Also, a hitter usually plays the field. In fact, much more frequently than a pitcher hits. If we’re being technical, we can make this whatever we want. But I’ve never heard of the idea of putting pitcher offense in the CYA equation. This seems like an argument for the sake of argument that has mutated to a legit position because of, I don’t know, boredom?

chuckb
7 years ago
Reply to  Jim

Agreed. To me, when you’re voting for the Cy Young, you’re evaluating pitching performances (the acts) rather than pitchers (the people). It’s an award that’s specific to run prevention whereas the MVP is a more holistic evaluation of the players.