The BBWAA Has Already Passed The Litmus Test

In two hours, the American League Cy Young Award winner will be announced, but the story will be less about the pitcher who takes home the trophy and more about the people who cast their ballots. With Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia as the presumed top two candidates, this vote is being seen as a referendum on Win-Loss record and a litmus test for how far the BBWAA has come in their acceptance of sabermetric thinking.

In reality, though, I think the members of the BBWAA have already proven just how far they’ve come, and today’s vote shouldn’t change our perspective all that much. The award will be based on the ballots of just 28 individuals, and with a weighted points system that gives as much credit for one first place vote as a second and a third place vote combined, it wouldn’t take more than one or two swing voters giving Sabathia a first place vote and leaving Hernandez off the ballot entirely to keep Felix from winning.

Do we really want to judge the progress of the mainstream media based on the decisions of a small handful of people? We cry small sample size whenever these writers try to evaluate a player based on weeks or months of a single season- we should apply the same principle here. The fact that Hernandez is considered the favorite to win the award is a big step forward.

Six years ago, we had a similar race between Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson in the National League, where Johnson was easily superior to Clemens in everything but W-L record (and really, in that case, it was losses, as Clemens only had 18 wins to Johnson’s 16), and Clemens ran away with the award. He got 23 first place votes to Johnson’s eight.

Five years ago, Bartolo Colon won the award in the American League by winning 21 games, despite Johan Santana out-pitching him across the board. Santana was only credited with 16 wins, however, and got just three first place votes. Colon got 17.

Today, we’re not going to see that same kind of discrepancy. If Sabatahia wins the award, it will almost certainly be by a narrow margin. With just a few holdouts, the consensus from writers around the country without votes has been to favor Hernandez. In ESPN’s poll of 74 contributors, 62 voted for Felix. They ran an accompanying video segment where Jayson Stark explained why Hernandez should win, complete with a graphic showing Hernandez’s WPA and WAR.

Regradless of the outcome of the Cy Young Award, the BBWAA has made huge strides in the quality of their work over the last few years. We should not judge them solely based on the opinions of a few of their members, but rather on the larger body of work. Sabathia winning the award would not be a rejection of modern thinking – it would just mean that the guys who ended up with ballots this year probably weren’t a representative sample of the larger population.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Bill@TPA
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“We cry small sample size whenever these writers try to evaluate a player based on weeks or months of a single season – we should apply the same principle here.”

This is a great point.

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