The Justin Verlander Issue

In a stunning development, the results of a BBWAA awards vote have generated massive controversy in the baseball world. Who could have seen that coming? A shocker to be sure!

Despite failing to receive the most first-place votes, Rick Porcello has edged out Justin Verlander to win the American League Cy Young Award. The full results of the balloting can be found here. Porcello beat Verlander by just five points, 137 to 132. That’s as tight a race as you’re going to see. It was largely due to the fact that while Verlander got 14 of the 30 possible first-place votes, Porcello received 18 second-place votes, and Verlander was left entirely off of two ballots.

That’s right. Two voters, both of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Association, did not think that Verlander was a top-five pitcher in the AL. Verlander tied Porcello for the AL lead in WAR among qualifying pitchers, bested him in DRA, strikeout rate, and WHIP,  and threw a few more innings than him. Verlander may not have necessarily been the man who totally deserved the top slot (Zach Britton likely would have been my guy, but that’s a whole other can of worms), but he absolutely would have been on my ballot, and FanGraphs said he was basically as good as Porcello was. Porcello appeared on all 30 ballots. Verlander lost largely because he wasn’t on those two ballots. That prompted Kate Upton, his fiancée, to fire off the tweet heard ’round the world, and here we are. There was also this interesting graphic presented by Justin’s little brother Ben.

So here we are. Shall we blame this mess on our ancient enemy Pitcher Wins, or perhaps on the Electoral College? Porcello went a gaudy 22-4 for the division-winning Red Sox. That’s a sexy stat that plays with the more traditionalist members of the BBWAA. And indeed, Porcello was given the first slot by both the Tampa Bay voters. Porcello may have ridden those 22 wins to a Cy Young title. But Fred Gooddall, one half of the Batman and Robin of snubbing Verlander, also saw fit to give J.A. Happ’s 20 wins his third-place vote. Aaron Sanchez, he of the AL ERA title, was given the fifth spot. Britton took the fourth-place spot on Goodall’s ballot. Bill Chastain, the other Tampa voter, included Masahiro Tanaka on his ballot in the fifth-place spot, in addition to including the usual suspects.

The Blue Jays starters were given nods over Verlander, seemingly, because of their superiority in Wins and ERA. Yet Verlander was so blatantly better than either Happ or Sanchez on an overall scale. The younger Verlander’s well-organized chart shows this, as does any extended viewing of their work from the past year. This is not to take away from what Happ and Sanchez did for Toronto. Both were valuable members of a playoff team.

This is also not to take away from Porcello, who had a fine year in his own right. He did post 5.2 WAR, led the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio, recorded a lower FIP than Verlander, and managed not to get utterly trounced while playing half his games at Fenway Park, and pitching in a division that also contains Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium and Rogers Centre. That’s worthy of recognition.

And indeed, if Verlander was given, say Goodall’s third-place vote instead of Happ, and Chastain’s fifth-place vote instead of Tanaka, he still would have only had 136 points, and still would have lost to Porcello by a single point. We’re not here to find a way for Verlander to win. We can’t go through the ballot and ponder what would have happened if voters in Florida had done things differently, if a few different ballots had been submitted differently. Verlander did get the most first-place mentions. He won the popular vote, so to speak.

Ken Rosenthal provided some insight in his column on the matter. He notes that, while Chastain may have submitted his ballot before the season was over and Goodall covers more than baseball for the Associated Press (his last submission on the Rays prior to the season’s end came in August), the Tampa Bay chapter can’t necessarily afford to be stingy with who it admits. Tampa is an American League city, and they get to vote on this award.

What’s the solution here? For as silly as their omission Verlander may seem, Chastain and Goodall get to vote for who they want. That’s how all this works. It’s their right as members of the BBWAA. The writers themselves, however, could certainly exercise better methodology in their decision-making. And perhaps had different writers been selected in different chapters to vote, the results would could have looked different. Who knows? Merely 30 ballots isn’t a massive sample.

As the older arm of the Association ages out and newer members are admitted, it’s more than likely that the awards voting will begin to reflect a more accurate knowledge of advanced statistics and deeper understanding of player performance. Until that time comes, though, this is just one of those occasions on which we’ll have to shake our heads and move on. Porcello had a damn good year. Verlander was almost certainly better — and, if not better, at least worthy of a place on every ballot. The choice may not be as controversial in our neck of the woods if Porcello hadn’t had such a prodigious level of run support and had finished with, say, 17 wins instead of 22.

But then again, he may not have won if that were the case. Such is life. Arbitrary awards aren’t the end of the world anyways.

The end of the world is when Mike Trout doesn’t win MVP tonight. Enjoy your day!

Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

As long as the same voters don’t someday use Verlander having just one Cy Young as a reason to elevate someone else over him for the HOF, this doesn’t matter. And at least we got the tweet heard round the world out of it. Congrats to Ricky.

7 years ago

He lost by 5 pts yesterday and 4 pts in 2012. The two closest Cy Young finishes since voters were allowed to vote for more than 1 pitcher

7 years ago
Reply to  brad.vargas

(Giant sigh) Yep.

7 years ago

You should have seen this coming, Usul.

7 years ago
Reply to  olethros

There was an ion cloud around Tampa.

7 years ago

No doubt. I still think Alan Trammell didn’t make the HOF partly due to the snub in favor of George Bell in 1987.