23 September 2003

CYA, Wouldn't Wanna BYA...

It feels a little disingenuous writing a column about the American League Cy Young candidates now, since the front-runner for the award a month ago, Esteban Loaiza, has gone 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA in his last four starts and essentially pulled the trigger for his White Sox teammates as they shot themselves in the collective foot in the AL Central race. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Loaiza’s primary competition, Roy Halladay, rattled off four consecutive complete games, two of them shutouts (including a 10-inning gem!), and allowed only one earned run in those 37 innings. He leads the AL in starts (35), innings pitched (257), K/W ratio (6.03) and wins (21), is 2nd in the AL in complete games (8), walks/9 IP, and strikeouts (195), 3rd in baserunners/IP (1.07) and tied for 6th in ERA (3.22) with Barry Zito.

As I mentioned, it’s a little late to be writing a “debate” column about this “race” as most experts have likely made up their minds in favor of Halladay at this point. But let it be said that I was supporting Halladay three weeks ago, when he and Loaiza were both 19-6, and Loaiza’s ERA edge was 2.60 to 3.42. ERA is probably the most significant means of measuring a pitcher’s effectiveness, but it’s not the only means. When you consider that ERA titles have been won by the immortal likes of Joe Magrane, Allan Anderson and Atlee Hammaker, it doesn't seem quite so important. Hell, Steve Ontiveros once won an ERA title, but there weren’t many folks picketing outside the offices of their favorite BBWAA members when the AL Cy Young award was bestowed upon David Cone.

The major factor that Halladay has going for him is quantity. He’s got more wins (as antiquated and potentially useless a stat as it may be) than anyone else in MLB, and has almost 20 more innings than his closest AL competitor, Tim Hudson. His eight complete games trail only Mark Mulder’s nine, who sadly had his season cut short by a hip injury last month. In an age when pitchers rarely complete what they start, when Roger Clemens won the first ever Cy Young Award for a starter without a complete game to his credit (2001), it’s refreshing to see a pitcher go the distance at least a few times.

I understand, in terms of actual wins and losses, that run support has a lot to do with a starter's record. I'll be the first to tell you that Loaiza has lost or gotten no decision for six Quality Starts (6+ IP, 3- ER) this year, while Halladay has had only four such experiences. Halladay's run support, over 6 runs/game, has been very good, 6th in the AL, but Loaiza's is over 5 runs/game as well, thanks to playing in front of Chicago's (until recently) great offense.

Ironically, some people will tell you,

"For the Cy Young award, I don't factor in a team's performance, because I see it as a best pitcher or pitcher-of-the-year award."

...immediately after telling you that the first thing they consider is the number of Wins a starter has. Which is a lot like a movie critic saying that he only considers individual performances, right after he tells you that he thinks that Keanu Reeves ought to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Matrix Resuscitated.

So Wins can't be the only metric, nor should it even be the first. The main problem with only looking at ERA, or even Support-Neutral Wins and Losses, as Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan pointed out here, is that the pitchers don’t all face the same teams, thanks to the newly unbalanced schedule. The fact that Loaiza has won four games in six starts, with a Bob-Gibson-esque 1.21 ERA against the woeful Tigers (helps to blow up his record’s appearance. Overall, Halladay’s average opponents have hit to the tune of .265 BA/.336 OBP/.430 SLG/.766 OPS, which is in the Tino Matrinez, Wes Helms, Randy Winn, Craig Biggio, Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter Neighborhood. Loaiza’s opponents have hit only .261/.327/.411/.738, which is akin to Juan Encarnacion, Eric Young, Casey Blake, and Adam Kennedy.

Clearly a notable drop in quality. Sheehan described the difference as being worth less than ten runs over the course of a season, but then he dismisses its influence out of hand. Actually, if you look at the difference in average batter quality, it works out to about 5 runs/450 outs, which doesn't sound like much for a batter, because it's not. But Halladay’s 257 innings pitched yielded 771 outs, which extrapolates the difference between (roughly) Mike Cameron and Casey Blake to about 8.5 runs over the course of Halladay's season. If you take away eight earned runs from his season total, do you know what his ERA becomes?


Which suddenly is not so different from Loaiza’s 2.92, trailing only Hudson (2.74) and Pedro (2.25, but in only 183 innings). Heck, even if you only take off seven runs, it’s still 2.97, and I’d say that’s more than fair given the difference in the qualities of the batters these two have faced.

And now, when you’re looking at two pitchers who allow earned runs at almost exactly the same rate but one of them has forty more innings to his credit, which one do you say was better? Hallady becomes the clear winner.

Tim Hudson probably has a better case for the Award than Loaiza does, if you consider how well he's pitched and not how well the team's hitting and defense have done on his behalf. But Hudson won't get much support from the writers, with his mere 15 wins, so it comes down to Loaiza and Halladay.

I'll take Roy.

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