The Cy Young award will be announced tomorrow evening, and the American League winner will come from a short list that consists of Tribe pitcher Corey Kluber, Seattle Mariner Felix Hernandez, and Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. All three have very impressive statistics; this may be one of the few years where I think all three finalists are fairly evenly matched. If any of these three win, I don’t think there will be a whole lot of “Pitcher X was robbed” since they are all worthy choices. So who is likely to come out a little bit ahead? I’m going to look at the statistics for all three pitchers, but it should be noted that the BBWAA writers that vote on these awards don’t always go with the player with the statistical advantage. There can be odd (and even bizarre) reasons for their votes – as fans often see in post-vote columns written by the voters.
While Chris Sale’s numbers are on par with Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez, the fact that he pitched 60 fewer innings due to injury is something that I think will ultimately eliminate him. If there were no other suitable competitors, one could look past the significantly fewer innings. With two additional equal competitors with almost identical innings, this award will end up going to Kluber or Hernandez. Kluber has the edge when you look at strikeouts, and his K/9 ratio. Hernandez also has a very slight advantage when it comes to walk ratio, and a better ERA, WHIP, and hits/9 ratio.
If you stop there, it looks like Hernandez has the edge over Kluber. However, that means ignoring the last two stats, which I think are fairly important in the 2014 race for Cy Young. The big one is FIP – which stands for Fielding Independent Pitching. That means that is the pitcher’s likely ERA when you remove the impact of your defensive players. Kluber’s FIP is so much better than his ERA, and so much better than Hernandez’s and Sale’s FIP, I think it shows the major impact that the poor Indians defense had on some of Kluber’s other numbers. (For more on the Indians terrible 2014 defense, read this and this). All it takes is some sloppy defense that doesn’t get scored as an official error by the official scorer, and Kluber’s ERA jumps. You saw this in a big way after the Labor Day matchup against the Detroit Tigers. Mike Aviles’ misplay in right field is changed from an error to a hit, and Kluber suddenly has three additional earned runs added to his total. Felix Hernandez had an official scoring decision happen in his favor at the same time, as he had four earned runs removed from his record at the end of the season thanks to a scoring change. Kluber also had the edge on Hernandez when it came to WAR.
I think if voters pay attention to the big picture, and the fact that Kluber was burned by some extraordinarily poor defense and some scoring decisions that went against him, he should have the edge when it comes to winning the Cy Young. However, I also have seen enough from the BBWAA over the years to know that many of the voters will likely never look much beyond that ERA total and the aura of “King Felix” when casting their vote. So don’t be surprised when Hernandez is likely announced as the winner tomorrow evening; even though Kluber probably deserves the win.