David Price was good. Justin Verlander was better.
Price got just four more total points than Verlander. The narrow margin makes sense when you consider how similar the two studs' years truly were, but Verlander was slightly above Price across the board.
Let's start with the basics.
Price had more wins (20 to 17) and a slightly better ERA (2.56 to 2.64) than Verlander, but in this modern statistical world, those are the two stats that are increasingly losing precedence.
If the former Vanderbilt star won because of his win and ERA advantage, the voters did it wrong.
Pitchers essentially have no control over their wins and losses, so if you're truly looking for the best individual pitcher, you need to ignore their record.
Who should have won Cy Young?
You can't throw ERA out, but a better judge of a pitcher's ability to limit runs all by himself is FIP, which stands for fielding independent pitching. According to Fangraphs, Verlander's FIP was just better than Price's (2.94 to 3.05).
It only gets better for Verlander.
He pitched more innings (238.1 to 211.0) and by a significant margin. He struck out batters at a better rate (9.03 K/9 to 8.74). He walked less (2.27 BB/9 to 2.52). He had a lower WHIP (1.06 to 1.10). Hitters had a lower average against him (.215 to .224).
Again the differences across the board are minuscule, but often than not, they are minuscule advantages for the Tigers star.
A common argument against Verlander is that he got to coast through the AL Central while Price had to suffer through the AL East all season.
Fangraphs' Dave Cameron put a pretty clear end to that argument:
The Yankees can hit, but the rest of the AL East was no better offensively than the AL Central this year. Price didn’t face legions of match-ups against tough divisional opponents – he faced one tough match-up in the five instances he was lined up against the Yankees.
Overall, the average OPS of opponents who hit against Price this year was .763. Against Verlander, it was .758. It’s not inconsequential, but it’s a narrow gap that doesn’t move the needle much at all. If we were talking about Jarrod Parker, who continually matched up against Texas and Anaheim and faced batters with an average .771 OPS, this would be a bigger factor, but this wasn’t a normal offensive year for the AL East, and we can’t give Price too big of a boost because of the division he plays in.
I'm not going to sit here and claim that Verlander blows Price out of the water or that this is the worst travesty since the beginning of travesties.
Both players were absolutely tremendous this season, but Verlander was 1 and Price was 1A.