Felix Hernandez Wins Cy Young Award: Advanced Metrics or Common Sense Wins Out?
The results are in!
Felix Hernandez has won the American League Cy Young Award despite winning just 13 games in the 2010 season.
This is an exciting development regardless of what you think of advanced metrics because when you get down to it, this is not about a triumph of advanced metrics over baseball traditionalists.
It's a triumph of common sense over the absurdity of slavish tendencies toward traditional points of view. It's the death of wins as a meaningful statistic when judging the value of a pitcher.
You don't need FIP, WAR or any other advanced metric to realize Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher in baseball. ERA, WHIP, innings pitched and strikeouts told you that. Just like you didn't need advanced metrics to tell you Zack Greinke was the best pitcher in the American League in 2009 despite only winning 16 games.
Not only did Hernandez win, but he won in a rout. Hernandez received 21 of 28 first place votes.
The "Wins" statistic has dominated the landscape of major league baseball for the better part of the 20th century. Now we know the 21st century is going to feature a new set of rules—a new understanding of what valuable is.
Well, maybe not just yet. The MVP award will still probably be "the best player on a winning team." That's OK. One step at a time.
Did the baseball writers award the Cy Young to the right player?
Hernandez beat out both David Price and CC Sabathia. They had fine seasons in their own right playing for the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees respectively. Their teams' performances helped them post win totals that dwarfed Hernandez'.
But Hernandez was better than both pitchers, even with just 13 wins, which is now the lowest total of wins for a Cy Young winner in a non-interrupted season.
Somewhere Bert Blyleven is cursing himself for not being younger and pitching in a more enlightened era, although hopefully this is the precursor of finally getting one of the best pitchers of that generation into the Hall of Fame.
If Hernandez can win the Cy Young with 13 wins, then maybe Blyleven can make the Hall of Fame with 287 wins.
While this isn't a victory for advanced metrics (many sabermetricians would tell you Cliff Lee deserved the Cy Young), it is a statement on how the one-time subculture of baseball analysis is slowly but surely getting its footing in the mainstream.
That's a good thing as far as it means we are starting to base our decisions more on reasonable statistics than wins. Even if you wanted to argue for Price or Sabathia, there were better arguments to be made than pointing at their win totals.
This is not a call to start worshiping the odd acronyms of advanced metrics. It's a call to accept the fact that wins have always and will always be a team stat and not an accurate gauge of a pitcher's value.
While we're at it, let's recognize that the save is a completely arbitrary stat that tells us absolutely nothing. How else did Wes Littleton get a save in a 30-3 rout?
So congratulations to Felix Hernandez—and congratulations to everybody who has written an article on B/R over the past few months declaring Hernandez' superiority to CC Sabathia this season (there have been many).
Common sense has won out for the second year in a row. Much credit is due to the Baseball Writers' Association of America, an organization that many are critical of for their inane voting.
However, don't get too excited. Derek Jeter still won a Gold Glove. It's just a reminder that we have a long way to go before all baseball awards are actually given to those who deserve them.
Finally, rest in peace, "wins." You had a good run, but I can't say I'm sad to see your reign of silly injustice come to an end.
Next up is saves. You hear that, "saves?" We're coming for you next.
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