An important and long overdue message was sent to the baseball world the other day when Felix Hernandez, a 13-game winner, was announced as the winner of the 2010 Cy Young award over CC Sabathia, a 21-game winner.
The message was unequivocal. Twenty-one of the 28 voters believed the 24 year old should win the award, and for a good reason. Hernandez had the lowest ERA, the most innings pitched, the least amount of hits per nine innings and the most games started in the league. He also had more strikeouts and less walks than Sabathia.
Besides the fact that this was the right decision, this vote was a massive step towards the demise of a statistic that was once regarded as the most important method for evaluating a pitcher: the win.
"This confirms the Cy Young is an award not only for the pitcher with the most wins but the most dominant," Hernandez said as he celebrated his first Cy Young award.
Hernandez is the first starting pitcher to win the Cy Young award with 13 wins or less since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. That, alongside the overwhelming majority that voted for Hernandez, suggests people are beginning to uncover the ridiculous effects of considering wins.
The counter argument is simple, and was summed up just the other day by the National League Cy Young award winner, Roy Halladay. “Ultimately, you look at how guys are able to win games,” he said.
I don’t know if Halladay ever learned basic conceptual baseball, but someone should tell him that it is mathematically impossible for a pitcher to win a game on his own. He can pitch scoreless and hitless innings for 350 straight years, but until his team scores a run, he will never, ever win the game.
Now, it is true that a pitcher can severely help his team win a game. If a pitcher pitches a no-hitter, his team is more likely to win than if a pitcher gives up 15 runs. But those statistics are more accurately represented in other independent statistics.
ERA, strikeouts, walks, home runs allowed, etc., are all independent statistics; they are affected solely by the pitcher, and have no connection to his team's offensive performance. In other words, a pitcher can give up 13 earned runs and still win the game (as Eddie Rommel did in 1932), or a pitcher can pitch a perfect game (as Roy Halladay did last year) and be awarded in the same way.
The win reflects absolutely nothing. You can pitch a horrible game or a great game, and it will all be recorded exactly the same when it comes to wins. ERA and other independent statistics, on the other hand, specifically illustrate a pitcher's performance, and are thus a much better gauge of a players ability.
Starting in 2011, people will be able to cite historical evidence as to why wins should not be considered in the Cy Young discussion. “Hernandez won it in 2010,” they will say. “And he didn’t even win 14 games.” They will be right, and the Cy Young award will begin to have meaning.