The 2010 Cy Young conversation had been a fascinating debate. It had raised questions about how to determine if a pitcher is successful, and the value of certain statistics.
But, unlike other years, the 2010 debate has recently become quite a silly argument as the season comes to a close.
The main discussion has been between CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez. David Price and Francisco Liriano are also in the discussion, but for some reason have not been given nearly as much attention as the other two.
If we were to do a raw breakdown of earned run average, from smallest to largest, the four candidates would come out in this order: Hernandez, Price, Sabathia, Liriano.
Already, you see how ridiculous the debate has become. At this point, Sabathia is as close to the front-runner as you can be, but there are two people who are already leading him in one of the most important statistics, ERA.
But clearly ERA is not the only statistic.
You can argue for hours about which pitcher is most deserving of the award. You can examine statistics, game-by-game stats, or simply recall dominating starts throughout the season. Nonetheless, we need to guard against Sabathia winning the award and teach people that being on a good team does not make you a better pitcher.
For arguments sake, let’s examine the popular Hernandez vs. Sabathia battle. If you look across all the major statistics (ERA, W-L record, IP, SO, BB, H and HR) Sabathia only outdoes Hernandez in the W-L department. If you ask me, that is completely insignificant.
Of all the stats we looked at, W-L records are the least representative of a pitchers ability. Why? Because a pitcher can pitch the best game of his life and still lose the game. It all depends on how good your team's offense is (a factor you do not contribute to as a pitcher in the AL) and the pitcher you are opposing.
Clearly Sabathia is the beneficiary of the better offense. The Yankees have scored the most runs in the Majors, the Mariners have scored the least. The Yankees have the best record in the Majors, the Mariners have the second worst.
To further express these lopsided numbers, consider run support. In games Hernandez has started, his team has scored 3.16 runs/game on average. On the other hand, Sabathia enjoys 5.99 runs/game.
Clearly Sabathia is going to win more games. His team scores more runs for him, his team has a better bullpen to hold leads, and his team is far superior in every possible aspect of the game.
Since 1920, 34,741 pitchers have thrown a quality start (six or more innings pitched and three runs or less) and lost the game. Wins for a pitcher are influenced by many outside factors, and thus should not be considered for the Cy Young award.
All in all, I would hate to see Felix Hernandez—the league leader in ERA, strikeouts, and innings pitched—be stripped of an award he clearly deserves simply because he is on a bad team. Even if you consider Wins, Hernandez outdoes Sabathia in nearly every pitching category.
Let’s stop associating bad teams with bad players. After all, Cy Young was a great pitcher, but The Cleveland Spiders only made it to the playoffs once.
UPDATE There is a common counter-argument that Hernandez has the benefit of pitching in low-pressure (low leverage) situations, while Sabathia is always under pressure (high leverage). If we level the playing field and just look at these two players stats under high leverage (high pressure) situations, Hernandez is still better. He has a .204 BAA while Sabathia has a .246 BAA. Hernandez also has a better SO/BB ratio of 4.50, opposed to Sabathia's 4.29.
It is also a misconception that Hernandez pitches under less pressure. Hernandez's average leverage index is 0.99, while Sabathia's is 0.94.