2006 Awards: NL Cy Young

By | October 04, 2006

[UPDATE: The votes are in, and the winner is Brandon Webb. I have no complaints about that choice.]

Now that the regular season is over, it is safe to make my picks for all the awards, since they don’t take postseason play into account. I figured I’d start with the hardest one to pick: National League Cy Young Award.

Why is it the hardest to pick? Because no one had an exceptionally great season. Lots of pitchers had good seasons, but there’s not a pitcher in the league whose performance would merit a top-5 Cy Young finish in a regular season. (Here’s an interesting note: before this year, no one had ever led the league in wins in a full season with anything less than 18; this year, six guys were tied for the lead with 16. I don’t believe that wins tell the whole story, but this stat is still pretty telling. And if Roy Oswalt hadn’t thrown seven shutout innings in his last start, he would have become only the second pitcher since before World War II to lead the league with an ERA over 3.00.) So let’s see what we can figure out.

First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way: even though no starters had great seasons, the award should not go to a reliever, because no relievers had great seasons, either. Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman both get mentioned quite a bit, but neither of them is deserving. Each man blew five saves, and neither even had a career year. They are the best relievers the NL had to offer this year, but neither is even remotely worthy of the Cy Young Award.

So let’s look at the starters. As I detailed in last year’s thoughts on this topic, I think wins and losses are meaningless statistics when it comes to determining the quality of a pitcher. The same pitcher could win 20 games for the Yankees and lose 20 games for the Devil Rays, without doing anything differently. If the purpose of the Cy Young Award really is to find the best pitcher, and not the pitcher who played for the best team, then it is essential that we throw win/loss out the window immediately.

The two statistics I look at first are ERA and AWL, or Adjusted Win/Loss, which is a statistic I made up. Simply put, AWL looks at each game a pitcher pitched and gives the pitcher a win or a loss based on his game ERA compared to the league average runs-per-game. For example, the league average RPG this season was 4.86, so any game that a pitcher’s ERA is under 4.86 for that game, he gets an Adjusted Win. As I noted last year, this is not a perfect stat, because a pitcher with an ERA of 4.70 is in no way deserving of the Cy Young, but he could have a perfect AWL. But despite its shortcomings, this stat overcomes the advantages and disadvantages provided by a team’s offense and shows how often the pitcher put his team in a position where it should have been able to win. (The reason I also look at ERA is to avoid anyone who might have a great AWL but a mediocre ERA, because while he may have pitched well enough to win, he isn’t a deserving Cy Young candidate.)

So let’s take a look at the five starting pitchers with the best ERAs in the league, then take a look at their AWL records.

Roy Oswalt 2.98 15-8 26-7
Chris Carpenter 3.09 15-8 20-12
Brandon Webb 3.10 16-8 24-9
Bronson Arroyo 3.29 14-11 23-12
Carlos Zambrano 3.41 16-7 23-10

So Oswalt and Webb have the two best AWLs, and they are right at the top in ERA, too. Carpenter gets ruled out based on having the worst AWL of the five, even though his ERA was slightly better than Webb’s and not much worse than Oswalt’s. Arroyo and Zambrano both would have needed remarkable AWLs to make up for the large ERA gap, and that just didn’t happen.

So Roy Oswalt or Brandon Webb? Their other stats are mostly pretty similar, as far as strikeouts and innings and whatnot. Webb had three shutouts and five complete games, compared to zero and two for Oswalt, and Webb had a somewhat-significantly better OPS-Against (.650 to .702). Webb also averaged over 7.1 innings per start, while Oswalt was down just below 6.9. So Oswalt is slightly better in the two categories I deem most important, but Webb is slightly better in a few categories that I consider to be less important but not worthless.

I think I have to give the edge to Oswalt, but I would have absolutely no arguments with someone voting for Webb. Heck, if I were writing this on a different day, I might vote for Webb myself.

My top five:
1. Roy Oswalt
2. Brandon Webb
3. Chris Carpenter
4. Billy Wagner
5. Trevor Hoffman

My predictions for actual top five:
1. Chris Carpenter
2. Trevor Hoffman
3. Brandon Webb
4. Billy Wagner
5. Roy Oswalt

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