Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kluber Robs King Felix

Hernandez deserved to win his second Cy Young, but didn't (RotoScout)
The races for the American League and National League Cy Young couldn't have been any different.

In the National League, Clayton Kershaw was the heavy favorite and won easily, securing his third Cy Young in four years (and, let's be honest, he deserved the 2012 award over R.A. Dickey too). It was Kershaw and everyone else, meaning a vote for Johnny Cueto or Adam Wainwright, while defensible, was clearly misguided.

The American League's top two candidates were virtually inseparable. They both had dominant seasons and compelling reasons, but in the end it came down to splitting hairs. In what was destined to be a photo finish, Corey Kluber beat out Felix Hernandez. Kluber nabbed 17 of the 30 first place votes and 169 points, edging out the 13 and 159 compiled by King Felix. Chris Sale finished a distant third with 78 points.

Looking at Hernandez's stats, it's hard to see how he didn't win. He had the league's lowest ERA, WHIP, and hit rate while placing second in pitcher bWAR (to Kluber), innings pitched (to David Price), ERA+ (to Sale), and FIP (to Kluber). He also led in most of the advanced stats like adjusted pitching runs and wins, base-out runs and wins saved, and situational wins saved. Opponents batted just .200/.243/.303 (.244 wOBA) against him, and his average GameScore was 65. For most of the summer, he was the clear favorite as he strung together an MLB-record 16 straight starts with at least seven innings pitched and two earned runs allowed or fewer.

But he slipped just a bit over the final six weeks (2.75 ERA), opening the door for Kluber, who came on like a freight train down the stretch. His first half was hardly Cy-worthy (3.01 ERA), but after the All-Star Break he had a 1.73 ERA over his final 104 innings to lower his final ERA to 2.44. He also struck out 39 batters over his final three starts to give him a whopping 269 K's on the season, second only to Price and 21 more than Hernandez. He also finished in a three-way tie for the league lead in wins with 18 (same as Max Scherzer and Jered Weaver) while pacing the circuit in pitching bWAR (7.4), and FIP (2.35).

While Kluber had an outstanding season, I believe the hardware belongs to King Felix. For one, Kluber wasn't even Cy Young-caliber for most of the first half, while Hernandez was Cy Young worthy from start to finish. Kluber had that great finishing kick, but I think Hernandez deserves credit for being more consistent. Additionally Kluber's average GameScore (63) was a hair lower than Hernandez's, revealing that he was slightly less dominant on a per-start basis. Batters also had more success against him, hitting .233/.279/.345 (.277 wOBA) when he was on the bump--a 78 point difference between him and Hernandez. That's pretty sizable, especially considering Kluber faced slightly weaker hitting talent.

It's true that Hernandez did pitch in a more favorable environment with a better defense behind him, but the park is accounted for in Adjusted ERA+, which has him considerably ahead of Kluber 170 to 152. Furthermore, Safeco doesn't help Hernandez as much as other pitchers because of his ability to induce ground balls. As for the defense, well, it's not like Hernandez was pitching to contact. He still struck out 248 batter's, for heaven's sake! Tony Blengino over at FanGraphs took all these factors into account and calculated Hernandez's true ERA to be 2.29, a touch better than Kluber's 2.45.

All in all, I like Hernandez's case a little better than Kluber's. I'm not sure what swayed the voters over to the latter's side: I hope it was the FIP and gaudy strikeout rates but I suspect the monster second half and shinier win total played a role as well. The voters had to make a really tough choice, so I'm not surprised they got it wrong (look no further than their inability to elect Mike Trout MVP before this year). Kluber was great, but Hernandez was a tad better and deserved to win by the slimmest of margins.

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