A.L. Cy Young: Wrong process, right answer

Otto Greule Jr

Before I wade into the American League Cy Young candidates -- which is an entirely academic exercise, by the way, since we all know who's going to win -- might we first agree that this was a bizarrely lousy season for American League East starting pitchers, generally speaking? Sometimes, when evaluating Cy Young candidates, a useful tiebreaker is something like, "Yeah, but he pitched so many games against those tough A.L. East teams!"

We don't have to worry about the divisions this time, because there's not a single worthy Cy Young candidate in the American League East. Baseball-Reference.com's Wins Above Replacement for A.L. starters differ quite a bit from FanGraphs' -- more on that in a minute -- but they agree on one thing: There weren't any great starters in the East.

According to B-R.com's list, the East's best starter was the league's 10th best; according to FanGraphs', the East's best starter was the league's 10th best. They were different guys. But we're now free to ignore an entire division. And it's not the division we're usually ignoring.

Now, back to those differing Wins+, and the most notable example: Hisashi Iwakuma. Last spring, the good people who run B-R.com and the good people who run FanGraphs got together to standardize some of the methods used to figure Wins+ ... and yet somehow Iwakuma comes in first on B-R.com's list, and 12th on FanGraphs'.

The reason is pretty obvious: FanGraphs doesn't give Iwakuma any credit for his .252 batting average allowed on balls in play (BABiP), and B-R.com does. FanGraphs is process-based, and B-R.com is results-based. Relatively speaking, anyway.

Well, there's one more thing: I suspect that B-R.com's method doesn't weigh park effects as heavily as FanGraphs' does. That could make a huge difference here, as Safeco Field, even with the left-field fence pulled in this year, still seems to have been a mild pitcher's park, while (for example) Detroit's Comerica Park played like a fairly extreme hitter's park.

Brian Kenny's been singing Iwakuma's praises as loudly and often as he can. For Brian, the bottom line has been runs allowed, and Iwakuma's runs allowed was outstanding. I like to go a little deeper on this one, though. I'm not saying BABiP is everything, but doesn't luck have to come into the equation somewhere? And what about defense? Scherzer's a big strikeout guy, which is a good thing because the Tigers' defense was pretty terrible this season. Not that the Mariners' defense was good. It wasn't. But the Tigers' was probably significantly worse.

Iwakuma was really good this year. The Mariners deserve a great deal of credit for signing him. But I think if your favorite Cy Young candidate comes in 10th on a list of the best pitchers in the league, you bear a heavy burden of proof. And I haven't seen anyone meet that burden yet.

I think the best pitcher in the American League might actually have been Anibal Sanchez, except he pitched only 182 innings. Give him another 20 innings and he's my guy. But he doesn't have them, so he's not. Iwakuma's teammate Felix Hernandez also pitched brilliantly, and his statistics are quite similar to Scherzer's ... but again, there are the ballparks and the fielders, with both considerations in Scherzer's favor.

Yes, I know a lot of voters looked at Scherzer's 21-3 record and automatically voted for him. Which is a shame. But sometimes the wrong process still somehow leads to the right answer. This is one of those times.

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