Does Corey Kluber deserve the Cy Young Award?

Corey Kluber Cy Young

You know what’s fun? Arguing. And, there’s nothing that brings us together for a good ole fashion argument like a meaningless regular season award. If it weren’t for things like the Cy Young Award and MVP, we may have never been able to have been blessed with the scorching hot takes from the likes of Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. They give us something to talk about. It’s good water cooler talk, ya know? “Hey, Mike, who do you think should win the MVP?” “Mike Trout.” “Are you serious? Are you one of those math nerds? David Ortiz or die!!!”

See, meaningless awards are how friendships are started and how Mike ends up with the reputation around the office of being the guy who took his cousin to prom. It’s fun.

I want you to be able to pick on guys like Mike, so I’m going to discuss the American League Cy Young Award race. More specifically, about where Cleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber stands in his chances to take home his second piece of that hardware.

Cy Young Predictor

For starters, let’s take a look at Kluber’s competition. ESPN has a tool called “Cy Young Predictor.” They use this whole fancy formula where they use numbers and even letters to create a score that gives us a good idea of who might win the award for the league’s best pitcher. The method, which was created by Bill James and Rob Neyer, takes a pitcher’s stats from the current season and results from previous winners to give us an idea of how the voters might vote. If you’re interested in what the actual equation is, you can check it out at ESPN

The method itself is decent. It has predicted the winner nine of the last 14 seasons. Remember, the formula doesn’t necessarily show us who the best pitcher is statistically, it shows us how the voters are most likely to vote. Unfortunately, an award isn’t always given to the best player or pitcher because baseball writers are people who get to vote their whims. Their opinion is absolutely no more valuable or better than yours or mine, they just get paid to give it. This is why Mike Trout only has one MVP, rather than four.

Right now, here are the current standings in the Cy Young Predictor:

Rick Porcello                 BOS      189.5
Corey Kluber                 CLE      158.6
Zach Britton                  BAL      158.2
J.A. Happ                       TOR      152.6
Chris Sale                       CHW     145.0
Francisco Rodriguez    DET       138.3
David Price                    BOS        135.7
Cole Hamels                  TEX         134.3
Sam Dyson                     TEX         133.1
Justin Verlander           DET         127.6

Alright, that’s like 10 dudes. Nobody wants to compare ten guys, that’s way too many. Let’s eliminate some guys. For starters, Sam Dyson and Francisco Rodriguez are going to go. Relievers rarely win and considering they’re both relievers that aren’t named Zach Britton, they’re out. Speaking of Zach Britton, let’s eliminate him too! A reliever hasn’t won the award since Eric Gagne won in 2003 and that was because he wore awesome rec specs and saved about seven million games in a row. Britton could win the award as the guy has given up one run since May 5. One. Again, for emphasis, one. May 5 was so many days ago, man. Being that there is no starter that is running away with the award, maybe this is the year a reliever wins it. History tells us otherwise, so that’s why I am going to cross his name off the list.

Justin Verlander is going to come off next. Felix Hernandez was the lowest ranked pitcher on ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor to win the award when he was ranked seventh back in 2010. Considering that Verlander is 10th, and there are plenty of guys on this list who are better than him, he won’t win. Cole Hamels, who is eighth on the list, and has also been getting absolutely shelled his last four starts, isn’t going to win either.

David Price. Nope. Sorry, bro. Considering that Price’s teammate Rick Porcello is considerably better, he isn’t going to win. Chris Sale is having a great year, but not great enough to make up for the fact that his team isn’t that good. Unfortunately, team success is all too often incorporated into individual awards. Unless you are having a season where you are significantly better than your peers, if you come from a losing team, you won’t win the award. And, for the most part, Sale hasn’t been that much better than any of these other guys.

Final Three

So that leaves us with three: Rick Porcello, AJ Happ, and Corey Kluber. Let’s start doing some statistical comparisons, shall we?

There’s two stats that I always like to checkout first when I look at pitchers, and since this my article, they’re the ones that matter. If you don’t agree, that’s too bad, because you’re wrong.

I like to look at a pitchers FIP (fielding independent pitching) and his strikeouts. Are these two stats necessarily the best or the only ones we should look at? Absolutely not. However, they give me a quick idea of how good that pitcher is.

It is a pitchers job to not allow runs, above all else. FIP has a fancy equation, but it’s really not that complicated. FIP is basically like ERA, but it accounts for the fact that some dudes have crappy defense behind them. So rather than just count runs, it accounts for a pitcher’s three true outcomes: home runs, walks, and strikeouts. This way, guys aren’t being penalized for having a bad defense or having the BAbip gods against them.

Three True Outcomes

Strikeouts give us an idea of how dominant a pitcher is. If you’re missing bats, you aren’t going to give up many runs. A pitcher can’t control what happens once the ball leaves the bat. A few inches could be the difference between an inning ending double play or an RBI single. A pitcher gets a batter to hit a ground ball, but whether that ground ball goes right to the shortstop or between him and the third baseman is just chance. That’s why we have BAbip. If for some reason you don’t trust BAbip, just look at Tyler Naquin’s BAbip the last month or two. But, if you can’t hit the ball, that ground ball is irrelevant, because you just struck out.  Guys who pitch to contact usually are not as successful has strike out pitchers. It’s hard to be consistently successful if it’s your game plan to let the batter hit the ball. (See: Tomlin, Josh – Cleveland Indians)

If we talk strikeouts, we have to talk walks, right? If you’ve ever pitched, you probably heard the life-changing advice from your teammates around the diamond and your coach from the dugout of “just throw strikes, kid.” I hated when I pitched and would repeatedly just throw the ball in the dirt. Only when my shortstop would remind me to throw strikes would I snap out of it and immediately strike everyone out.

The average MLB pitcher this year is walking 3.13 batters per nine innings. Porcello is well under that mark with a 1.24 BB/9. Kluber and Happ are both better than league average as well with BB/9 of 2.37 and 2.71, respectively.

Since we already talked strikeouts and walks, we may as well finish that whole “three true outcomes” thing and talk about home runs. Kluber has the slightest lead over Porcello in HR/9. Kluber gives up just .92 home runs per nine innings, which is just a hair better than Porcello’s .94.  Happ is a little further behind at 1.12, which is still better than the league average of 1.18.((

I want to side track real quick. In 2014, the average HR/9 was .86. As noted above, it’s 1.18 this year. What on Earth did they do to the ball this year? Are Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds now in charge of manufacturing bats and balls? Your dad probably swears that it’s because it was so hot this summer, but then he will also tell you that global warming is a myth, so something is up! Wake up, sheeple! Okay, anyway… ))

FIP and other important stuff

Kluber is the leader of this trio in FIP. Kluber’s FIP is an American League best 3.25. Porcello checks in at number two in the group with a 3.44 FIP, while Happ rounds it out with a 4.02 FIP. Kluber is also leading the charge in K’s with 9.45 per nine innings, which is well above the league average of 8.08 K/9. Happ is second with 7.76 K/9 with Porcello just behind him at 7.43.

Even if FIP is arguably (it is) a better tool to measure a pitcher’s success than ERA, we still have to talk ERA. All three of these pitchers have solid ERA’s, with Porcello leading the way with a 3.08 earned run average. Kluber is not far behind at 3.12 and Happ is just behind him at 3.27. These ERA’s are tight enough that one bad start or one great start from either guy could flip their positions amongst each other all over the place.

If you’re giving up runs, it must mean that someone got on base. Maybe the pitcher walked the guy. Maybe he gave up a hit. Luckily, we have walks and hits per innings pitched, better known as WHIP, to help us see how successful a pitcher is at keeping guys off base. While WHIP is a very popular and useful stat, there is no stat called nae-nae…yet. That was a pop culture reference. If you didn’t get it, chances are you hang out with Mike. You’re probably his cousin, actually. I hope you enjoyed prom with him. Anyway, Porcello has a ridiculous WHIP of 0.98. Kluber is second to Porcello at 1.04 and Happ is behind him at 1.16.

Corey Kluber is holding opposing batters to just a .210 batting average. While Adam Dunn may salivate at the thought of hitting 10 whole points above .200, it is considerably better than the league average of .252. Porcello and Happ are well behind Kluber in this category with a BAA of .223 and .231. While Kluber is stifling opposing hitters, it isn’t all due to help from the BAbip gods. Porcello has the lowest BAbip with just .260, while Kluber has a .265 and Happ a .268. Kluber’s .265 BAbip is his luckiest season yet, though. When he won the Cy Young back in 2014, his BAbip was .316, which was way higher than the league average of .295. Can you imagine being that unlucky? Yeah me neither.

Who will win?

You’ve probably noticed a common theme here. If you haven’t noticed, I’m here for you. AJ Happ keeps finishing in third in things. So, unless writers come together and vote entirely off of Canadian oppression in the MLB, Happ probably isn’t going to win a Cy this year. No big deal, JA, it’s not like you just let down an entire country or anything. Shake it off, kid. Just throw strikes.

So, it’s basically a two man race between Porcello and Kluber. Depending on what you value, it could really go either way. If you value FIP and strikeouts, Kluber is your guy. If you’re more traditional and like ERA and wins, then I guess Porcello is your guy.

Rick Porcello has 21 wins. He could potentially finish with 23. Kluber has just 17 and probably won’t reach that magic number of 20. If you have even the slightest bit of intelligence, or maybe you talk to Mike at the water cooler, you know that the pitcher win is worthless, but it probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And unfortunately for Kluber, there are writers, some who cover his team, who still value the pitcher win. “Good pitchers find ways to win games.” That sentence is uttered by old men all the time, and it actually translates to “a good pitcher is only as good as his offense.” If that seems stupid, it’s because it is.

I could talk about how pointless the pitcher win is, but it’s not going to get us or Kluber anywhere right now. The pitcher with the most wins doesn’t always win the Cy Young Award. In fact, when Felix Hernandez won in 2010, he went 13-12. So there’s still some hope for Kluber, but if Porcello ends up with 23 wins, he’s going to be tough to beat out for the award.

Corey Kluber deserves the award. When you consider that he’s tougher to hit, strikes more guys out, and is equally as hard to score off of, and then add that to how dominant he’s been since July, you have to put him in the front for the award. You also have to consider the fact that Corey Kluber is on the Cleveland Indians and that is so much cooler than being on the Boston Red Sox. That isn’t even hometown bias, it’s just fact. Ask Mike, there’s probably a stat about it.

But if I’m a betting man, I’m betting that Porcello wins the award. You can make a strong case, and if you sell it well, you can maybe convince me that he should win instead of Kluber, but probably not.

So, with all that said, Zach Britton will probably end up winning the award, rendering all of our debates useless. Because baseball.