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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Baseball Primer’s 2003 N.L. Cy Young Award

Going, Going, Gagne?

Cy Young voting is always interesting in that it brings up the problems with evaluating the contribution of relief pitchers to their teams compared to the contribution of the starters.  How do you evaluate a purely situational pitcher?  Thankfully, I get to sidestep that issue a bit and look at what the Primer contributors think.  Overall, this was probably the closest of the award races.

1st - Mark Prior - Chicago Cubs - 88 points (4 of 8 1st-place votes)

It’s hard to not vote for a pitcher such as Mark Prior - a young strikeout artist in his first full season.  Only turning 23 the last month of the season, Prior is as nearly complete a pitcher as Tom Terrific was more than 3 decades ago.  Finishing 3rd in strikeouts and ERA help, too.  Joe Mauer may be a terrific catcher in the future, but how would the Twins look with a Prior-Santana 1-2 for the rest of the decade?

2nd - Jason Schmidt - San Francisco Giants - 75 points (1 of 8 1st-place votes)

Schmidt led the league in ERA and even playing in an excellent pitchers’ park, had the best park-adjusted ERA in the NL this season.  However, what likely hurt Schmidt in the voting is that his 2003 season is significantly above his prior established level of performance.  Even if he’s destined to return to the solid, but unspectacular pitcher he was before 2003, Schmidt was a workhorse for the Giants, keeping a rotation that featured The Ghost of Voros catching up with Kirk Rueter and Damian Moss afloat through most of the season.

3rd - Eric Gagne - Los Angeles Dodgers -   74 points (3 of 8 1st-place votes)

Gagne just lost out on the runner-up slot by virtue of being as low as 7th in the balloting where Prior’s worse was 5th and Schmidt never below 3rd.  The Gagne that actually knows how to pronounce his name had one of the most dominating closer performances in history, striking out an amazing 137 batters in 82.1 innings with a mere 37 hits.  On one hand, that was only 82.1 innings with the other Cy candidates pitching to more than double the batters than Gagne and the fact that Gagne entered games seeing fewer runners than the Vanuatu Summer Olympic team.  But that’s mitigated by Gagne being given the job of shutting down the opposition in the 9th and doing that every single time.  55 chances, 55 conversions.

4th - Kevin Brown - Los Angeles Dodgers - 51 points

Gagne got the entire Dodger pitching press but Kevin Brown was another primary reason that the Dodgers were able to do as well this season as they did featuring a quasi-Tiger offense.  The 14-9 record will not woo many of the BBWAA voters, but the Primer voters evidently were happy with Brown’s 2.39 ERA in 211 innings, his first healthy season since 2000.

5th - Javier Vazquez - Montreal Expos - 34 points

After the big 4 in the voting, there’s a sizable dropoff to Vazquez and the rest of the field.  Most of the press surrounding Vazquez has been focused on his imminent departure from the Expos, but Vlad’s pitching counterpart as The Best Player You’ve Never Heard of But That Everyone Has Heard of, had his best season to date, putting up a 3.24 ERA in 230.2 innings, for an ERA+ of 153.

The Rest

Livan Hernandez - 32

Hideo Nomo - 19

Russ Ortiz - 19

Kerry Wood - 19

Brandon Webb - 13

John Smoltz - 12

Billy Wagner - 11

Guillermo Mota - 10

Curt Schilling - 6

Carlos Zambrano - 6

Octavio Dotel - 2

Miguel Batista - 1


Dan Szymborski Posted: November 04, 2003 at 05:00 AM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Floyd Thursby Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:54 AM (#613825)
Even if (Schmidt is) destined to return to the solid, but unspectacular pitcher he was before 2003...

I understand the inclination on a statistical level to downgrade Schmidt, but anyone who watched him pitch this year knows he wasn't a sample-size fluke.
   2. Dan Szymborski Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613828)
Personally, I think Schmidt will retain a large chunk of his improvement. You can't deny that there is a chance that he regresses - Jeter looked terrific in '99, but he still fell back to the his lesser brand of excellence the next season.
   3. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613829)
The relevant question about Schmidt is always "how's his arm?" Has anyone heard anything about him since he couldn't go in his last start of the playoffs due to shoulder/arm problems?

If he's healthy, he's a monster. The question is always whether or not the former is true.
   4. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613830)
Damn, I hit the wrong button after writing a comment, let's try again. (How about getting rid of the 'reset form' button, people know how to delete . . .

Anyway, I my vote had everything to do with Prior performance, and nothing to do with prior performance. When voting for in-season awards past performance shouldn't have any impact at all.

Anyway, I downgraded Schmidt a little (from what the raw stats would indicate) because of the park. Low and behold baseball-reference has the 2003 stats up, and Pac Bell played pretty much neutral this year (bad weather in the Northeast maybe had an impact?). I voted Schmidt 3rd, behind Prior and Livan, who pitched 26 more innings at a very high level, in a much more hitter friendly environment.

Looking at it now, Montreal/San Juan was even more hitter friendly than I realized (116 park factor, and that's after adjusting for half the games on the road). Taking the parks into account, a 4.97 ERA in Livan's environment would be the same as 4.27 in Schmidt's or a 4.24 in Prior's. When you throw in the extra IP, if I could vote again, it would be: 1) Livan 2) Schmidt 3) Prior. But really their's an argument for any of the 3, it's as tight a race as I could remember. Gagne was amazing, but 82 innings just isn't enough for him to be considered more valuable than those 3 horses. Even if you give him 1.8x credit for his IP having more leverage, it's just 148 IP, and that's not enough, so I voted him 4th.
   5. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613832)
But that's mitigated by Gagne being given the job of shutting down the opposition in the 9th and doing that every single time.

Well, except that outing on May 12 against the Braves when he came into a 4-4 tie in the ninth and gave up four runs...and the game against the Expos when he entered a scoreless tie in the 9th and gave up a dinger to Vlad Guerrero (but won the game when the Dodgers came back to tie in the bottom half and win in the 10th). Tie games count, too. (Even though Bud tried, though, the All-Star Game doesn't).

But that's a nit. Gagne was outstanding. Not enough to win the CYA, IMO, for the reasons that Joe Dimino stated, but enough to make the ballot.

-- MWE
   6. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613836)
There's something unwholesome about writing your own taglines...
   7. Shredder Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613838)
If someone can't bring themselves to vote Gagne first because of number of innings, why vote for him at all? In my opinion, limiting that top spot to starters is a lot like limiting the top spot in the MVP voting to players on winning teams.

That's not really meant to be a knock on that type of thinking. I'm just saying, if 82 innings isn't enough to consider a guy for the top spot, why is it enough to consider the guy for the 10th spot?
   8. Chris Dial Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613840)
I think it is about total value. In 82 IP you can have 50 runs above average. You just can't get to 75 RAA. So teh top starters get to 70, but the top relievers don't. SO IP is mostly a substitute for total value.

Of course, something should be said for those 82 IP coming in more than 35 games. It's a balance, and Gagne was (about) the fourth "most valuable pitcher" - more valuable than most starters, but not as much as the really outstanding ones. Of course, I think you know this.
   9. Dan Szymborski Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613841)
I don't believe there's anything inconsistent with what I said. If Prior had the previous record of being an injury-prone decent starter, he'd be penalized there, too. He's not getting voted because of his lack of prior record; the lack of a prior record is merely a side effect of being probably the most exciting young pitcher in baseball. Jason Schmidt may be a terrific pitcher for years to come but there just isn't the same excitement as at the prospect of seeing a Hall of Fame talent at the very beginning.
   10. Shredder Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613845)
That I understand, Chris, but what are you voting on, then? Are you voting on the ten best candidates for the awards, or the ten most valuable pitchers? The two arent necessarily the same. Gagne is definitely one of the latters, but if one believes that relievers can't be as valuable as the top starters, than one shouldn't vote for a reliever anywhere on the ballot, assuming they are choosing the ten best candidates for the top spot.
   11. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 05, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613848)
if one believes that relievers can't be as valuable as the top starters, than one shouldn't vote for a reliever anywhere on the ballot, assuming they are choosing the ten best candidates for the top spot.

Relievers may not have as much value as the *top* starters, but they can certainly be more valuable than many of the other starters in the league, and they can certainly be one of the 10 most valuable pitchers in the league without necessarily being *the* most valuable. I think that, in any objective analysis, Gagne was clearly the one of the 10 most valuable pitchers in the league because his 82 innings were both high-leverage and high-quality. But can you *really* justify placing those 82 high-leverage, high-quality innings ahead of the 211 high-quality but lower-leverage innings thrown by Prior and Kevin Brown or the 208 high-quality innings thrown by Schmidt? I think it's hard to justify that. If Gagne had thrown those 82 innings in an environment where the best starters were on the order of, say, Nomo or Kip Wells (who were both very good but not in the Prior/Schmidt class), then I could see an argument for placing him at the top of the ballot. But I think the NL had starters whose numbers were also high-quality and were leveraged over a larger number of innings and hitters, even if you give Gagne what I think is the most credit you can give him for the innings that he did pitch, and for that reason I can't place him at the top of the ballot.

-- MWE
   12. studes Posted: November 06, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613854)
I would have voted Gagne first. If you leverage his innings by 1.8, and you assume the starters have an LI of 1.00, then he leads the league in ERAA by a decent margin (I get 50, compared to 44 for Prior and 43 for Schmidt).

Plus, I do believe there's something to be said for pitching in 77 games. The game is the essential unit in baseball, not innings or outs. Wins and losses are collated on the game level. And Gagne impacted 2 1/2 times as many games as Prior.

I don't know how to quantify this impact -- I don't think one-run games is the right metric for it -- but I do believe it should be taken into account.
   13. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: November 06, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613855)
Guys, I voted Gagne 4th, ahead of teammate Kevin Brown. I just felt the other 3 did more. I didn't mean to make it sound like I wouldn't vote for Gagne at all, I just felt he wasn't quite as valuable as the top 3.

Shredder, I rank the most valuable pitchers, I don't vote for the 10 best candidates for the top spot, honestly, I don't see the difference. The fourth most valuable pitcher is also the 4th best candidate for the top spot, in my opinion.

Studes, Gagne may have impacted 2.5 times as many games as Prior, Schmidt and Livan, but I think the others had more than 2.5 the impact on the games that they did impact.

It's like the argument James made when breaking down the 1986 MVP race. Mattingly has impact on 5x the number of games, but Clemens probably has 5x the impact on the games that he does impact.
   14. tangotiger Posted: November 06, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613863)
In the past, when I've looked at starters, their leveraged index (LI)was around 1.0, whether he was Bert Blyleven or Bob Knepper. I think the highest LI I saw for a career for a starter was 1.06.

But, for one season, it's very possible that a starter's LI can be say 1.1.
   15. studes Posted: November 06, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613864)
Joe, the notion of "game impact" might be a decent concept to explore. I think if you include both negative and positive impacts, you might well get a higher "impact score" for Gagne.

I'd start with runs saved above average per leveraged inning or out. I would think this would be the best measure of impact in a raw form. And, as I said, I calculate Gagne to be right around the leaders, if not ahead of them, using this metric (I used earned runs).

What if you developed an additional metric called Leveraged Games? It would be the sum of differences in win expectancy from the beginning of a pitcher's appearance to the end of his appearance, assuming a normal distribution of league-average runs scored in his team's at bats.

Maybe this favors the reliever too much, but that would kind of be the point, wouldn't it? And if you assume an average runs scored distribution by his team, you're taking the offensive contribution (over which the pitcher has little control) out of the equation.

Then, you could compute runs saved above average as a function of leveraged games instead of leveraged innings.
   16. Mike Posted: November 07, 2003 at 02:55 AM (#613869)
When is the Cy-Young Award actually announced?
   17. Brian Posted: November 14, 2003 at 02:57 AM (#613994)
What kind of silly voting method is this?? Get 8 people together and have them vote for what...their top 10?? Hello! Cy Young voting only allows each voter to have a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place vote.

This sample size of 8 "experts" is tainted. Vote like the writers do and I'll be more interested.

Incidentally, the man who deserved this award won. Hands down.

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