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Monday, August 23, 2021

The 2021 NL Cy Young Race Shows the Great Divide in Pitcher Evaluation

Award arguments aren’t really about the players. They’re about values. From blinkered partisans to quantitative hard-liners to narrative-obsessed clubhouse insiders, everyone who advocates for an award candidate is trying to sell you a way of looking at or thinking about the sport. The actual player on the ballot is merely an avatar for a system of evaluation….

That battle speaks to the second fault line in modern Cy Young voting: results versus peripherals. Getting more granular than wins and ERA was only the first step in baseball’s tumble into empiricism. Wins are the product of run prevention (runs allowed and ERA), which is the product of keeping runners off base. That in turn is a function of missing bats and inducing weak contact, which comes from command, sequencing, velocity, and movement. All this has been common knowledge in baseball coaching circles for more than 100 years, but in the past decade and a half, we’ve gained the ability to quantify those aspects of the game.

So which is more important, results or peripherals? Do we reward pitchers for excelling in the areas they can control, or for achieving what they set out to accomplish—recording outs and, yes, winning games? This divide has no clear empirically based choice, and no consensus among the sabermetric community. Of the three major computations of WAR, for example, Baseball-Reference uses runs allowed as the baseline for pitchers, while FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus use ERA estimators.

What makes this NL Cy Young race particularly interesting, then, is the clarity of the fault lines between quality and quantity and results and underlying stats. There’s a candidate for every worldview—plus a Goldilocks contender in Brandon Woodruff, who’s close to Burnes on the underlying numbers front and isn’t scraping quite as close to the minimum threshold for qualifying for the ERA title.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 23, 2021 at 09:06 AM | 24 comment(s)
  Beats: corbin burnes, cy young award, walker buehler, zack wheeler

 

 

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