Walter Johnson Award Ballot, 2012 Edition

We’ve dismissed with the easy awards. Let’s get down to the good stuff. The Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s version of the Cy Young Award is the Walter Johnson, and both leagues are worthy of some debate. Let’s get started:

American League
1. Justin Verlander
2. Felix Hernandez
3. David Price
4. Chris Sale
5. Matt Harrison

Verlander runs away with this, but the rest of the list is worthy of some debate. A few leaderboards worth perusing:

fangraphs WAR
1. Verlander, 6.8
2. Hernandez, 6.1
3. Price, 5.1
Yu Darvish, 5.1
5. Sale, 4.9

baseball-reference WAR
1. Verlander, 7.6
2. Price, 6.4
3. Harrison, 6.2
4. Sale, 5.7
5. Hiroki Kuroda, 5.2

Taken alone, I don’t have a lot of trust in either of these metrics, since fangraphs bases WAR purely on fielding-independent outcomes and ignores a pitcher’s ability to induce weak contact and strand baserunners, while baseball-reference bases WAR purely on runs prevented and gives no extra credit to the outcomes a pitcher can control. Here are two middle ground solutions:

True Season Score, a metric I created based on an alternative game score, accumulated throughout the season

1. Verlander, 386
2. Hernandez, 362
3. Price, 342
4. Jake Peavy, 281
5. James Shields, 278

TSS is not park-adjusted, so it probably overrates Shields and Jered Weaver (who’s eighth) at the expense of Darvish (10th) and Harrison (12th). It reinforces Hernandez’s position ahead of Price despite a lesser ERA, though to be fair, Safeco Field deflated scoring by 31.3% this year, while Tropicana deflated scoring by just 12.6%.

Now let’s look at another method I threw together using fangraphs’ pitching value leaderboard. By counting all FIP wins, 1/2 of LOB wins (which assumes that a pitcher has some control over stranding/picking off runners), and 1/4 of BIP wins (which assumes a pitcher has a small amount of control over keeping balls in play from becoming hits), we arrive at a moderate conclusion. To wit:

FIP-wins + (LOB wins)/2 + (BIP wins)/4
1. Verlander, 6.95
2. Hernandez, 6.2
3. Price, 6.08
4. Sale, 5.53
5. Harrison, 4.9

Note that this matches my ballot exactly. Harrison emerges from the pack here despite just 3.8 fWAR. His 4.03 FIP, with barely twice as many strikeouts as walks, is nothing to write home about, but his far better ERA (3.29) is more than just a function of a low BABiP (.284). He also stranded 78.6% of baserunners while pitching in a park that inflated scoring by 18.3%. I’ll give him the nod over Weaver, Peavy, and others.

This method also recommends Hernandez over Price, based on a better FIP in fewer innings and his ability to limit runs despite a high BABiP (.308).

National League
This time, let’s examine the leaderboards before crowning a winner.

fangraphs WAR
1. Clayton Kershaw, 6.5
2. Gio Gonzalez, 5.4
3. Cliff Lee, 4.9
4. Wade Miley, 4.8
Johnny Cueto, 4.8

baseball-reference WAR
1. Kershaw, 6.2
2. Cueto, 5.8
3. Dickey, 5.6
4. Gonzalez, 4.5
5. Jordan Zimmermann, 4.4

True Season Score
1. Kershaw, 401
2. Dickey, 400
3. Lee, 332
4. Matt Cain, 329
5. Cole Hamels, 320

FIP-wins + (LOB wins)/2 + (BOP wins)/4
1. Kershaw, 5.8
2. Cueto, 5.63
3. Dickey, 5.43
4. Lee, 5.33
5. Gonzalez, 5.13

Dickey’s within a hair in TSS, and I’m tempted to give him further credit for suppressing BABiP (the league hit .275 against him, good for .9 BIP wins) because he’s a knuckleballer and studies have shown that knuckleballers are often able to induce weak contact better than other pitchers, but that’s not fair to Kershaw, who held hitters to a .262 BABiP (1.8 BIP wins) and essentially did everything a little better than Dickey. In this piece, which I wrote for High Heat Stats, I explain that I think it’s important that voters (or just debaters) establish a framework in evaluating candidates and are consistent in staying within the framework. Otherwise, a single pitcher’s narrative may cause the voter to neglect another pitcher’s stronger candidacy. To pick Dickey here would be to let his narrative overcome Kershaw’s stronger numbers across the board. I will, however, use True Season Score and 16 2/3 more innings pitched at a similar ERA and the same FIP to justify Dickey’s position ahead of Cueto.

In that same piece, I argue that a framework that supports Lee’s candidacy despite his six wins is only mildly insane. True Season Score actually argues that Lee was the third best pitcher in the league, better than Cueto, who finished sixth at 277. Despite Citizens Bank Park’s reputation as a launching pad, it actually deflated scoring by 3.2% this year, while Cueto’s Great American Ballpark augmented scoring by 11.3%, so I prefer Cueto to Lee, but the mixed WAR formula above also supports Lee’s position on the ballot.

Several pitchers not mentioned above are worth a long look. Kris Medlen carried a 1.57 ERA through 138 innings. Stephen Strasburg struck out over 30% of the batters he faced. Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman had two of the best reliever seasons in recent memory. The pitchers on my ballot below were perhaps less dominant, but were effective over a higher volume, offering more value to their respective teams.

My ballot:

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. RA Dickey
3. Johnny Cueto
4. Cliff Lee
5. Gio Gonzalez

Tomorrow, I release my Stan Musial Award ballot. Braun, McCutchen, Molina, or Posey? Trout or somebody who drove in a bunch of runs? Check in tomorrow.

This entry was posted in Dodgers, Mariners, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Postseason Awards, Rangers, Rays, Reds, Season Score, Tigers, White Sox. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Walter Johnson Award Ballot, 2012 Edition

  1. I was shocked (yes, shocked!!!) to see Harrison on your ballot, you being the FIP disciple that you are, until I read your explanation. 🙂

  2. Ryan says:

    crazy that we’ve come so far that #4 on your list is cliff lee. if you asked someone 20 years ago whether a 6-9 pitcher with a 3.16 ERA on a .500 team would be in contention for a Cy Young (or Walter Johnson) they’d laugh at you.

    also i get the feeling from your phrasing – “trout or someone who drove in a bunch of runs” – which way you’re leaning…

  3. Pingback: Stan Musial Award Ballot, 2012 Edition | Replacement Level Baseball Blog

  4. Pingback: BBA Gets ‘em Right | Replacement Level Baseball Blog

  5. Pingback: 2013 Cy Young Picks | Replacement Level Baseball Blog

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