By Jason Wojciechowski on October 28, 2010 at 9:00 PM
I've explained in the past that I like Fangraphs' WAR for pitcher value for awards purposes, so that makes my Cy Young choices a little too easy. Just go to Fangraphs and click "Leaders" and you're done.
That's not entirely true, though, because if Pitcher A finishes with 6.0 WAR and Pitcher B has 5.9, I'm not going to just take that as gospel. That 0.1 difference is close enough to call the thing a tie by WAR and look into the matter further to see whether I can be swayed one way or the other.
This year's American League doesn't present that scenario, however, as Cliff Lee finished with 7.0 WAR, with Justin Verlander coming in second at 6.3. Cliff Lee, with his absurd walk rate, good work across two teams in very different parks, and filty cap, gets my vote.
Honorable mention to Justin Verlander for an unheralded season that saw him get his groundball rate back to his career norm above 40% (after falling to 36% last year), post the second-best strikeout rate of his career, and continue to keep the ball in the yard. This wasn't 2009 for Verlander (16 fewer innings, 1.3 fewer K/9, 0.5 more BB/9), but it was a damn fine approximation and a sign that he's a force to be reckoned with going forward.
Honorable mention also to Felix Hernandez, who threw almost 250 innings with a career-high in strikeouts and a still-excellent groundball rate. The main difference between Hernandez and Lee was in walk rate. While King Felix notched an extra strikeout every 18 innings or so, Lee walked a man less than a third as often as the Mariner hurler. That's no indictment of Hernandez, of course, whose walk rate of 2.5 per nine was more than sufficient for overall excellence. It just wasn't Lee-like.
The National League is a tad closer, as Roy Halladay topped the circuit with 6.6 WAR, with Josh Johnson and Ubaldo Jimenez coming in next at 6.3 apiece.
The fact that Johnson managed to put up that WAR figure is remarkable considering that he pitched just 183 innings, almost seventy fewer than Halladay. He struck out a batter per inning, walked fewer than 2.5 per nine, and gave up only seven homers all year. Still, innings matter so the large righty will have to be satisfied with mere plaudits for an excellent followup on his breakout 2009, but no hardware.
Ubaldo Jimenez, by contrast, pitched a full slate of games, throwing 221 innings in 33 starts. He struck batters out at a career-high rate, kept the ball on the ground (49% GB), and didn't give up the long-ball (10 all season). Walks, though, plagued him: his 3.74 walk rate isn't actually that troublesome, but it's high for the levels of eliteness we're talking about in Cy Young voting.
Contrast that walk rate with Roy Halladay's paltry 1.08. As with Lee-Hernandez, the man they call Doc walked batters less than a third as often as his rival. With a 7.86 strikeout rate, a groundball rate over 50%, and a solid homer rate, especially given that bandbox in Philly, I can't look another direction for my Cy Young vote. The guy threw a perfect game and then added a playoff no-hitter. Was I really going to vote for anyone else?