Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Breakdown of the Walter Johnson Award

So now that I’ve posted my End of the Year Award winners, I thought I’d take my readers through my thought process, see the others I considered for each award and explain why I chose who I chose.  I’m continuing with the Walter Johnson Awards.

This was one of the trickier ones.  There were a lot of good candidates.  In the NL, I considered Clatyon Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey.  Like most of these, I really took a long hard look at the stats to make this decision.  I ended up going with Dickey, but it was tough.

Here’s a look at the stats these guys had.

R.A. Dickey:                        20-6, 2.73, 230 Ks, 1.05 WHIP, 210 BAA, 33 Starts

Clayton Kershaw:                 14-9, 2.53, 229 Ks, 1.02 WHIP, 210 BAA, 33 Starts

Johnny Cueto:                       19-5, 2.78, 170 Ks, 1.17 WHIP, 252 BAA, 33 Starts

Gio Gonzalez:                        21-8, 2.89, 207 Ks, 1.13 WHIP, 206 BAA, 32 Starts

Gonzalez had the most wins playing for a good Nationals team that made the playoffs and had the best record in the league.  And he took over the staff becoming the ace after the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg.  But it’s tough to consider a guy who may or may not have been the best pitcher on his own team for the Cy Young.  And other than leading the league in Wins, his stats weren’t the best.  His 206 BAA (batting average against) was fantastic, but he still walks too many guys.  The Ks are impressive, but he wasn’t the best in that area.  And with the highest WHIP and ERA of the guys that I considered, he was the easiest to dismiss, despite his fantastic year.

It got harder after that.  Johnny Cueto was the ace of a talented young Cincinnati staff that also made the playoffs.  He had a very impressive 19 wins to go with a sub 3 ERA.  And he did all this in the Great American Ballpark, one of the best hitters parks in baseball.  But he didn’t have the strikeout numbers of the other guys I considered, logging only 170 Ks.  He actually had the worst WHIP and BAA of the guys I considered.  His 252 BAA was actually pretty average.  He still had a fantastic year and helped the Reds win the NL Central, but in a conversation about the best pitcher in baseball, his numbers weren’t as good as the other elite guys.  Ks aren’t the most important thing, but if you aren’t striking out a lot of guys your ERA and WHIP better be stellar.  And while they were good, they weren’t good enough this year.

So really it came down to the final two guys for me:  Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and R.A. Dickey of the Mets.  Neither guy played for a playoff team.  But their numbers were good enough that it didn’t matter to me.  Kershaw led the league with a 2.53 ERA.  He was also second in the league with 229 Ks and sported a stellar 210 BAA and 1.02 WHIP.  He was the winner last year and had another fantastic season for the Dodgers.  Dickey led the league in Ks with 230 and was second in ERA with a 2.73.  His WHIP was a smidge higher and they had identical BAAs.  The only difference in these two pitchers was the Win total.  Dickey had 20 Wins to Kershaw’s 14.  If it was 10 years ago this would have been a slam-dunk, but the recent shift in understanding of pitchers’ wins changed my perspective.  It ended up being the tiebreaker for me, instead of the deciding stat.  Even more impressive was the fact that Dickey had 20 Wins for a Mets team that wasn’t as good as the Dodgers team that Kershaw pitched for.  Both guys had incredible seasons, but I think Dickey’s 20 Wins put him over the top.  It was an impressive year for him and he’s my Walter Johnson Award winner in the NL.

The race in the AL was just as tight, though I didn’t consider as many guys.  I ended up focusing on David Price of the Rays, Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Jered Weaver of the Angels.  And no disrespect to Chris Sale, but I think these guys were the top option in the Junior Circuit this season.  Here’s what they did in 2012.

David Price:               20-5, 2.56, 205 Ks, 226 BAA, 1.10 WHIP, 31 Starts

Justin Verlander:        17-8, 2.56, 239 Ks, 217 BAA 1.06 WHIP, 33 Starts

Jered Weaver:            20-5, 2.81, 142 Ks, 214 BAA, 1.02 WHIP, 30 starts

The numbers are pretty similar.  Any of the three is worthy of the award.  Verlander won 17 games for a Tigers team that is headed to the ALCS.  That’s a pretty obvious choice.  He won the award last year, along with the MVP.  He led the league with 239 Ks and his 2.56 ERA was stellar.  His 1.06 WHIP was fantastic and he held hitters to a 217 BAA.  He did everything well.  So did David Price.  Price won 20 games for a team that was good, but not playoff caliber.  His 205 Ks and 2.56 ERA were fantastic.  There was really nothing that he didn’t do well.  But I didn’t go with either of those guys.  I went with Jered Weaver.

Weaver also had 20 Wins for a good Angels team, though they weren’t good enough to make it to the playoffs.  However, he won his 20 games in only 30 starts, compared to Price’s 31 starts.  Verlander only got to 17 Wins in 33 starts.  His ERA wasn’t as good, as the other two (2.81) but his WHIP was a miniscule 1.02 and he had the best BAA in the league, holding hitters to a 214 AVG.

This is a situation where I don’t think the numbers tell the whole story.  First, Weaver isn’t a strikeout pitcher.  He had 142 Ks in 30 starts.  That’s not nearly as many as the other two guys in this discussion.  And his ERA, while great, wasn’t as good as Price or Verlander either.  However for the first time in a long time, the AL West was one of the best divisions in baseball.  The Central was very weak.  And the East had two bad teams and none of the other teams ran away with it.  The Rays couldn’t hit, the Orioles had a terrible run differential, and the Yankees struggled down the stretch.  In the West, pretty much every team hit all year, except for the Mariners.  And the West is where Weaver pitched all year.  I think that helps account for the difference in ERA.  And while Ks are important, any manager will tell you that they pale in comparison to the importance of getting batters out.  Greg Maddux won like 50 Cy Youngs and he only broke the 200 K barrier once in his career.  He won because he got batters out.  That’s what Weaver did.  His 214 BAA was the best in the league as was his 1.02 WHIP.  Batters just couldn’t get hits off of him.  And he didn’t walk guys.  The strikeout is exciting, but Weaver’s dominance is worthy of awards.  And that’s why he was my AL Walter Johnson Award Winner.

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