AL Cy Young: Corey Kluber vs. The World

On October 3rd, the baseball writers submitted their votes for the players they would like to win the major awards. While a lot of the races spark more interest or are more clear cut, the AL Cy Young remains the aggressively mediocre race of the season. Everyone and their mother seems to have a different opinion as to who deserves to win. However, everyone agrees that there is absolutely no one that stands out as the obvious winner.

For everyone’s reference, the pitchers in conversation are: Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, Masahiro Tanaka, Chris Sale, JA Happ, Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana and even Zach Britton is still being mentioned in surprisingly serious talks.

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That’s nine pitchers being considered for the AL Cy Young. I don’t know a time when so many pitchers were being talked up for the same award. For the purposes of this little article, I’m going to eliminate a few that began to just fall short by the end of the year. Or at the very least, they were like a Chris Sale-lite. So to the fallen we say good bye, but good job: Cole Hamels with your awful WHIP, JA Happ with your unfortunate K/BB rate, and Jose Quintana with your inability to shake Chris Sale off yet again. All three were very good and I’m sure they will continue to be good or even better next year.

The Rest of Them, At a Glance:

IP ERA WHIP K W & L K/BB K-BB% HR/9 FIP WAR
Corey Kluber 215 3.14 1.06 227 18 & 9 3.98 19.8% 0.92 3.26 6.5
Justin Verlander 227.2 3.04 1.00 254 16 & 8 4.39 21.7% 1.22 3.55 6.3
Masahiro Tanaka 199.2 3.07 1.08 165 14 & 4 4.55 16.0% 0.99 3.51 5.5
Rick Porcello 223.0 3.15 1.01 189 22 & 4 5.91 17.6% 0.93 3.39 5.1
Chris Sale 221.2 3.21 1.04 233 17 & 9 5.16 20.7% 1.02 3.39 5.3
Zach Britton 67 0.54 0.84 74 2 & 1 (47 SV) 3.94 21.5% 0.14 2.15 4.2

I used Baseball Reference’s calculations for WAR. If you were to use Fangraphs’ WAR, the result would vary wildly from what we have here. Corey Kluber would no longer be leading the pack and Zach Britton would be almost half his current value. The reason I chose these particular stats for my “At a Glance” table are for the following reasons: The first five are the most familiar to anyone who watches baseball both hardcore and casually. They say the only thing a pitcher can truly control on the field are strikeouts, walks, and home runs, with that in mind I feel that K/BB is a better indicator of a pitcher’s talent than K/9 as it factors in his walks. K-BB% is very similar, but I think it is an even more accurate showing of a pitcher’s capabilities. This year we’ve seen a large increase in home runs with the apparent “juice ball” and as such, I wanted to compare pitchers against each other to see who could mitigate that kind of damage the best. FIP is a favorite stat of mind as it pulls away a lot of the variance that goes on in the field and places a more true value on the pitcher. WAR is a great stat to generally show a pitcher’s value over the year.

And now to break down each player:

Corey Kluber vs. Masahiro Tanaka… FIGHT!:

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Kluber has possibly one of the best nicknames in baseball as Klubot. Tanaka has one that is lingering from Japan called Ma-Kun. Also Kluber has a magnificent beard, can Tanaka even grow facial hair? Then again, Kluber is still rocking that beard look. Hey the 2013 Boston Red Sox called, they want their stupid look back.

But in all seriousness, Tanaka is like that middle school relationship that hasn’t been relevant in your life in a while, but suddenly is being mentioned all the time. On Sept. 18 he was nigh on identical to Corey Kluber, had a superior K/BB and had just come off a truly dominating start. But Kluber has far eclipsed him since then. The lack of any complete games really hurts Tanaka. In fact, he only completed 8 innings twice this year. He still holds a better K/BB ratio, but his inability to match the quantity makes Kluber’s stats hold more weight. Remember that last part as it’s going to come up again real soon. 

Corey Kluber vs Rick Porcello… FIGHT!:

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All I do is win, win, win… Rick Porcello, the man with a classy sounding last name that reminds me of an orchestra. Or a band. And like a band, he is nothing without his supporting members. For whatever reason, the Red Sox have given him the better games with more runs. Maybe he’s vegan.

The good news is that for once it’s not all about the W. Porcello holds a very good WHIP too, but at 1.01 to Kluber’s 1.06 we’re really splitting hairs here to win. I’m going to lean on quantity again and point out Klubot’s 200+ strikeouts which suggests Porcello relied on his defense behind him more. While Kluber has less IP than Porcello, but that makes his strikeout numbers all the more impressive. And Kluber isn’t that far behind in Wins. Honestly, if Porcello fell into the award, I wouldn’t be too upset. Unlike another person on this list.

Corey Kluber vs Chris Sale… FIGHT!:

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This is a guy that should have won a Cy Young a while ago and the fact he might lose again is tragic, but tough. Every year everyone says how great Sale is and every year a different pitcher beats him out. And despite having the most complete games this year, it’ll probably happen again.

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Unfortunately for Sale, Kluber and the other pitchers seem to beat him in almost all stats this year and while most of them are unsurprisingly close, the sheer number of stats behind them makes it hard to argue for him besides “he hasn’t won one yet.”

Corey Kluber vs Zach Britton… FIGHT!:

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Hey girls can date girls too and relief pitchers can win the Cy Young… just not this one. Because of the lack for any real defining leader this year, people seem to want to look elsewhere for a winner and Zach Britton makes a compelling case. With 47 Saves and only 4 earned runs for the year, it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t been the best at his position.

Remember when I said quantity holds more weight? Well this is where I really want to hammer that in. While Britton has had an amazing ERA, WHIP, and FIP, the sample size has been incredibly small, even for a closer. If every starting pitcher on this list got to take a daily rest between each inning, I wonder if their stats would look just as good, if not better than Britton’s. For a closer to win the award, the starting pitchers would have to be doing way worse than they are now. While no one is leading the pack, we have plenty that are very close to showing elite numbers and this year with the juice ball, I think that is very telling for American League starters who were able to mitigate the damage.

Corey Kluber vs Justin Verlander… FIGHT!:

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This is it. This is the hardest fight to choose. Justin Verlander is engaged to Kate Upton and has an equally great beard. Verlander’s last name sounds dangerously close to Highlander and of course there can only be one to win the award. Unfortunately he’s teammates call him Ver, which isn’t a great nickname. Or JV which is kind of worst as it makes me think like he missed varsity. If we want to continue the petty talk, Kluber has the third highest Wins this year. Yeah, that’s how much I care about that petty stat, but hey, some people will look at it as a legit reason a pitcher should win. Klubot’s team will also be going to the playoffs this year for those people that want to throw an MVP twist on the Cy Young award.

But on to legit reasons why they both have a chance. Both Kluber and Verlander have equal claims to having a great second half: Corey Kluber with a 2.52 ERA and Justin Verlander with an unbelievable 1.96 ERA. While Verlander most certainly has a better ERA overall, Kluber’s ERA is the number for π (pi), for whatever that’s worth.

Highlander also has more strikeouts than Klubot and more games with 2 or fewer runs. But I can play with stats to support my view too. While Verlander has been fantastic this second half and had more low scoring games, Kluber has had fewer total earned runs in general. With the defenses removed, Kluber has the superior FIP. Klubot also has allowed fewer home runs. Finally, Corey Kluber has the best WAR among all AL pitchers this year (according to baseballreference.com, but if we look at fangraphs.com then he is only the 4th best. Or 2nd best depending on how you look at ties).

While Justin Verlander has had unbelievable numbers this year and I could honestly see myself going with him if I absolutely had to, I feel that Corey Kluber has been the better and more efficient pitcher with less reliance on his defense behind him. To me that means that if I took Kluber and put him on the Tigers or Red Sox, then he would have even more unbelievable numbers. For the year of 2016, I believe that Corey Kluber was the best pitcher and deserves to win the AL Cy Young.

Of course, the baseball writers have already voted so for all I know they thought Britton was the best for some arbitrary reason. For now, I’m going to go shoot the shit with Nega Richard who went and wrote a “Justin Verlander vs the World” article. We’re going to get brunch next week.