Preseason Prediction: Cole Hamels (LHP – Philadelphia Phillies)
Hamels had a strong season in 2012 for the disappointing Phillies, posting a 4.5 WAR (good for 7th in the NL) and signing a monster contract extension. He went 17-6 in 215.1 innings with a 3.05 ERA and 3.30 FIP. The strikeout rate was excellent at 9.03 next to a great walk rate of 2.17. The Phillies lefthander didn’t have a good enough year to earn my Cy Young praise, but he had a very strong season and should be acknowledged for it.
And the award goes to…
Just like in the AL, three strong candidates emerge for the 2012 NL Cy Young award, but the SABR Toothed Tigers have to give it to someone who sabermetrics can’t quite understand; R.A. Dickey.
Dickey had a phenomenal season by most standards, but WAR doesn’t like him as much as our other two finalists, Clayton Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez. There is a simple reason for this, however. FIP (one of the biggest drivers of WAR) doesn’t know what to do with knuckleballers because they are so rare and have different results profiles than a standard hurler. That said, Dickey was still 6th in the NL in WAR in 2012.
Dickey’s 20-6 record doesn’t mean anything but he tossed 233.2 innings and posted solid strikeout (8.86) and walk numbers (2.08) to go along with his strong 2.73 ERA. His FIP was elevated, but that’s because FIP doesn’t understand him.
The only thing Gonzalez did better than Dickey was strike hitters out, but he threw way fewer innings walked more and had a higher ERA. WAR likes him better, but that’s the knuckleball problem and nothing else.
Kershaw is the strong contender. He tossed six fewer innings, had a higher K rate and higher BB rate, and posted a lower ERA. The WAR spread is +0.9 WAR for Kershaw, but I can’t help wonder how much that gap would close if FIP understood knuckleballers. It would at least close some.
I think Dickey and Kershaw are both good choices, but it’s hard not to give the tie breaker to the guy who threw more innings for a worse team and did so in such a fun way. Dickey was a great story and I’ll always give the tiebreaker to the better story. Plus it is hard not to love Dickey’s NL leading 5 complete games.
We can find plenty of worthy arms in the NL, but R.A. Dickey is this year’s best.
5. Cole Hamels (LHP – Philadelphia Phillies)
4. Cliff Lee (LHP – Philadelphia Phillies)
3. Gio Gonzalez (LHP – Washington Nationals)
2. Clayton Kershaw (LHP – Los Angeles Dodgers)
1. R.A. Dickey (RHP – New York Mets)
Preseason Prediction: Justin Verlander (RHP- Detroit Tigers)
Verlander entered 2012 in the prime of his career as the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP while looking to cement his place as baseball’s best starting pitcher.
And the award goes to…
Verlander. Three AL pitchers are in the discussion for this honor, but Verlander comes out on top and deserves to win his second consecutive Cy Young.
He threw 238.1 innings, posted a 9.03 K/9 along with his 2.27 BB/9, and ended the season with a 2.64 ERA and 2.94 FIP. All of this comes together in a 6.8 WAR which is the best mark in the AL and in all of baseball in 2012.
But I don’t want WAR to be the end of the discussion because it does a disservice to the other candidates worthy of mention, David Price and Felix Hernandez.
Both Price and Hernandez had great seasons and will finish a strong 2nd and 3rd on my ballot, but Verlander was better. At this point in history, we’re smart enough not to look a pitcher’s W/L record as a measure of value. You can win a lot of games if you aren’t that good and you can lose a bunch of games if you’re great depending on how your team performs around you. Cases in point this year are Phil Hughes’ 16 wins and Cliff Lee’s 6 wins.
Let’s start with ERA. Verlander trailed only Price in this season with a 2.64 ERA to Price’s 2.56. That’s a very small margin, but you have to lean in Verlander’s direction when you consider how poor Verlander’s defense was.
The difference is literally only two earned runs across the course of the entire season. Certainly we can all agree the Rays outdefended the Tigers by two runs over the course of each pitcher’s 30+ starts. FIP agrees by giving Verlander a 2.94 to 3.05 edge. Felix does well by this measure at 2.84.
Turning to strikeouts Verlander leads the pack with 9.03 per 9 to Price’s 8.74 and Hernandez’s 8.65. Price sports the highest walk rate of the pack at 2.52.
This isn’t the clearest of choices at this point. Verlander has the best K rate, the middle BB rate, and the middle ERA and FIP. But the highest WAR. He threw the most innings and did so in front of the worst defense. All three men could lay some claim to the award, but it has to be Verlander.
It has to be Verlander because he threw the most innings out of the group and because he had the worst defense. WAR says Verlander added the most value while he was on the field of the three, but what it doesn’t account for his how his extra workload took the stress off his bullpen, which could then be well rested to support the other members of the staff. Verlander pitched deeper into games and gave the rest of the staff what it needed to perform best in the start before his and the start after his.
He faced 956 batters this season and had a lot of innings extended by poor defense. Imagine how much deeper into games he could have gone if he had Brendan Ryan playing SS behind him like Felix did.
This is not an open and shut case. There are arguments to be made for Price and Hernandez, but Verlander tops Price for me on innings, Ks, BBs, FIP, and defense and Hernandez by innings, Ks, and defense.
It was another great year for the Tigers’ ace and it should end with more hardware on his mantle.
5. Max Scherzer (RHP – DET)
4. Chris Sale (LHP – CWS)
3. Price (LHP – TB)
2. Hernandez (RHP – SEA)
1. Verlander (RHP – DET)