Roy Halladay Was NL's Best No Matter Your Measure
Of all the awards handed out by the BBWAA this fall, perhaps none will be as anticlimactic as the NL Cy Young Award. Not only was this a pretty easy pick when the season ended, but it was the pick that many folks came up with before the season even started.
Phillies ace Roy Halladay won his second Cy Young Award on Tuesday, and it wasn't close. In his first run through the National League, Halladay led the league in innings, complete games, shutouts and strikeouts per walk. He was second in the league in ERA and WAR (on Baseball-Reference.com).
And, oh yeah, he also led the league in victories, for whatever that's worth.
If you chose to use advanced metrics or the old-fashioned ones, Halladay still came out on top. If you chose to pick the best pitcher or the pitcher who had the best year, Halladay still came out on top.
When the votes were tallied, he was a unanimous pick, taking all 32 first-place votes. One of those was mine. I've had a Cy Young vote seven of the past nine years, so I've spent a lot of time thinking about what the award is and what it isn't. Although I was not a good Cy Young voter when I started, I have evolved. (I voted for Barry Zito over Pedro Martinez in 2002 and Bartolo Colon over Johan Santana in 2005. Both times I picked the guy with more wins even though he didn't pitch as well.)
I'm going to let you in on my little system now, and show you not only how I came up with the obvious choice at the top, but with the other four names on my ballot. (This is the first year that the BBWAA has gone five-deep instead of three-deep on Cy Young ballots.)
First, and this may sound familiar to some of you, I believe the Cy Young is not for the most valuable pitcher and it's not for the best pitcher. It is for the pitcher who pitched the best. The latter distinction means I'm not so much concerned with whose performance is going to be the most projectable or repeatable in the future.
I am simply evaluating what happened. Not what should have happened.
A pitcher's job, at its most basic level, is twofold: prevent runs and get outs. We've got two great stats to measure both of those, ERA and opponents' on-base percentage. ERA is obviously the more important of the two, because runs are how you keep score.
Now, all ERAs are not created equal. Ballparks need to be taken into account. That's why I prefer to look at ERA+, which normalizes for ballpark. Also, innings pitched needs to be considered, but not for the reason you'd think. A pitcher who throws more innings is more valuable to his team, but I'm not concerned with value. It's not "most valuable pitcher." To me, innings are significant because it's harder to maintain good rate stats over a greater number of innings. More innings means you are facing more batters late in games or pitching more games late in the season.
So I adjusted the pitchers' ERA+ for innings pitched, giving them one extra point for every two innings over 200. I also subtracted a point for every two innings under 200.
As for opponents' OBP, I simply looked at how each pitcher did relative to the league average, which was .326. I gave the pitchers one point for every point better than that.
That formula works out because the ERA+ numbers are in the 150 range and the relative OBP numbers are in the 50 range, so it's already weighted more heavily toward ERA+. Now, you just add 'em up.
Not surprisingly, Halladay came out well ahead of the field, with an inning-weighted ERA+ of 191 and an OBP 55 points better than the league average, for a total of 246.
Next up was Adam Wainwright (229), Josh Johnson (220), Roy Oswalt (208), Ubaldo Jimenez (198), Matt Cain (192) and Tim Hudson (179).
I could have simply filled out the ballot in that order, but I decided I didn't want Johnson to be that high since he didn't even pitch over the final month of the season, while all the others were pitching in the pennant race. Also, I figured Oswalt should get some bonus points for being the best pitcher in the league over the final two months. Jimenez was best over the first two months, and he pitched a no-hitter.
So I put Oswalt third, Jimenez fourth and Johnson fifth. Johnson did win the ERA title, over a not-insignificant 184 innings, so I didn't want to leave him off my ballot entirely. Cain and Hudson were the bubble boys, although I wouldn't argue with anyone who put either guy on their ballot.
All of that is just a long way of saying what you already knew -- what you knew in April -- that Roy Halladay was the best pitcher in the National League in 2010.