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Why Felix Hernandez won the 2010 American League Cy Young Award

Updated on March 22, 2011

Wins are not as important as you think

I'm going to start out by saying something considered blasphemy among the talking heads who get paid to talk about sports on radio, ESPN, and the MLB Network. Wins are not an important indicator of whether or not a pitcher is any good. A bad pitcher can get a lot of wins while a good pitcher can get very few. I'm not saying that any of the pitcher's who were contenders in the Cy Young Award voting were bad pitchers, but one was clearly a level above the rest.

Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young in the American League with an 85% share of the vote. A lot of people didn't agree with this, because his record this year was only 13-12. 13 wins is the lowest total for a starting pitcher in a Cy Young Award-winning season ever. In fact, it's two wins below the previous low. None of that really matters, because Felix Hernandez (sometimes referred to as King Felix) was the best pitcher and deserved the award. I'm going to show you why.

Wins are a team stat

Pitchers are credited with wins and losses. I have no idea why. Wins are a team stat. That's why wins and losses are listed next to the team name in the standings they print in the newspaper every day. Pitchers are just one player on the team. Yes, they are the most important player on the day they pitch, but there are some very good reasons why they shouldn't be credited with wins or losses. Let me give you an example:

Imagine a starting pitcher for the home team goes 8 and 2/3 innings in a scoreless game without giving up a hit or a walk. For some reason (let's just say he's got an injury), he's taking out of the game at this point in favor of a reliever. The reliever proceeds to give up 3 runs before recording the final out in the top half of the 9th inning. In the bottom of the 9th, the home team comes back and scores 4 runs to win the game. Who gets the win, the starting pitcher who recorded 26 outs without giving up a hit, walk, or run, or the reliever who recorded 1 out while giving up 3 runs? The answer is the reliever. The reliever was the pitcher of record when his team took the lead and won the game.

So, how does this relate to the Cy Young Award voting in the American League in 2010? Well, Felix Hernandez finished with a 13-12 record, while C.C. Sabathia finished with a 21-7 record. A lot of people were claiming that the voters just hated the Yankees, but if we look at each pitcher's performance this year we'll see that Felix Hernandez wasn't just better than Sabathia, he was much better.

Felix Hernandez led all starting pitchers in the league in ERA, innings pitched, and Wins Above Replacement (also referred as WAR), which is a measure of how many wins a pitcher is worth above a replacement level player (basically, a minor leaguer called up to replace him).

The Felix Hernandez vs C.C. Sabathia Comparison

Because those stats might be too confusing for guys like Mike Francesca, I did a start by start comparison of Hernandez and Sabathia (by the way, Sabathia didn't even come in 2nd in the Cy Young voting, David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays did). I took the Yankees run total for each of Sabathia's starts and applied it to the total runs that Hernandez gave up in each of his respective starts and did the vice versa to see how Sabathia would have done on the Mariners. Luckily, Sabathia and Hernandez both started 34 games, which made the comparison easier. Because there are no no-decisions in this scenario, the pitchers will have more wins than they deserve, so it's really a "best case" scenario. Hernandez's record with the Yankees offense: 27-6-1 (the tie comes from when Hernandez gave up the exact same number of runs that the Yankees scored. I was actually surprised this only happened once). Sabathia's record with the Mariners offense: 16-17-1. That's right, in a best case scenario Sabathia only wins 16 games with the Mariners offense and loses 17. Because relievers would have been credited with several of those wins (since neither the Yankees nor the Mariners score all of their runs in the first inning). Sabathia's likely record with the M's offense would be something like 11-17.

Felix Hernandez finished the season with an ERA .91 lower than Sabathia. That means he gives up nearly 1 fewer runs per 9 innings than Sabathia. How can anyone argue that Sabathia deserved the Cy Young Award when the only stat he has over him is one that heavily factors in his team's offense -- something a pitcher has no control over? It would be like awarding Mark Teixeira a Gold Glove Award because Nick Swisher has a high batting average with runners in scoring position.

Not only do I think Hernandez deserved this award, I think Major League Baseball should eliminate wins and losses as a pitching statistic.


Submit a Comment

  • I am DB Cooper profile image

    I am DB Cooper 7 years ago from Whereabouts unknown at this time

    Thanks bogerk, I was actually inspired by your work to write more about baseball.

    Cy Young does have the wins record, but he also has the most losses (over 300).

    If you look at a breakdown of opponents, Hernandez actually faced the tougher teams this season when compared to Sabathia. Part of this is because Sabathia never had to face the Yankees, who Hernandez beat 3 times this season and held to a batting average of .176! Not bad pitching against such a great offense.

    When adjusting for park factors, Hernandez had an ERA+ of 173 (average is 100 with this stat, higher is better). Sabathia was at 134.

  • bogerk profile image

    bogerk 7 years ago from Midwest

    This is a great Hub! Glad to see someone else on here posting about baseball in the offseason.

    I agree with you that Wins should not be THE deciding factor, but the award is named after Cy Young who holds the MLB record of 511 wins, so they should play a role.

    I am glad that Hernandez won it as I thought he deserved it in 2009, but I completely could have understood how CC Sabathia with 8 more Wins against tougher AL East teams who also has to pitch half his starts at Yankees Stadium, the second best hitter's park in baseball, could have won it.