Is Beckett the Cy Young Front Runner?

Did you know that the Red Sox have three legitimate MVP candidates?  Of course you did, because no one will stop talking about it!  While I have to admit it’s incredibly cool to have so many of “our” players worthy of such an honor, I’m sick of hearing about it already.  In fact, the ESPN crew discussed it so much during last Sunday night’s broadcast, I considered taking a shot of liquor every time someone brought it up.  I decided against partaking in my own personal drinking game for two reasons:  (1) alcohol poisoning is not something I’m interested in experiencing, and (2) I didn’t have nearly enough alcohol to make it through the entire game.  Clearly, I’m slathering the hyperbole on heavily, but you get the point.  

In an effort to steer the direction away from the never ending “three MVP candidate” debate, I’ve decided to start another debate.  Is Josh Beckett worthy of winning the Cy Young Award?  Certainly, there’s a case to be made on behalf of Beckett.  Just one season after posing a dreadful 5.78 ERA that was complimented by declining peripherals, a skyrocketing home run rate, and a gaudy .338 BABIP; he’s completely turned his performance around.  (While that shouldn’t come into play during the voting process, it’s still worth noting.)  He’s exhibited better command; shown a greater ability to coax batters into chasing pitches thrown outside of the zone; and managed to keep the ball in the ball park despite an elevated fly ball rate.  Not surprisingly, his ERA is significantly lower this season; currently sitting at 2.17, which is good for second place in the AL behind the Angels’ Jered Weaver.  Interestingly enough, despite his marked improvements in his peripherals, there’s evidence indicating Beckett may be benefiting from some good fortune.  In addition to his lower than anticipated .225 BABIP, all four major ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and tRA) show his true talent ERA performance to be more than a run higher than what he’s currently produced.  While I’m not saying Beckett doesn’t deserve the praise he’s received thus far for his performance, he’s a likely candidate to see a healthy dose of regression toward the mean either before the end of this season or at the start of the 2012 season.

So how does he fare against his closest competitors for the award?  Let’s take a quick look.  (All stats are effective August 8th.)

fWAR - C.C. Sabathia (5.9), Justin Verlander (5.6), Weaver (5.5), Dan Haren (5.0), Beckett (3.4)

ERA - Weaver (1.78), Beckett (2.17), Verlander (2.30), Sabathia (2.81), Haren (2.81)

FIP - Sabathia (2.58), Weaver (2.58), Haren (2.72), Verlander (2.73), Beckett (3.29)

K% - Verlander (25.8%), Beckett (22.6%), Sabathia (22.6%), Weaver (22.1%), Haren (20.5%)

K/BB - Haren (5.71), Verlander (4.89), Weaver (3.85), Sabathia (3.65), Beckett (3.26)

SNWP - Sabathia (.598), Verlander (.579), Weaver (.578), Haren (.555), Beckett (.486)

While fWAR (or bWAR for that matter) isn’t a fool proof statistic for determining who should win the Cy Young Award, the fact Beckett sits 1.6 WAR behind the fourth best pitcher in this group is not insignificant.  He also pulls up the rear (by significant margins) in FIP, K/BB, and SNWP, which also doesn’t help his case.  Based on the statistics I’ve provided above, it looks like there’s a pretty clear cut case favoring the Yankees’ Sabathia as the front runner for the award. Still, before we hand over the CYA, I want to take a look at one more factor.

It’s not a secret that Beckett’s owned the Yankees this season.  In four starts, he’s 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA and a 30/7 K/BB ratio over 27 innings.  Sabathia, on the other hand, has performed very poorly against his team’s chief rival, posting an 0-4 record with a 7.20 ERA with a 21/10 K/BB ratio over 25 innings.  While this doesn’t prove Beckett’s a better pitcher overall, it does show that (at least in a small sample size), he’s been a better pitcher than Sabathia when facing their most formidable opponents.

Furthermore due to the unbalanced schedule, Beckett and Sabathia have carried the burden of pitching the bulk of their games against the beasts of the AL East.  At the same time, Verlander, Haren, and Weaver have been given ample opportunity (at least in theory) to beat up on teams from the significantly weaker AL Central and AL West respectively.  Is that really true though?  While it seems logical, sometimes what seems to be logical is really just falacy.  Let’s take a look at how each pitcher’s fare against the major league’s top competition.

Beckett vs. teams > .500 – 15 starts, 1.82 ERA, 85/29 K/BB in 99 innings

Haren vs. teams > .500 – 12 starts, 2.93 ERA, 75/12 K/BB in 86 innings

Sabathia vs. teams > .500 – 16 starts, 3.53 ERA, 103/35 K/BB in 114-2/3 innings

Verlander  vs. teams > .500 – 12 starts, 1.87 ERA, 87/20 K/BB in 91-1/3 innings

Weaver vs. teams > .500 – 11 starts, 2.70 ERA, 73/21 K/BB in 76-2/3 innings

While Sabathia and Beckett have made a few more starts against teams with winning records than Haren, Verlander, and Weaver; all five pitchers have pitched well against the top competition.  (Sabathia’s stats would look significantly better if his performance against the Red Sox was stripped from the calculations.)  As a result, it’s unfair to claim Haren, Verlander, and Weaver achieved their success by beating up on the bottom feeders.  It’s simply not true.

Still, despite Beckett’s outstanding performance under the most crucial of circumstances, it’s not good enough for me to place him atop my pretend CYA ballot.  Sabathia’s the clear front runner with Verlander lurking closely behind.  With seven weeks remaining in the season, there’s still plenty of time for Beckett (or another pitcher) to make a strong move into serious contention.  Award voters love so-called clutch performance that occurs over the final two months of the season.  Considering Beckett’s pedigree, he seems like a prime candidate to take advantage of such a situation.  That said, all things being equal, Sabathia will probably beat out the Red Sox ace once again.

What are your thoughts?  If the season was to end today, would Beckett deserve the Cy Young?  If so, share your reasons.  If not, who would be a better option and why?  Share your thoughts in the comments section provided below.

Categories: Boston Red Sox cc sabathia Jered Weaver Josh Beckett

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

7 Responses to “Is Beckett the Cy Young Front Runner?” Subscribe

  1. Dan F. August 10, 2011 at 9:54 AM #

    A great article… if it was on a different topic. If you're trying to assess who has been the best pitcher to this point, absolutely, your analysis was on point – I think Red Sox fans, as biased as we are, can agree that Beckett has been fortunate this year as well as good. However, the Cy Young Award, for better or for worse, is voted on without considering sabermetrics and peripherals in most cases (anyone remember Dice-K's 2008?). The stats voters will be considering at the end of the year will more than likely be ERA, Win-Loss record, and K's first and foremost. Peripherals and sabermetric analyses may round out the picture in some cases, but for the most part I don't see fWAR having any noticeable role in this situation. Based on those statistics, Beckett probably still isn't going to win, but he'll be substantially closer to the top than a true analysis of his skills this year would place him – obviously assuming he continues his lucky performance from here on out.

  2. Matt August 10, 2011 at 10:07 AM #

    I would put Verlander as the front runner, actually. Maybe its because Sabathia's struggled so much against the Sox and my view of him this year is clouded, but I put him behind Verlander. Verlander is leading Sabathia in K/BB, K/9, ERA, ERA+, IP and bWAR (by a much bigger margin than Sabathia over Verlander in fWAR). Its a close race, but I have it as Verlander's to lose right now.

  3. Stan August 10, 2011 at 10:11 AM #

    One thing you are explicitly ignoring is the number of innings pitched. All three pitchers have pitched significantly more innings than Beckett. I suppose that this fact is buried in the WAR numbers. So yeah, I think he's at least fourth among the four pitchers up there in terms of being The Best Pitcher in the AL.

  4. TylerMacD August 10, 2011 at 11:15 AM #

    As you mentioned WAR is not fool proof in determining the CYA. So while Sabathia has a better WAR than Verlander, I would agree with Matt that Verlander is my top pick. But it is close, in fact a week ago I had CC all the way. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. I think there is a case for Weaver as well but he will be hurt by the win totals of Verlander and Sabathia. Even though voters showed last year that Wins are no longer the most important stat to them, the fact that there are guys with similar performances and better Win totals will push them over him.

  5. Bryan August 10, 2011 at 12:28 PM #

    I agree with both Matt and Stan. Cy Young voters prefer actual results (run prevention) to expected results (FIP), so Verlander is the frontrunner at the moment. And if there's one counting stat that should have more influence on a Cy Young vote than any other, it's innings pitched, where Beckett can't compare to the top three guys. Verlander, Weaver, and Sabathia are all solid candidates. Beckett's in the next tier with Haren and James Shields.

  6. Guest August 10, 2011 at 3:49 PM #

    But all things being equal, who cares if C.C. takes the Cy Young if Beckett takes all the head to head matchups. Reminds me of 2007, can't complain about what happened there

  7. Mr Punch August 10, 2011 at 3:56 PM #

    Beckett lost out in '07 largely on the IP issue. That's the only time he's even received votes, although he's been touted as a contender several other times before fading in the second half.