Monday, October 27, 2014

Corey Kluber: BBA Walter Johnson Award Winner

Some decisions in life are easy, some are not. Brushing your teeth in the morning is an easy decision because rotted teeth are gross, and nobody likes rotted teeth. Therefore, you get up, every morning, squeeze some Crest onto a toothbrush and scrub scrub scrub. Showering is an easy decision. Nobody wants to smell you, not even you. See, easy decisions. There were a lot of decisions like this that we at Off Base Percentage encountered while filling out the ballots for the BBA Awards. There were also some not as easy decisions in our way. One of them being the Walter Johnson Award for the American League. This was not a get up and brush your teeth decision. This was a "Do I want steak or chicken tonight?" decision.

After much deliberating, Off Base Percentage went with Corey Kluber as the winner in the AL this year. And it really was the most razor thin of margins that led to our choices. Look for yourself. That link gives you Kluber vs. Felix Hernandez on Fangaphs. One on one, mano y mano. Go ahead and pick a winner, smarty pants.

Our collective choice to give the first place vote to Kluber was not a slight against Hernandez. Hernandez deserves a Cy Young for the season he put together. He got better again. It is hard to fathom that as a thing that is actually possible in the known universe, but it is true. Felix Hernandez went out and had a better season this year than he has ever had. His strikeouts went up. His walks went down. His ground ball percentage went up while both his line drive and fly ball rates went down. He's the American League's Clayton Kershaw, and he's on a path to the Hall of Fame.

The problem with Hernandez deserving the Cy Young for the season that he had is that he doesn't deserve it this year. It just so happens that as good as Hernandez was in 2014, Kluber really was better. And not to be unfair to Kluber or anything, but it came out of nowhere. Mostly because Corey Kluber started striking out damn near everyone he faced. In fact, I am pretty sure he just set down my third grade teacher on three pitches.

Here's a list of the categories that are important to me that Kluber was better than Hernandez in in 2014:


His FIP, to be exact, is very important to me in the argument of Kluber over Hernandez.

In 2014, Hernandez allowed a BABIP-against of .258. League average was .287. The defensive efficiency rating on Fangraphs has the Mariners tied for 12th in Major League Baseball last season. They were, as a team, worth 5.8 runs above average on defense. That defense helped Hernandez and his ground ball tendencies. And it shows in his career stats as he has a career BABIP-against of .295 and posted BABIP-against numbers above .300 in 2011, 12 and 13. This helped Hernandez's ERA as he posted an absurd and career low ERA of 2.14. However, his FIP of 2.56 was 0.42 higher than his ERA. Still an exceptional number, but for the last three seasons his FIP has been better than his ERA.

In 2014, Corey Kluber allowed a BABIP-against of .316. A career-best, but still ridiculously high. Now, let's look at the Indians defensive rating (surgeon general's warning: this won't be pretty). The Indians ranked 29th in Major League Baseball last year in defensive efficiency per Fangraphs. They were worth a preposterous 64.8 runs below average last year. If it weren't for the Astros being worth -74.0 runs, the Indians would have been this year's anti-Royals.

Thanks to his dramatic uptick in strikeouts over last season, Kluber was able to keep his ERA at a wonderfully low 2.44. And thanks to FIP normalizing BABIP to the league average (again, .287), Kluber's FIP clocked in this year at 2.35. One point to Kluber for having a better FIP than Hernandez. Bonus for Kluber having a better FIP than his own ERA.

This was the basis of the argument in voting for Kluber over Hernandez. Felix pitched his games in front of good-but-not-great defensive team and he pitched for a team that, for the first time since he has been there, were playing with a postseason possibility in their sights. This was a good team that had an outside chance of playing in October until the final few days of the season. Kluber pitched for an offensive-minded team that seemingly played each game without the luxury of baseball gloves while tying their fingers together before stepping onto the field.

Corey Kluber got more offensive help than Hernandez did, but when he was on the mound, he was probably better off pulling a Satchel Paige by having the defense take a knee while he pitched. I'm sure that wouldn't have hurt the defensive efficiency rating.

Both men pitched fantastic seasons. Both men pitched fantastic seasons that are worthy of Cy Young Award consideration. And it is not that Felix Hernandez wasn't great this season, it is just that Corey Kluber was greater.

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