Snell’s Best Angle for the Cy Young Award | The Process Report

Snell’s Best Angle for the Cy Young Award

The American League Cy Young discussion will be an interesting one this offseason given there are a number of worthy candidates. Chris Sale was the runaway favorite on paper to begin the season, and while he is still very much in the discussion right now, there are a number of candidates on the stage. There are voters that use advanced stats to make their decision and there are voters that use baseball card statistics to make their decision. There are more of the latter than the former. That, plus an ancillary point, have Blake Snell very much in the forefront of the discussion.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times described the narrative for Snell’s case the day after Snell one-hit Cleveland. The team is doing their part in pushing the numbers as well:

 

The narrative and baseball card stats is where Snell is going to have to generate steam as the advanced numbers are not as favorable. Jay Jaffe laid out the case for Chris Sale to win the award and cited a straw poll in which 30 of 31 BBWAA members (not all CYA voters) gave Sale a first place vote. Craig Edwards used contact quality to get some clarity from the mess, and Sale once again comes out favorably. The media department was onto something in the first table on the image above, but did not go deeply enough.

The table below shows the numbers each pitcher has against teams that are .500 or better as play begins on September 15th. The categorical lead totals are bolded:

PITCHER GS P ERA CONTACT% K% wOBA
Snell 16 1556 1.66 68% 31% 0.240
Bauer 7 762 2.62 72% 30% 0.269
Sale 9 888 2.73 64% 38% 0.257
Cole 18 1826 3.03 71% 33% 0.265
Verlander 12 1205 3.24 70% 34% 0.295
Severino 14 1389 3.56 74% 27% 0.299
Kluber 12 1163 3.65 73% 26% 0.306
Carrasco 10 980 5.28 67% 29% 0.363

Only Gerrit Cole has thrown more pitches and innings against such teams this season. Snell’s ERA against that level of competition is nearly a full run better than the rest of the pack. Sale benefits from the fact he does not have to pitch against his own lineup, and his ERA is still over a full run higher than Snell’s. When we look at the percentage of pitches thrown against .500 or better competition, the disparity continues:

It is impossible to get into the heads of voters for these awards because not everyone explains why they vote the way they vote. Sale currently has the ERA edge over Snell, 1.96 to 2.03. Snell has the wins edge over the entire pack with three starts remaining. Those three starts are going to be against Texas and back to back outings against Toronto. Those three starts will close the gap discrepancy on the above chart, but even a 100-pitch average over those starts will still have Snell throwing more than half of his total pitches against clubs .500 or better.

There is a good chance Snell could finish the season with a 22-5 record. He has won seven of his eight starts in the second half with a 1.40 ERA; both league the American League. Voters have shown some bias toward how strongly a pitcher finishes the season, and we do not even have to look back that far to see how a strong winning percentage can aid a pitcher.  In 2016, a 22-4 Rick Porcello won the Cy Young by five points even though Justin Verlander had six more first place votes than any other pitcher. Porcello cleaned up down ballot with 18 second place votes and placing no worse than fifth place on any of the 30 ballots. Like Snell, Porcello did not have most of the advace metrics on his side, but the baseball card stats held up and Porcello finished the season strongly wining 11 of 15 outings with a 2.62 ERA.

Porcello blazed the path for what is likely Snell’s best chance to bring home the hardware. Other pitchers have thrown more innings, others have better advanced metrics, but when it comes to facing non-losing ball clubs, Blake Snell has been best-in-class in the American League. One reason Porcello bested Verlander was because two voters did not put Verlander in their top five on their final ballot, one of which was the Rays’ mlb.com writer.

It is difficult to imagine that type of history repeating itself this year with the way Snell has pitched this season. He may not win the most first place ballots, but it would be tough to look at the data and volume of work Snell has done against non-losing teams and believe he is not one of the three best pitchers in the American League for 2018. If he brings home the hardware, it should not result in another pitcher’s significant other trying to one-up Kate Upton’s infamous 2016 tweet.



One Comment

  1. Tim wrote:

    Snell did not “one-hit” Cleveland. He only pitched the first seven innings of the game. Snell suffers from the same problem that Sale and Bauer do: lack of innings vs. Verlander and Kluber. If he gets good run support in his last 3 starts, he could finish with enough wins and a high enough win percentage to win the Cy Young Award. It wouldn’t be the worst mistake in voting history.

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