14 October 2014

My BBA Votes: The Walter Johnson Award

Walter Johnson with Pres. Calvin Coolidge • Library of Congress

Every season, BBA writers vote for their choices in the Walter Johnson Award, picking the best pitchers of 2014 in each league. This being a modern analytics blog, I relied primarily on the new stats in my voting. Metrics that I leaned heavily on include Win Probability Added (WPA), Leverage-adjusted WPA (WPA/LI), Run Expectancy (RE24), runs allowed per nine innings (RA9), SIERA, FIP, fWAR and RA9-WAR. My picks are as follows:

American League #1: Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners)

I could have voted for either HRH King Felix this year or the Indians' Cory Kluber. Both tied in games started for the AL lead and nearly tied in innings pitched. But Hernandez was second in the AL with a 3.82 WPA/LI, second among AL qualifiers with an RA9 of 2.59, best among qualifying AL pitchers with a SIERA of 2.50, and tops among AL pitchers with 7.5 RA9-Wins Above Replacement. It was a tough call, and in the end it's Hernandez by a hair (more on Kluber after the jump).

National League #1: Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)

Kershaw wasn't simply 2014's best NL pitcher--he was probably the best player in baseball not named after a fish. He allowed fewer runs than any qualifying pitcher in baseball with 42. His 5.47 WPA was a full win ahead of the NL #2, Johnny Cueto. At 5.37, his WPA/LI was a full win ahead of NL #2 Adam Wainwright. His RE24 was over 12 runs ahead of Wainwright's, at a monstrous 48.56. He had the lowest RA9 in the game (1.91), the lowest SIERA in MLB (2.09) and the stingiest FIP in baseball (1.81). His RA9-WAR was a future-Hall of Fame quality 7.9. In English, picking Kershaw for the Walter Johnson Award was the easiest choice I made in this year's BBA voting.

Runners Up: American League

#2: Corey Kluber (Cleveland Indians)

Like I said, it was hard picking Hernandez over Kluber. The Tribe's ace finished third in the AL in WPA with 3.39, fourth in WPA/LI with 3.89 and second in RE24 with 33.08. His rate stats were impressive: an RA9 of 2.76 (third behind Hernandez and Sale among AL qualifiers), a SIERA of 2.61 (ditto) and an AL qualifying best 2.35 FIP. He led in fWAR, but finished second to Felix in RA9-WAR, the latter of which I grant a bit more weight when it comes to pitching.

#3: Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox)

Chris Sale is also a strong candidate for this year's American League Walter Johnson Award. He lead the league in all three win probability considerations (3.9 WPA, 3.89 WPA/LI and an RE24 of 38.02) as well as RA9 (2.48). However, because Sale only pitched 174 innings, his season value stats trailed other contenders. His 6.1 fWAR was good for seventh in the AL and his 6.2 RA9-WAR was good for third. Overall, a very impressive season for the South Side hurler.

#4: Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics)

#5: Max Scherzer (Detroit Tigers)

Runners Up: National League

#2: Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati Reds) & #3 Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals)

While the NL #1 was an easy pick, the choice between #2 and #3 was anything but. I would have felt comfortable picking either Cueto or Wainwright second as long as the other one was third. In the end, I went with Cueto by an even slimmer margin than I picked Hernandez over Kluber for the AL Walter Johnson Award.

Cueto was second among National League pitchers with a 4.45 WPA, while Wainwright was third with 4.17. Wainwright was second with a 4.45 WPA/LI, while Cueto was third at 3.9. Wainwright's 36.46 RE24 was second-best, Cueto's 32.62 was third. Wainwright's 2.54 RA9 was second, essentially tied with Cueto at 2.55. It's a split in fielding-adjusted pitching: Cueto surpasses Wainwright with a 3.15 SIERA vs. 3.52, while Wainwright beats Cueto with a 2.88 FIP vs. 3.30. Wainwright bests Cueto with 6.9 fWAR vs. 4.1, but Cueto's RA9-WAR beats Wainwright's 7.7 to 6.9. In the end, it all depends on which stats you rely and what your gut tells you. Mine told me it was Cueto this year in a quantum finish.

#4: Cole Hamels (Philadelphia Phillies)

#5: Jordan Zimmermann (Washington Nationals)

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