Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BBA Topic - Walter Johnson Award

After each regular season, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance votes on the best manager, rookie, relief pitcher, starting pitcher, and most valuable player in each league.  Today we discuss the best starting pitcher - aptly named the Walter Johnson Award.

The BBA ballot requires three names.  For the National League, the three names are easy.  The hard part is deciding in what order they should fall.  Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, and Cliff Lee were the best three pitchers in the National League this season, and they threw virtually the same number of innings (Halladay 233 2/3, Kershaw 233 1/3, Lee 232 2/3), so one can compare their numbers without applying any correction factor.

So let's compare them.  Here are their season numbers, per Fangraphs.

I left their W/L/WAR numbers off deliberately.  Innings Pitched we've already discussed.  Wins/Losses have become less relevant to measuring a pitcher's worth in the relief pitcher era, and WAR?  Well, WAR has become too simple an answer for me (that's a topic best left to a future post).

So what do we have?  Halladay issued the fewest walks, allowed the least number of HRs, got the most groundballs, and had the best Fielding Independent Percentage.  Kershaw struck out the most per nine innings, had the lowest percentage of balls in play turn into hits, and the lowest Earned Run Average.  Lee stranded more runners then either two, and had the lowest Expected Fielding Independent Percentage.

Doesn't really help, does it?

Let's try again.  The fact that Kershaw has the lowest ground ball rate (so conversely, the highest fly ball rate) of the three matches his lowest BABIP of the three.  Fly ball pitchers tend to have a lower BABIP.  Using that logic, it would explain why Halladay's BABIP is slightly higher than Lee's.

Some folks have argued part of Kershaw's success is based on his home ballpark.  Dodger Stadium is a pitcher-friendly ballpark, Citizen's Bank is a pitcher-neutral one.  Kershaw giving up fewer HR than Lee can be explained by the ballpark factor, but Halladay gave up fewer than either while pitching in the same home ballpark Lee pitches in.

Lee's strikeouts per nine, strand rate, and expected FIP are better than Halladay's.  Halladay, however, has fewer walks, HR, a lower ERA and FIP than Lee.  I think ultimately that places Halladay ahead of Lee.  Kershaw has a higher walk rate than Lee, but in the other categories (K/9, HR allowed, ERA, FIP) he's better.

Cliff Lee becomes the #3 NL pitcher.

How to split Kershaw and Halladay is tough - very tough.  They are virtually even everywhere, and the one area where they do differ (HR's allowed) I believe has more to do with Halladay being a ground ball pitcher in a park where fly balls fly out than in any real difference in quality between the two pitchers.  Roy Halladay has been consistently brilliant for years, and is the reigning Walter Johnson Award Winner.  Clayton Kershaw is only 23 years old and may just be starting to realize his enormous potential.

I've tried to be objective.  Let's be arbitrary.  Halladay had fewer bad days than Kershaw did.  Roy Halladay had only one 2011 start in which he gave up more than 5 ER. Kershaw had four.  Halladay was more consistently brilliant than Kershaw.  We'll make that the straw that broke the camel's back.

The Padres Trail 2011 Walter Johnson Award Ballot:

  1. Roy Halladay
  2. Clayton Kershaw
  3. Cliff Lee
As always, thanks for reading and your comments are welcome.

UPDATE 10/22: I neglected to make the ballot 5 deep, which is the BBA requirement.  So, hurriedly, I've added these two names:

  • 4.  Ian Kennedy
  • 5.  Jair Jurrjens
 Kennedy pitched extremely well for the Arizona Diamondbacks throughout the 2011 season, and tied for the league lead in wins (21).  Jurrjens had a fantastic first half of the season before getting hurt and missing all of September.  If I've missed someone deserving, post it in the comments.

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