November 18, 2010
Pitcher wins are dead. Long live pitcher wins.
Sheehan meant that in a triumphant way, and for good reason. Despite sporting a regular-looking 13-12 record, Hernandez was rewarded for posting unreal numbers, even while being backed by a historically bad M's lineup. King Felix took 21 of 28 first-place votes for his league-leading 2.24 ERA and 249 2/3 IP and second-highest strikeout total (232). He was trailed in the voting by David Price(notes) and CC Sabathia(notes) — each of which had more wins — but it wasn't even close. (Well, it may have been close for New York Post homer George King, who voted for Sabathia, but everyone's entitled to their own opinion, I guess.)
Hernandez's 13 wins are the lowest for any starting pitcher that has ever won the Cy Young award over a full season (Fernando Valenzuela had 13 in strike-shortened 1981), but an overwhelming majority of the electorate realized that wins aren't under the pitcher's control. Felix didn't get wins 12 times he surrendered two earned runs or less and received a paltry average of 2.4 runs of support a game during his 34 starts.
As Tim Marchman humorously noted earlier this season, the Mariners lineup ...
... may as well comprise two winos drinking Sterno strained through stale bread, a Mongolian who learned how to hit by playing Bases Loaded, Alan Partridge, and five cardboard cutouts of Ski Melillo.
So, yes, Hernandez being honored despite his win total being one game above .500 and 17 other pitchers holding more wins is a huge example of the decreasing importance of the pitcher win as an individual pitcher metric.
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But it's not the first paradigm-bending breakthrough like some are making it out to be. Lest anyone forget, Tim Lincecum(notes) and Zack Greinke(notes) won last year's award with smallish totals of 15 and 16 victories, respectively. No, neither of them were up against a 20-game winner like Hernandez was against Sabathia, but there was still a perception that voters would go for pitchers who were a tad luckier with their run and bullpen support.
It turned out that neither was penalized (Greinke received 25 of 27 votes) and it was their victories that should have clued us in on Thursday's announcement before it was even made. Hernandez's Cy Young may have twisted the knife in an overvalued statistic, but it can't be described as the golden bullet.