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King Felix, Owner of Argyle Socks, Wins Cy Young

November 19, 2010

He doesn't win ugly, but man does he fill out a uniform. Hubba hubba?

In the wake of the AL Cy Young voting, for some reason, and despite David Price coming in third place, stories abound pitting the Cy Young Award winner and best pitcher in the American League this past year against third-place winner C.C Sabathia with headlines noting his paltry win accumulation, like:

“With only 13 Wins, Hernandez Earns Cy Young” (New York Times)

“Hernandez, 13-12, Wins Cy Young” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“Hernandez Overcomes 13-12 Record to Win Award” (the BBWAA itself)

This is kind of like writing “Hernandez, Owner of Argyle Socks, Wins Cy Young.” Or “King Felix, Whose Favorite Movie is Ghost Dad, Wins Award.”

Hernandez, by every metric except wins, was the best choice this year. And it’s fantastic that Hernandez got 21 out of 28 first-place votes. He was on every single ballot, though two writers – I’ll get to them in a second – named him fourth and fifth.Looking at each of his games, as SI writing legend and blogmaster general Joe Posnanski did, it’s really really clear that Hernandez was indeed supreme. Posnanski didn’t have a vote for the AL Cy Young. He did it because he’s a fan and a writer. Members of the BBWAA who don’t do that, who don’t do their basic homework, ought to be ashamed.

Yeah, awards shouldn’t mean so much. They’re just people’s opinions, and we’re really arguing between the four best pitchers in the world right now, and they’re all multi-millionaires.

But, well, there’s more at stake. In increasing order of importance: First, there’s the whole Baseball History™ and Nostalgia™ and What am I Going to Tell My Grandkids™. This may not mean a lot to some, but it’s a large reason why baseball is the national pastime. Second, when Hall of Fame voters look at a player’s body of work, they do, unfortunately, look at award selections. (Perhaps this should be highlighted more in the “Derek Jeter has more Gold Gloves than Chase Utley” argument.) Third, the players themselves, and the individual monetary accolades. Guess what? There are incentive clauses in contracts. There are owners and general managers who care about these things, and use them as bargaining chips in negotiations. As I said, yeah, these guys are multimillionaires. More money than the vast majority of people in America will ever see. But they’re still the labor of a multibillion dollar industry, and they deserve their rewards. For baseball writers to shirk their responsibility – and whether we like it or not, the BBWAA awards are still important because of these reasons – is irresponsible.

When Keith Law left Chris Carpenter off his three-person NL Cy Young list last year, he gave an intelligent defense of his reasoning the day the voting was announced.

Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal voted Hernandez fourth, saying: “For me, wins and losses matter. It also matters for a pitcher who pitches under the stress of a pennant race.” George King of the New York Post, who surely must have known what a firestorm his fifth-place voting for Hernandez would be, had yet to issue a defense of his ballot.

For a writer not to read arguments against the whole pitcher win thing is, I guess, understandable. They can say new stats are terrible, old stats are the way to go because of tradition, and they won’t have anybody’s respect because that argument doesn’t make sense.

If they don’t like the notion of statistics, then they should throw out their traditional markers like Earned Run Average and go merely on Presence, Guile, Guts, Heart, and Courage. In which case Jim Abbott should still be winning the award.

If they want to pay attention only to the markers that have been used for the last 100 years, then they should be devoting every single one of their columns to the advent of the designated hitter, divisional play, and integrated baseball.

If some writers don’t do a simple task of looking at each pitchers’ starts, and evaluating what happened and why, they should have their membership revoked. Do your homework, man. There actually is a bit at stake.

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