Welcome to the awards. This covers the regular season as a whole. We will cover the hitters and put a bow on the season next week.
Please see the week one column for category explanations.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an archaic practice that must stop
Good luck division
Jeremy Hellickson’s 12-10 record belies the futility of his performance. His ERA jumped by two full runs from 2012 but his record remained around .500, just as it was in his previous two seasons, seasons in which his runs allowed were well below what they were this year.
In terms of tracking his 2013 start-to-start performance, his luck stemmed as much from not having tough losses as it did from winning games he shouldn’t have. Most pitchers lose a couple of wins to the bullpen and to bats that go cold on their days to pitch. Hellickson had eight wins, no losses, and two no-decisions in games in which he went at least six innings and allowed two runs or fewer. For a short stretch that constituted all of May, he was as lucky as he would be for the year and possibly one of the luckiest stretches of the season for any pitcher. In May he was 1-0 with five no-decisions despite allowing 6.69 runs per nine and allowing opposing batters to hit .280/.323/.520 against him. He won a game while allowing eight runs in seven and two thirds against the Orioles. He also salvaged no-decisions in games in which he allowed four, five and six runs. He had only one quality start in the month.
Chris Tillman started his season by allowing five runs in three and two thirds and avoiding the loss. He ended his season by yielding five runs in five innings. In between those two games, he wasn’t a bad pitcher, but he wasn’t a great one either, at least not the kind you would expect him to be when I tell you that he ended the season with 16 wins and seven losses. He went 13-2 in quality starts and picked up a win in a game in which he allowed six runs in five and a third and another no-decision in a game in which he allowed six in four and two thirds.
Max Scherzer was great this year, but as brilliant as he was, a little luck went into his season, specifically regarding his three losses, an abnormally low figure. He went 3-2 with two no-decisions in starts where he allowed four or more runs. He was among the league leaders in run support, which is to be expected when you pitch for the team that came in second in baseball in run scoring.
C.J. Wilson went 17-7 with no-decisions in games where he allowed four runs in seven innings, six runs in four innings, six runs in six and two thirds, and two games where he allowed four runs in six innings. He also got the win in games in which he went seven innings and allowed four runs, allowed four runs in six and two thirds, and five runs in five innings.
Bad luck division
Travis Wood was good at preventing runs, allowing opposing hitters to bat just .222/.292/.351 in 200 innings. He ended the season with a 9-12 record. He didn’t have a win all season while allowing more than two runs. Furthermore, in games in which he went at least six innings and allowed two or fewer, he had four losses and six no-decisions. With the Cubs lineup behind him, he absolutely had to be perfect or he wasn’t going to get the win.
Hiroki Kuroda finished the year with a 3.31 ERA and a 11-13 record. He might have led the league in inexplicable no-decisions with five that were appalling. Those five went as follows: one run in seven and a third while striking out seven and allowing four base runners via hit or walk; seven shutout innings with four hits, no walks, and seven strikeouts; eight innings, two runs on two hits and two walks, three strikeouts; seven shutout innings with three hits and one walk, four strikeouts, and finally seven shutout innings with five hits and one walk, eight strikeouts. He also lost one in which he went seven and allowed two runs. Opposing batters hit .249/.291/.392 against him.
Chris Sale should be a Cy Young contender, ending the season with the fifth best pitching WAR in the American League, seventh in ERA, fifth in FIP. He struck out 26 percent of the batters he faced and limited them to a .230/.282/.354 line against. He still finished the year at 11-14. He had terrible run support all year. The crown jewel of poor run support this year was his complete game in a 1-0 loss to the Royals at the Cell. Sale had five losses in which he went at least seven innings with three or fewer runs allowed. He had five no-decisions that meet the same criteria.
Cole Hamels had some terrible luck, going 8-14 with a 3.60 ERA and a .246/.295/.404 line against. He got the loss in four starts in which he pitched at least seven innings and allowed three or fewer runs with another seven no-decisions, including one in which he gave the Phillies eight shutout innings. From July 14 through Sept. 2, he started 10 games, allowed 2.38 runs per nine in 72 frames. He had only one start that wasn’t a quality start and he had two wins, two losses, and six no-decisions.
Even with a 16-9 record, Clayton Kershaw was still brilliant enough to have been tremendously unlucky. Even in his losses, he posted a 3.77 ERA and he posted a 1.80 ERA in his eight no-decisions. He had no-decisions in six starts in which he went at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer runs.
Felix Hernandez didn’t lose as many wins to the lack of support from his Mariners teammates as he has in the past, but a number of his valiant efforts went for naught. As a sign of progress, they were almost all no-decisions instead of losses.
His 12-10 record did not include a seven-inning, one-run outing in which he struck out eight Red Sox, a nine-inning effort when he allowed one run on five hits and struck out 11 Twins, a seven-inning, two-run start at home against the Pirates, a seven-inning, two-run start at Arlington, a seven-inning, one-run start in which he struck out eight White Sox, or an April start in which he went eight at home facing the Tigers, allowing one run and striking out 12.
Three of Jonathan Papelbon’s five wins came after he blew the save. He blew seven saves in 2013. So when he threw away a save, there was a 43 percent chance that the Phillies would rally and get him the win.
Wes Littleton Award
Every season a closer puts up a large number of save despite not being a particularly good pitcher. Chris Perez saved 25 games. He blew “only” five. If I were to be charitable, I would call his 4.33 ERA middling. His .263/.340/.507 line against is beyond my ability for understated insult. It is just terrible. And he was just terrible.
Jose Valverde managed to throw only 19.1 innings before getting shown the door. He had a putrid 5.59 ERA and a comical .237/.310/.487 line against, but even being that bad for that short a time, he managed to convert nine of his 12 save opportunities. He pitched so poorly that he turned the average batter into Adam Jones. But the save rule is still broad enough and poorly conceived that he was deemed successful three quarters of the time. Just let that wash over you for a while before moving on to the next category.
Please hold the applause
Opposing batters hit .267/.322/.407 against Drew Storen and he still managed to accumulate 24 holds in 61 innings of work.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
Bruce Chen limited opposing batters to a .257 BABIP and .237/.294/.381, leading to his anomalous 3.27 ERA and 9-4 record. Given that his three-year averages are .283 BABIP and .261/.319/.428 against, I would expect regression to be coming next season, especially if the Royals can’t repeat their defensive performance 0f 2013, when they made huge strides in converting balls in play into outs. Chances are you already weren’t going to use him on your fantasy team given his 6.57 strikeouts per nine.
AL: It seems inevitable that the writers will give this to Scherzer. I think this is probably the right choice for the wrong reasons. They will cite his record, but you don’t need 21 wins to see his brilliance. He led the American League in fWAR among pitchers.
Next in WAR is Scherzer’s teammate Anibal Sanchez, who was better per inning but pitched fewer innings. Felix Hernandez was great, but not quite as good as Scherzer. Strikeouts monster Yu Darvish and Sale slot in as deserving down-ballot guys, as does James Shields, who led the league in innings. If any of these guys steals a first-place vote from Scherzer, it won’t be an outrage. There were a lot of good pitchers in the American League this year but nobody as crazy as peak Justin Verlander or the guy that gets the National League crown this year.
NL: Kershaw is the undisputed best pitcher on the planet right now. He has carried low BABIPs for long enough for it to become obvious that it is a skill he possesses, at least until he doesn’t possess it any longer. He strikes out a bunch of guys, doesn’t walk anybody. What else do you want?
What is crazy is that opposing batters hit .195/.244/.277 against him. Brendan Ryan hit .197/.255/.273 this year. Kershaw turned the average batter he faced into a hitter who is slightly worse than Brendan Ryan. That’s hard to comprehend.
Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez were the big stories this year, young pitchers with ERAs in the low twos and a strikeout per inning. Adam Wainwright was the second most valuable thanks to his advantage ininnings pitched over on Harvey and Fernandez. He led baseball with 241 innings and still produced an ERA under three.