By In Stuff

Upton Girl

First of all, no offense at all to Kate Upton, but you could make a strong argument for any of the three. We’re talking American League Cy Young Award here, and anyone who would argue that Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello or Corey Kluber definitely DID NOT deserve the award is being a bit disingenuous, I think. All three have a good case.

Verlander led the league in Baseball Reference WAR, WHIP (by a touch over Porcello) and strikeouts.

Porcello led the league in Fangraphs WAR (by an insignifant hundredth of a decimal point over Verlander), strikeout-to-walk ratio and, yes, the dreaded wins.

Kluber led the league in adjusted ERA+, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and Adjusted Pitching Runs.

You could make a persuasive argument, I think, that Verlander was the most DOMINANT pitcher, that Porcello was the most EFFECTIVE pitcher and Kluber was the BEST pitcher after you took out some of the statistical noise.  There are certainly enough differences here to have a firm opinion on which one had the best year. But even with a firm opinion — I would have voted Verlander — you have to acknowledge how absurdly close this is.

The voting reflected the closeness — it was, in fact, the strangest vote in the history of the Cy Young Award. Porcello won, upsetting Verlander’s fiancé Kate Upton, who went on a fantastic Twitter rant about it all, at one point saying that she apprently isn’t the only one who is f– Justin. It was quite a night.

And don’t worry. We’ll get to Zach Britton in a minute.

The vote. Verlander, you probably know, got 14 first place votes to Porcello’s 8. There is no precedent for a pitcher getting that many more first place Cy Young votes and not winning the award. Yes, it has happened twice before that the Cy Young winner did not get the most first-place votes, but in both cases the first-place voting was much closer.

In 2009, Tim Lincecum won the Cy Young with only 11 first place votes; St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright got 12. That was a bizarre year — Lincecum probably WAS the league’s best pitcher if you consider the advanced stats (led the league in strikeouts, FIP, both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference WAR, etc.) but he  won just 15 games and that undoubtedly bothered the majority of the writers. Pitcher wins are funny; even if you KNOW that they are extremely limited statistics for evaluation purposes, they still ring the bell. I’ve been ranting against pitcher wins FOREVER and even so, because I grew up around them, I still see Porcello’s 22-4 record and think, “Whoo!” It’s an instinctive reaction.

Anyway, In 2009, Wainwright and his teammate Chris Carpenter both had strong cases (and more wins) but they split their 21 first place votes.  They split the vote in such a away that Lincecum won the Cy Young.

In 1998, Tom Glavine only had 11 first place votes — and San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman had 13. But Hoffman, being a reliever, did not do well enough downballot, and Glavine actually won by a fairly comfortable margin of 11 points. Hoffman must have been left off several ballots entirely.

So something SIMILAR to what happened to Verlander has happened before … but it was never quite as pronounced. I mean, Verlander had six more first place votes. That’s a lot.

Look: The Cy Young voting goes like this:

1st place vote: 7 points

2nd place vote: 4 points

3rd place vote: 3 points

4th place vote: 2 points

5th place vote: 1 point

That’s a big gap point gap between first-place votes and second place — it’s the same gap as between a 2nd and 5th place vote. Getting six more first place votes than anyone SHOULD, mathematically, be enough to seal the deal.

But what happened here is fascinating, at least to me. Verlander’s year turned out to be, by far, the most CONTENTIOUS year in memory. Some loved it. Some didn’t get it all. It was like the baseball version of “Vanilla Sky.”

Look at it this way:

Fourteen voters thought Verlander had the best year.

And the other sixteen voters thought Porcello had the better year.

That’s what all this comes down to. Yes, we can and will talk about the two voters who left Verlander entirely off their ballot or the seven others who had him fourth or fifth on their ballots. But this is the point: Verlander’s season did not wow everyone. Porcello appeared on all 30 ballots. He was first or second on ALL SIXTEEN ballots where Verlander did not get the vote. Everyone seemed to agree that while Porcello might not have had THE BEST year, he was close. People were much more divided on Verlander.

Why, though?

Well, let’s talk for a minute about Baltimore closer Zach Britton. He had, more or less, the perfect modern closer season. It is almost impossible to be better within the confines of the closer role than Britton was this year. He finished 63 games (most in the league) and had 47 saves (most in the league) and he did not blow a single save, and he gave up FOUR earned runs all year (seven total). That’s it. You basically can’t do better than that. His 0.54 ERA is the lowest in baseball history for anyone who pitched 50-plus innings.

So, did Britton deserve the Cy Young Award? Well, if he did not then no modern closer will EVER deserve it.

And … the voters were largely unmoved. He got five first place votes, and the other 25 were pretty unimpressed — 20 of the 25 put him fourth or lower (six left him off the ballot entirely). This was a philosophical divide. A small but vocal minority of people believed that Britton’s year was so special that he deserved the Cy Young even though he only pitched 67 innings. The rest were just not that dazzled. I must admit, I probably would have picked Britton fourth too; I just don’t think a closer can ever be as valuable as a top starter.

Anyway, all five of the people who voted Britton first voted Porcello second. So those five thought Porcello was the league’s best starter. That’s 13 who basically voted Porcello first compared to 14 who voted Verlander first.

Then: Three people voted Corey Kluber first. Kluber’s case is more subtle than either Verlander or Porcello. He pitched fewer innings than either, had a higher ERA and fewer strikeouts than Verlander, had fewer wins and a higher WHIP than Porcello. The way Kluber’s year made sense for Cy Young was to acknowledge that he pitched in a hitters’ ballpark and was a bit unluckier on balls hit in play … and then make the various adjustments. Like I say, it was subtle.

All three of the people who voted Kluber first voted Porcello second.

And that’s why Porcello won. Yes, you could argue that the five voters who picked Verlander lower than fourth don’t really have much of a leg to stand on — I’m not sure how you make the argument that J.A. Happ or Masahiro Tanaka or Aaron Sanchez had better years than Verlander. Both of the Tampa Bay writers left Verlander entirely off their ballots, which is weird and made me look up how Verlander pitched against the Rays in 2016.*

*He was good — made one start, went seven innings, gave up two runs (one earned) and struck out eight. So that one baffles me.

But even if those two had given Verlander their fifth place votes, he would not have won. Even if they had given him their FOURTH place votes, he would not have won. Yes, you can maneuver around the down-ballot voting to give Verlander a victory. You can also count just top three votes the way the Cy Young used to do it, giving five points for a first place vote, three for a second place vote and 1 for a third place vote.

In that case, Porcello wins even MORE convincingly:

1. Porcello, 96 points

2. Verlander, 81 points

3. Kluber, 45 points

4. Britton, 36 points

This bottom line ended up being that Verlander’s year — probably because he won just 16 games, but also perhaps because he gave up 30 home runs and didn’t finish Top 5 in strikeout-to-walk ratio and came on so late after an indifferent first half  — left half the voters a bit cold. Pitching is still like modern art; people see it how they want to see it. I would have voted Verlander. But Porcello is a worthy Cy Young winner.

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45 Responses to Upton Girl

  1. Marc Schneider says:

    If Kate Upton had seen your analysis before, I’m sure she would never have sent the tweet.:)

    • Rob Smith says:

      Normally when gfs and wives tweet in anger about their significant others, it’s highly annoying. But somehow, when Kate Upton does it and invokes f-ing, it’s somehow just fine.

      • DB says:

        Sorry, but I will be that guy. Great granddaughter of the founder of Whirlpool. Uncle is a US congressman who voted against marriage equality. Boyfriend is super successful athlete. Can talk about having sex outside of marriage without consequence. She is an attractive woman but I am old so not sure this still a thing but “Check Your Privilege.” Wow, voting rules brought down your guy. Wonder when that has happened. Not sure why we think it is OK what she said versus Miko Grimes. I would rather not hear from either of them.

        • KHAZAD says:

          I am sorry DB, someone’s background or the possibility of them being privileged has zero affect on whether they have the right to make comments.

          There is also no comparison between her comments and anything Miko Grimes has said. She made a specific “mama bear” type comment one time in reaction to something specific in regards to her significant other. Perhaps it would have been better for without the F word, but she used it to make a point rather than using it against someone. We know about her comment because she is already famous.

          Miko Grimes is known BECAUSE of tirades laced with racial epithets and streams of profanity, all directed AT someone. The F,C, N, B, J words are used liberally and someone is always being called those names. Suggesting someone be sodomized is common. She is not coming to her husband’s defense. In most cases, she is just spewing vitriol for no reason.

          These two things are not close to the same, which is exactly why some people think this is OK and Grimes is not.

        • Mike says:

          What in God’s holy name are you blathering about, DB?

          • Silver says:

            I’ll tell you what he’s blathering about… He’s got information man! New s*** has come to light!

  2. Dan says:

    The issue, as I see it, isn’t that Verlander lost, it is that two voters didn’t even put him on the ballot. Hard to argue that he wasn’t one of the 5 best pitchers this year. I suspect that a simple loss, with everyone putting him on the ballot, does not equate to Verlander getting F*ed. Instead, it feels like he was robbed because two people weren’t even paying attention.

  3. GWO says:

    Do they publish all the ballots then? I’d love to who’d win with the Concordet method, or Single Transferable vote (I suspect Porcello wins all of these, as they’d boil down to how many ranked Porcello above Verlander, which is how it kinda worked out anyway).

  4. Keith says:

    Verlander still has the best consolation prize.

    • Chrys says:

      why do we even care about “awards” these days. Kate, just sit on his fuzzy little face until he turns blue. And then you’ll both forget all about it. I have a very difficult time feeling sorry for either of you considering the state of the world at the moment.

      • invitro says:

        “Chrys”, I think your diversity counselor is calling you… you’d better go back to your coloring books and therapy puppies.

  5. Danimal says:

    It is, however, in the running for the greatest tweent of all time, so there’s that.

  6. Chris H says:

    Here is my best possible case for Britton: if you filled out the difference between Britton and a starter, about 150 innings, with a league-average pitcher (ERA of 4.20), the totals would be 217 IP, 74 ER, and an ERA of 3.07. And that’s reasonably close to where the other candidates are – he was enough better than the rest of the league that he turns a league average starter into a Cy Young candidate.

    I don’t think that’s an especially compelling argument to give him the award, for a number of reasons (it assumes league average, not replacement player; it’s easier to pitch lights-out for one inning than seven; various other things including that it may not really make sense). But I do think it suggests that he ought to be in the discussion.

    And – Britton’s otherworldly year is approximately the level a relief pitcher has to be at to stack up as a Cy Young candidate.

    • mark G says:

      Chris H – I think that’s a really useful way to think abut it. But I also agree that in the end it does not add up to a case for him winning. But your thought experiment helps me understand why I think that.

    • Chrys says:

      Cy Young was a starter. come up with an award for relief pitchers. done and done. AND players are players, not pitchers. MVP is for everyday players. AAAARRRGGHH. I love baseball but I hate the flawed tradition of award season. It could be fixed (defined) so easily.

    • Casey Bell says:

      Sorry but no, you can’t simply add 150 innings of average SP performance to Britton’s season and suggest that it gives you a reasonable representation of how good Britton was in 2016.

      First, Britton never faced the same batter twice in a game all season. Starters have to face the same batters 2, 3 or even 4
      times in a game and stats show that they do better against pitchers the more times they see them in a game.

      In 2016, batters who faced Britton 3 or more time (all season)
      batted .211 against him (15 for 71).

      Batters who faced Britton LESS than 3 teams (all season) batted
      just .140 against him (23 for 164).

      Yes, these are small sample sizes but a 50% improvement by batters who saw Britton at least 3 times compared to seeing him
      just once or twice? Clearly familiarity with Britton’s pitching leads to batters hitting better against him, so just imagine how well they might hit him if they could face him 10
      or 15 times a season!

      The difference between 67 innings and 217 innings is HUGE.

      And think of it this way, if the O’s felt that they could get
      217 CY Young level innings out of Britton don’t you think they’d immediately convert him to a starter?

  7. heaveecee says:

    I don’t have a big problem with the Porcello win, but I did think both Kluber and Verlander had an edge over him. It is the voting system that I find flawed. I don’t think 2 second place votes should be worth more than a single first place vote. I get it that more voters thought Porcello had a better year, but as a consensus number 1, more were convinced that Verlander had the best year. Maybe 8,4,2,1 makes the ranking more definitive. Haven’t done the math, so I’m not even sure that changes anything considering the unusual nature of this year’s ballot. Maybe just goes to show how wide open the race was.

    • Donald A. Coffin says:

      Using 8-4-3-2-1, Verlander wins 146, Porcello at 145. (I would also agree with a larger differential between first and second, and maybe between second and third.)

  8. Chris H says:

    Another thing about this year’s candidates: In the AL, there was no pitcher or small group of pitchers who separated themselves from the pack, using ERA as the measure. The difference between the ERA leader Aaron Sanchez (3.00) and the 10th place pitcher (Ervin Sanchez, 3.38) was 0.38 runs. Going back to 2006, the gap between #1 and #10 ranged from 0.62 runs to 1.61 runs (that was 2009, when Greinke was 0.33 runs better than the second-place pitcher).

    3.00 was fairly high for an ERA leader, and of course runs scored were way up this year. But even so, the leaders themselves seemed to have high ERA’s relative to the rest of the league.

  9. invitro says:

    I saw Vanilla Sky in a theatre and liked it a lot. But my (first) date was rubbing my chest the 2nd half, so my concentration might’ve been off. And Upton? No thanks, I don’t care for BBW’s. 🙁

  10. BobDD says:

    I thought the tweets were embarrassing, but then nobody ever downloads pics of Kate’s IQ.

  11. Rick Rodstrom says:

    So you’re saying that Porcello won the Electoral College vote.

  12. KHAZAD says:

    I would have voted for Kluber and Porcello would have been 4th. While I don’t understand anyone picking 5 guys ahead of Verlander, sometimes wives or girlfriends turn mama bear a little. The difference now (especially if you are already famous) is that it is shared with everyone instead of just friends.

    • DB says:

      Kate Upton has 2.2M followers. She could have chosen to use private settings but she decided to blast 2 reporters in Tampa in a public setting. Saying that someone is f***ing your boyfriend is basically saying that they voted against your boyfriend because of malice. Then another mama bear says that they should string up a man because you do not like the way he hit your husband. Then another mama bear says that the league is conspiring against your husband’s team. All of this garbage leads to a more virulent crap like Miko, the absolutely crazy mama bear. I am just tired of mama bears. Justin is a big boy and if he thinks the system is bad, then he should advocate. Same as Curry. I am finally glad that athletes are speaking up because they are the ones who should be. Not mama or papa bears.

  13. Herbert Smith says:

    The most enraging thing, for a Verlander fan, is that one of the Tampa writers sent in his completed ballot with 10 games left in the season. You hear a similar story to this EVERY year! Why the hell is it so difficult to find 30 people on this planet who’ll actually TRY to do a thorough job in the voting? There aren’t thirty writers alive who understand MLB, and who’ll take the process seriously? Isn’t it considered to be kind of a prestigious thing to be chosen to be among the elite thirty “experts” who’ll get to have a direct say in baseball history?

    And this year, like nearly every year, the final ten days absolutely mattered. When this guy in Tampa sent off his ballot, the Orioles (featuring Zach Britton) were virtually TIED with the Tigers (Verlander) for the final wild-card spot. And in those final ten games, of COURSE there were Cy-award ramifications.
    For example, Kate Upton’s squeeze made 3 quality starts, and lowered his ERA from 3.22 to a nearly league-leading 3.04 (second in the AL to Sanchez’s 3.00). And, yes…he passed Porcello on the list…Ricky finished with a 3.15, good for 5th in the league. Verlander also had an 8, an 11, and a 12 strike-out performance in those three games, thus cementing his status as the AL leader in K’s.
    Heck, I’m not even a big Verlander fan (I would have probably voted for Porcello or Kluber). But why would this voter leave himself open to second-guessing, and even ridicule?

    I suggest reading Dave Cameron’s piece on Fangraphs about his agonizing over the voting process (he had an NL Cy Young vote). I guess I naively assumed that all of the writers/voters took the job that seriously, and actually bothered to do some research…and not left themselves open to legitimate criticism by just casually throwing a few names on a piece of paper and mailing ’em off in the midst of a heated pennant race!

    • Marc Schneider says:

      But does it really matter what he did in a couple of late season starts? The idea is that the Cy Young winner should be the best pitcher over the course of the season. (At least that’s my view.) I’m not justifying what the writer did, but 3 starts should hardly justify winning the Cy Young.

      • Casey Bell says:

        Yes it matters what he did in his final 2 or 3 starts because when the competition for an award is this close, any additional information you can get your hands on has the potential to help you differentiate between candidates.

        Asking if it really matters is like asking whether what a horse does in the final 100 yards of a horse race matters. Sometimes it matters very much!

  14. Robert says:

    Heck, the other guy got a trophy. Verlander got Kate Upton. Justin wins, hands down.

    • invitro says:

      I bet most pitchers would much rather have the Cy Young Award than Upton. I know I would. But I’d rather have one major league at-bat than Upton, so what do I know?

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Maybe most pitchers would because a MLB pitcher probably already has someone in at least the same league with Upton.

  15. Mark Daniel says:

    Verlander came into that one TB game with an 8-6 won-loss record and a 4.30 ERA. That’s not very good, in fact it’s below average (league avg ERA for the season was 4.20 in the AL). And this wasn’t April or May, mind you. It was July.

    Maybe the Tampa voters just dismissed him from Cy consideration based on that.

  16. mrh says:

    The Tampa connection COULD just be a coincidence. But it sure SEEMS like something happened between Verlander and the Tampa press or some off-field incident in Tampa that didn’t make the news (is that even possible today?) or some other personal issue to cause ONLY the Tampa voters to boycott Verlander.

  17. Mark says:

    Love the stats/comparisons. I also believe that Verlander’s first half of the season may have cost him the award.

  18. MikeN says:

    You say Porcello makes up the gap by being the 2nd vote for Kluber voters, but Verlander’s extra first pace votes are worth more than Porcello’s 2nd places.

  19. Unvenfurth says:

    This column is insanely tedious

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