Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Kase for Koji

Acolytes, I've been doing some thinking lately, and it's about something I've been reading in the news. You've probably been reading about it, too. Now I'm not one to get get involved in politics, but in this particular case I cannot keep silent. I'm of course talking about the heated debate among Cy Young voters regarding the candidacy of relievers.

Starters have been, and always will be, the preferred choices among Cy Young voters. Once in a while, though, a reliever is so utterly dominant that he demands attention for the most coveted pitching award in the game. This is one of those times.

Domo arigato for the awesome season, dude.
Koji Uehara, originally tabbed as the setup guy to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, stepped in to the closer's role with the Red Sox and put together one of the best seasons by a reliever in MLB history. Unfortunately, preference for starters and the ever so sexy/meaningless save stat may doom his chances.

Fear not! TDZ is here to make an ironclad case for why Koji must be the 2013 AL Cy Young winner.

First, I must prove that Koji's season is, at the very least, on par with past Cy Young winning seasons by relievers. I need only let the stats speak for me. The numbers in bold italics lead all Cy Young relievers:

Mike Marshall - sideburn enthusiast, trendsetter
1974: Mike Marshall
  • 15-12, 2.42 ERA, 21 SV, 208.1 IP, 56 BB, 143 K, 2.55 K/BB, 1.186 WHIP, 141 ERA+
1977: Sparky Lyle
  • 13-5, 2.17 ERA, 26 SV, 137 IP, 33 BB, 68 K, 2.06 K/BB, 1.197 WHIP, 183 ERA+
1979: Bruce Sutter
  • 6-6, 2.22 ERA, 37 SV, 101.1 IP, 32 BB, 110 K, 3.44 K/BB, 0.977 WHIP, 188 ERA+
He also won the Ron Swanson in the very same year.
 1981: Rollie Fingers
  • 6-3, 1.04 ERA, 28 SV, 78 IP, 13 BB, 61 K, 4.69 K/BB, 0.872 WHIP, 333 ERA+
1984: Willie Hernandez
  • 9-3, 1.92 ERA, 32 SV, 140.1 IP, 36 BB, 112 K, 3.11 K/BB, 0.941 WHIP, 204 ERA+
1987: Steve "Bedrock" Bedrosian
  • 5-3, 2.83 ERA, 40 SV, 89 IP, 28 BB, 74 K, 2.64 K/BB, 1.202 WHIP, 151 ERA+
1989: Mark Davis
  • 4-3, 1.85 ERA, 44 SV, 92.2 IP, 31 BB, 92 K, 2.97 K/BB, 1.047 WHIP, 191 ERA+
Someone please bring back closer hair. At least Kenny Powers is trying.
 1992: Dennis Eckersley
  • 7-1, 1.91 ERA, 51 SV, 80 IP, 11 BB, 93 K, 8.45 K/BB, 0.913 WHIP, 195 ERA+
  • Also won the MVP this year, even though it wasn't even his best year - check out 1990.
2003: Eric Gagne
  • 2-3, 1.20 ERA, 55 SV, 82.1 IP, 20 BB, 137 K, 6.85 K/BB, 0.692 WHIP, 337 ERA+
2013: Koji Uehara
  • 4-1, 1.09 ERA, 21 SV, 74.1 IP, 9 BB, 101 K, 11.22 K/BB, 0.565 WHIP, 376 ERA+

As you can see, Koji leads all past Cy Young winning relievers in K/BB, WHIP, and ERA+, showing that even seasonal adjustments to the data have him as the best of them all.

Most in the lamestream sports media may bemoan Koji's lack of saves (he became closer almost halfway through the year). In fact, he's not even listed in the top-10 for ESPN's Cy Young predictor! I take issue with the idea that a reliever who holds a lead in the 9th is any more valuable than a reliever that holds a lead in the 8th. 

The only possible argument against that is if the pitcher "can't take the heat" in the higher pressure situation of a 9th inning. Well guess what: Koji was perfect through 12.1 consecutive 9th innings during a crucial stretch between late August and early September that helped the Sox lock up the AL East. Methinks he can handle the pressure.

Yeah, baby! Yeah! Look alive!
The only other thing standing between him and the award is competition from other pitchers. You can see in this Wiki article that many of these relievers didn't have stiff competition, although it discusses the value of the pitchers mostly by Wins, followed by ERA. Any baseball fan knows that you can't judge a pitcher based on Wins.

Koji's chief competition for the Cy is Max Scherzer of the Tigers, and Yu Darvish of the Rangers. Here's how they stack up on comparable rate stats (note: WAAadj denotes an adjustment that Baseball Reference makes that elevates Wins Above Average for relievers in high pressure roles):
  • Scherzer: 2.90 ERA, 0.970 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 4.29 K/BB, 145 ERA+, 4.7 WAA, -0.2 WAAadj (4.5 net WAA)
  • Darvish: 2.83 ERA, 1.073 WHIP, 11.9 K/9, 3.46 K/BB, 145 ERA+, 3.9 WAA, -0.1 WAAadj (3.8 net WAA)
  • Uehara: 1.09 ERA, 0.565 WHIP, 12.2 K/9, 11.22 K/BB, 376 ERA+, 2.4 WAA, +0.5 WAAadj (2.9 net WAA)
Koji compares very favorably against both pitchers, surpassed only by 1.6 and 0.9 wins on WAA. Whether this margin is too high a mountain to climb, I decided to look back at Eck and Gagne and see if their modern era WAA differentials were at all similar.

  • McDowell: 3.18 ERA, 1.235 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 2.37 K/BB, 122 ERA+, 2.9 WAA, -0.2 WAAadj (2.7 net WAA)
  • Clemens: 2.41 ERA, 1.074 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 3.35 K/BB, 174 ERA+, 6.5 WAA, -0.2 WAAadj (6.3 net WAA)
  • Eckersley: 1.91 ERA, 0.913 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 8.45 K/BB, 195 ERA+, 1.7 WAA, +0.3 WAAadj (2.0 net WAA)
First off, it's hilarious that Jack McDowell finished in second ahead of the Rocket. As you can see, Eck overcame a WAA differential over 4 to win the Cy, more than double the gap for Koji. As for Gagne...

  • Schmidt: 2.34 ERA, 0.953 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 4.52 K/BB, 180 ERA+, 5.1 WAA, -0.1 WAAadj (5.0 net WAA)
  • Prior: 2.43 ERA, 1.103 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 4.90 K/BB, 179 ERA+, 5.8 WAA, -0.1 WAAadj (5.7 net WAA)
  • Gagne: 1.20 ERA, 0.692 WHIP, 15.0 K/9, 6.85 K/BB, 337 ERA+, 2.3 WAA, +0.7 WAAadj (3.0 net WAA)
 He won with WAA differentials of 2.7 and 2.0, both gaps larger than Koji's.

Combining these stats with the crucial role he played in the Red Sox securing the best record in the league, Koji Uehara should be your 2013 American League Cy Young winner. I rest my case.

The story continues...

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