It was just over a week ago that I wrote about the respective Cy Young candidacies of Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, giving my nod to the latter. In the time since, each pitcher has only served to strengthen his individual case, but it looks as though Lester may have overtaken his teammate. Though Hendricks’ 2.07 ERA continues to lead the majors, Lester’s 15 shutout innings (17 consecutive if you stretch back to the pre-article start) have him sitting at second with a 2.40 mark.
Both pitchers seem to have found a nice groove and neither has allowed more than 2 earned runs in their last 16 starts combined (8 apiece). Neither is particularly overpowering, but their disparate repertoires have produced similar results. Hendricks boasts a higher average game score, though his 62 carries only marginally more weight than the 61 Lester has compiled. The veteran lefty has put up 3.73 K/BB while his baby-faced colleague sits at a 3.53.
Anyone who’s watched either can attest to how well they’ve performed, and that includes the opposing hitters who’ve toiled largely in vain this season. Oddly enough, though, the Cubs duo wilts a bit under the spotlight powered by further understanding of and reliance on advanced metrics.
Neither pitcher ranks in the top 10 in FIP, with Hendricks (3.37) sitting 11th and Lester (3.45) 15th. Likewise, Lester’s 3.47 xFIP is 12th-best in baseball, seven spots above the 3.69 Hendricks has put up. SIERA is the most unkind of the measuring sticks, ranking Lester (3.63) 16th and Hendricks (3.80) 25th.
WAR has become the go-to catch-all for measuring player performance, and while applying it to pitchers can be more troublesome than it is with their offensive counterparts, neither of these potential Cy Young candidates breaks the top 13 in MLB. They’re still clumped together, though, with Lester (3.9 fWAR) and Hendricks (3.7) ranked 14th and 15th.
I’m not making a case for or against either traditional measurements — including win/loss record and the eyeball test — or advanced metrics. In point of fact, I believe it’s prudent and necessary to use all the input at our disposal to develop an informed opinion based in proper context. One need look no further than the brief evidence I’ve presented above to understand how a myopic view of performance could skew the results.
Speaking of measurements of talent and people who are pretty intelligent when it comes to all things baseball, I wanted to share a couple of Cy Young predictions to see how our two heroes stack up. Dan Szymborski’s rankings, which are based on stat lines, position, and team standing, are pretty favorable as far as the Cubs are concerned.
If there’s a surprise here, at least as far as my expectations, it’s that Thor is down there so low. I’m not sure how much of that is based on the Mets not lighting the world on fire, but I’d still have him ahead of Arrieta and probably Cueto.
Next up is ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor, a Rob Neyer/Bill James brainchild that uses a formula to come up with a Cy Young Points* total that has correctly indicated 20 of the last 28 (including 9 of the last 10) winners. Far from perfect, but I’ll take a .714 winning percentage to the bank all day long. Lester is again the Cubs’ top dog according CYP, only this time he’s in the top overall spot too.
The historical accuracy of this formula lends it a good deal of credence, but I take serious issue with any list that has Kyle Hendricks below Kenley Jansen and Jake Arrieta this season.
At its core, CYP is really just a distilled numerical expression of the typical voter’s thought process. Rather than tell us who’s most worthy of a vote, it seeks to illustrate how ballots will be cast based on preconceived notions of pitcher performance. Perhaps that’s why its two biggest misses — Tim Lincecum (15-7) 4th in CYP in 2009, King Felix (13-12) 7th in 2010 — came when voters looked past pedestrian win/loss records.
What goes unaccounted for in CYP is the potential to buck convention, which I’ve maintained is what will drive Hendricks.[beautifulquote align=”right”]It’s almost as though Hendricks became so underrated that he has now become overrated.[/beautifulquote]
Interestingly enough, the same surprise factor that has fueled the hype around Hendricks all season — and make no mistake, he’s not toiling in obscurity these days — could actually end up working against him. It’s almost as though he became so underrated that he has now become overrated, a snake who’s eating his own tail. Not that I agree with that particular mindset, just that I can imagine voters in other markets feeling that way when it comes time to choose.
The same could be said for the Cubs in general, as their dominance — both of the NL Central and the national headlines — this season is undoubtedly picking at the public’s nerves like the frayed strings of a cheap guitar. In the end, I still believe the sentimental draw of a guy who barely even throws 90 will win out. But I also believe Lester’s late surge could be enough to push him over the top as the Cubs close the season.
Could Hendricks still win despite what the predictions above say? Or will the battle-tested lefty get his due and prove that the Cubs made a wise investment by paying big for him in free agency?
If it helps, there’s really no wrong answer here.
*CYP: In The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers — co-authored by Bill James and ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer presents a method, based on past results, to predict Cy Young balloting. This page provides an in-season snapshot of the Cy Young “race,” as figured by the following formula: Cy Young Points (CYP) = ((5*IP/9)-ER) + (SO/12) + (SV*2.5) + Shutouts + ((W*6)-(L*2)) + VB (see below).
VB: Victory Bonus is a 12-point bonus awarded for leading your team to the division championship