The Baseball Writers Association of America announced the results of its AL Cy Young award vote Tuesday, and unlike its Rookie of the Year vote, the BBWAA picked the right man, with all 28 first-place votes going to Tigers ace Justin Verlander. The selection may have been for the wrong reasons—the voters have finally started to move away from judging pitchers primarily based on their win-loss records, but I’m sure the fact that his 24 wins were five more than the next-highest guy factored into some writers’ decisions—but Verlander was the clear choice nonetheless.
But, like the Rookie of the Year balloting, no Cleveland Indians players received any support. No Tribe pitcher deserved to win, but with a combined 140 available spaces on the writers’ ballots, at least someone should have voted for Justin Masterson.
Look past his pedestrian 12-10 record (every Indians fan knows he didn’t have the most consistent run support) and Masterson had a terrific season, posting a 3.21 ERA (3.28 FIP, 3.68 SIERA) in 216 innings pitched. He posted a 1.28 WHIP, a 2.4 K/BB ratio, a 55-percent groundball rate, and a HR/9 rate of just 0.5. FanGraphs has him at 4.9 WAR, good for eighth in the American League.
In a vacuum, I have no problem with Masterson being left off of anyone’s ballots. I used my fifth-place vote on him in the mock votes I participated in, but that was partly because I figured no one else would. I can definitely respect the opinions of those who don’t think he was not among the five best pitchers in the league this year.
As with Vinnie Pestano‘s exclusion from the Rookie of the Year leaderboard, the problem with the BBWAA’s vote is who the writers ranked ahead of Masterson. Verlander, CC Sabathia, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver—I have no problem with them being picked over Masterson. I might not agree that James Shields and Josh Beckett were more deserving, but I can at least see where the voters were coming from with those picks.
I lose that open-mindedness when the conversation shifts to Ricky Romero, who one voter saw fit to put in fourth place. Romero had a strong year, going 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP, but those numbers came courtesy of an insanely low .242 BABIP. Romero doesn’t have a history of inducing weak contact (he had a .289 BABIP last year, and a .333 hit rate the year before that), and his 13.2-percent HR/FB rate doesn’t gel with the idea that he suddenly learned it this year. He has no history of outperforming his peripherals, and his 4.20 FIP suggests that he was actually a below-average run preventer in 2011. To the voter who picked Romero, and to anyone else who thinks he had a better season than Masterson, I ask: Why are you giving him credit for what clearly appears to have been merely fortuitous luck?
It wasn’t just starting pitchers who finished ahead of Masterson. Personally I wouldn’t have voted for David Robertson with such a strong class of starters available, but he was one of the best relievers in baseball this year, and I can respect his inclusion. Mariano Rivera had a great season as always, but I doubt he would have gotten any votes if he had been a less-famous players on a smaller-market team.
The real shocker, though, was Jose Valverde. Yes, he was perfect in save opportunities this year, but the rest of his numbers? He had a 1.19 WHIP, a K/BB ratio of just over 2.0, and an 0.6 HR/9 rate. All major the ERA estimators had Masterson either roughly even with or way better than Valverde, and Masterson pitched three times as many innings. How can anyone say Valverde pitched better? Even if you take Valverde’s going 49-for-49 in save opportunities into account, the fact that he also lost four games shows he wasn’t perfect.
Unlike Romero, Valverde’s appearance on the leaderboard wasn’t just the result of one writer. He finished fifth overall, ahead of Wilson, Haren, Rivera, Beckett, Romero, and Robertson. Thirteen voters—almost half—named him among their top five, and one even put him second.
I know that the BBWAA doesn’t always vote for the right guy—in these votes, performance often takes a backseat to players’ narratives or personal popularity. I’m also definitely not saying Masterson should have won, or even that he necessarily should have gotten any votes. But looking at some of the pitchers who got votes instead, that Masterson got completely snubbed is insane.