McCosky: Cy Young vote exposes glitch in balloting system

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Verlander

Detroit – Can we clear something up here, please?

That Rick Porcello edged out Justin Verlander for the American League Cy Young Award Wednesday, despite having six fewer first-place votes, isn’t an indictment of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Yes, two Tampa-based writers left Verlander off their ballots completely, which is indefensible. But, they would have had to put Verlander third or better on their ballots to swing the election.

The problem is the point system. We are tasked with selecting and ranking the top five pitchers and points are assigned from first to fifth – 7, 4, 3, 2, 1. As we saw Wednesday, it creates a situation where first-place votes get dispersed and effectively watered down in the final count.

Verlander got first-place votes from 14 of the 30 voters. Porcello got eight. That number was matched by the combined first-place votes for Zach Britton (five) and Corey Kluber (three).

Porcello’s 18 second-place votes earned him a pivotal 72 points. The point system will likely be a topic of conversation at our next BBWAA meeting, which will be during the Winter Meetings next month.  Perhaps more weight should be given to first-place votes.

Worthy finalists

That discussion should not in any way detract from or disparage Porcello’s accomplishment. We can split analytical and statistical hairs all we want, but when you get down to it, all three finalists – Porcello, Verlander and Kluber – were worthy of the award.

Porcello was 13-1 with a 2.97 ERA in 16 starts at Fenway Park, for crying out loud. That is remarkable.

Verlander's 1st-place votes not enough to snag Cy Young

I was one of the 30 voters for this award and I can tell you, it was an arduous task. Solid cases could be made not only for the three finalists, but also for the White Sox’s Chris Sale, the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ and Britton, the Orioles’ closer who was nearly perfect in 2016.

I made my first statistical spreadsheet at the beginning of September. The categories I used were WAR, pitchers’ WAR, ERA, park-adjusted ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, walks-to-strikeouts, innings pitched, opponents’ average and OPS.

After updating it throughout the month and, for the last time on the Monday after the end of the regular season, Verlander was at the top of most of the categories, and yet, on the first ballot I sent in I had Porcello first and Verlander second.

Why? Because I was worried about being thought of as a homer. But the more I thought about it, the more I crunched the numbers, the more I thought about what I watched all season, I knew the honest pick, the correct pick for me was Verlander. And the only reason I listed Porcello first was because I didn’t want to be viewed as a homer.

That’s wrong and I couldn’t live with it. Fortunately, BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell ripped up my original ballot and let me file a revised one on that same Monday.

Here’s how I voted: 1. Verlander, 2. Porcello, 3. Kluber, 4. Sale, 5. Britton.

Britton debate

The other lingering Cy Young debate, of course, will be Britton not being among the top three. I won’t apologize for giving Britton a fifth-place vote.

He was brilliant, no question. Near perfect. But comparing a closer to a starting pitcher is apples to oranges. There is a reason relief pitchers have their own award (though it is not BBWAA-administered).

Britton pitched 67 innings last season. In most, he came into a clean ninth inning. He faced a total of 254 batters, and not once did he have to retire the same hitter more than once in an outing.

Compare that to Verlander, who pitched 227.2 innings, faced 903 batters and in the vast majority of his starts faced the middle of the opponent’s order at least three times.

The perception was that the voters ignored Britton’s great season. That’s not true at all. He got five first-place votes, was on 24 of the 30 ballots and finished fourth with 72 points. To me, that’s a fair acknowledgement of his season, relative to his role.

Twitter @cmccosky