Here was the interesting thing about Justin Verlander falling short in the American League Cy Young Award voting last week: that the vote was as close as it was in the first place.
Verlander, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber and Boston starter Rick Porcello -- who earned the award -- were all quite worthy of it.
If you measured the three by WAR, they were essentially equal, according to Fangraphs, joined by Chicago’s Chris Sale.
Verlander either impressed voters incredibly, explaining why he had the most first-place votes (14 of 30), or he was an afterthought on their ballots. While Porcello earned second-place votes on more than half the ballots he didn’t appear first, Verlander was named on just two of 12.
At the same time, two writers from the Tampa Bay area left Verlander off their ballots entirely, drawing ire for such an obvious mistake.
We won’t explore that further, but it is worth noting what the numbers tell us about the voting trends. And honestly, there is some positive to be found, and not just in the Cy Young voting.
For the longest time, voters put an added emphasis on winning. They would argue that makes sense because winning is the objective of the game. How do you know a good player? He’s a winner.
So your Cy Young award winners came from playoffs teams, and they typically piled up a lot of wins in the process.
Your MVPs, too, came from playoff teams.
A lot of fans, and apparently some baseball writers, still judge players that way. It’s an easy shorthand. You don’t have to do much research that way. Just look in the wins column.
Porcello was the best starter on the Red Sox, and he won 22 games. He must have been doing something right.
And he was.
But somewhere along the way, a lot of people took a step back and thought, hey, maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense, because a pitcher gets credit and punishment for many things he doesn’t control.
It takes a good defense to make plays. It takes good relief pitching to help clean up the mess left on the bases. It takes a good offense to score runs. To be good, a pitcher sure seemed to need to rely on a lot of things outside his own control.
Verlander’s defense was fourth-worst in the AL, per Fangraphs. Porcello’s was the fourth-best.
Verlander’s bullpen allowed eight of 15 bequeathed runners to score. Porcello’s kept all 11 from touching home.
Verlander’s offense scored 4.0 runs per game he started; Porcello’s scored an MLB-best 6.8.
In the past, Porcello may have been a unanimous victor for the Cy Young award. Instead he had just eight first-place votes compared to Verlander’s 14. That’s progress.
Progress, too, could be found in the AL MVP voting, won by Mike Trout. For the longest time, the MVP was the best player on a playoff team. Anyone else need not apply.
Trout is clearly the best baseball player in his league. Any collection of stats will tell you that. He put up the best batting stats, above-average baserunning, and above-average fielding. This wasn’t new to 2016. You could pick any year you like in his career and his numbers across the board obliterate the field -- yes, even Miguel Cabrera.
And yet his only MVP award before this one came in a season his team won 94 games and made the playoffs.
This year the Angels won 74 and finished in fourth. Trout got 19 out 30 first-place votes anyway.
It was never Trout’s fault his team wasn’t good enough. He’s just one player on an active roster of 25.
Most voters today realize that, so this time Trout wasn’t penalized for his teammates and was given the award he rightfully deserves.
The voters are getting smarter. They’re getting better.
In the old way of thinking, Verlander wasn’t a “winner” this year, so he was out of luck. In the new way of thinking, we know better and we’re offended because a couple of baseball writers ignored context.
You could have given the AL Cy Young award to a couple of different starters this year and felt justified. That we’re mad not just because Verlander lost, but because of how he lost, shows how far we’ve come in a few short years.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at email@example.com.