The Surprisingly Easy Case for David Price: Cy Young Winner

There is a somewhat strong case that David Price should win the American League Cy Young Award. I am as surprised as you likely are, so let me try to convince you, but please note that I did not set about writing this column to cherry-pick facts to build a case; I was, instead, merely going to argue that Price was a better option than teammate Rick Porcello when I opened Baseball Prospectus’ DRA run values chart and saw Price at the very top.

Craig forgive me for using in-season WAR as a measuring stick, but it was hard not to notice that Price merely ranked as the best pitcher in all of baseball, which… is good. That’s a good thing. Ricky Bobby would be proud: He’s first, and everybody else is last. (As of today, he’s actually in second place, so just trust me when I say he was in first on Monday.)

ESPN’s award predictor thinks Porcello is the favorite, but I think the historical voting patterns that “predict” these things are likely out of date. I don’t think Porcello will win, or I didn’t until last night, when it became a stronger possibility, both statistically and narrative-wise. Now I’m not so sure about being not so sure, which serves me right for daring to write this a day early… but I still think Price is a better candidate, good stories be damned.

I also do not think Price will win, because he has a high enough ERA to be disqualifying to most voters. It’s currently 3.91, which is not good. It is basically the only statistic of his that is not good, and while we have moved past win-loss records as singularly qualifying or disqualifying for the award, I don’t think we’re there for ERA — nor have we needed to be, as for the most part there have been better pitchers vying for the award with better lines than Price’s this year.

But this year is not most years, and this year Price may actually be the best option despite “earning” nearly four runs per nine innings for his opponents. You would likely not be reading this website if you didn’t believe in the vitality of advanced stats, so if you believe a 4 ERA is a nonstarter for a Cy Young candidate, you’re best off stopping now.

If you are still here, it turns out that by simply by replacing ERA with anything better turns Price’s season into something special. BP uses Deserved Run Average — which, semantically speaking, seems no worse or different than Earned Run Average, but it’s best I don’t get into the weeds on that one. By DRA, Price is, at the time of this writing, in a virtual tie with Chris Sale at the top of the AL leaderboard. That is a fancy way of saying he’s behind by a few hundredths of a point. Sue me.

Porcello’s start last night really threw me for a loop, but it’s still clear that if you look at any numbers beyond ERA (which I’ve covered) and wins (to which we ought to be immune), Price is a better choice than the Pork Chop. Why don’t we call Porcello “Pork Chop,” by the way? Seems like a missed opportunity. Anyhoo… adding in DRA, here’s Price versus P-Chop, which seems pretty relevant today.

Porcello: 201.2 IP, 3.12 ERA, 3.48 DRA, 167:29 K:BB ratio, 21-4 record, 4.5 WAR

Price: 211.2 IP, 3.91 ERA, 2.72 DRA, 217:44 K:BB ratio, 16-8 record, 6.7 WAR

Right so… Price has been better. It’s close, but he’s been better. It’s not surprising that we’ve missed it, given Porcello’s wonderful season-long redemption story and the early hole from which Price had to extract himself, but we’ve certainly missed it. So again, the question is: How?

For a team perpetually short on starting pitchers, Price’s health has been a skill, just as it has been for his entire career.

The answer is that we take volume for granted, and one steadily accumulates WAR by going out there every so-and-so number of days and doing the damn thing. Price has done exactly this. For a team perpetually short on starting pitchers, his health has been a skill, just as it has been for his entire career. The same is true of Pork Chop, but he doesn’t lead the league in innings pitched — Price does, even after Porcello added nine innings to his total last night. This may not make Price a great Cy Young Award candidate, even if it makes him more like the actual, workhorse, Cy Young.

Let’s expand our look from Price versus Porcello to both of them versus the rest of the field. I’m excluding Zack Britton because, frankly, he’s not relevant and anyone telling you differently is trying to sell you something. I’m also excluding Jose Quintana, because his numbers don’t stack up, no matter how underrated everyone thinks he is. Finally, I’m excluding J.A. Happ because I want to and I don’t think anyone will really care. Here’s my list:

Porcello: 201.2 IP, 3.12 ERA, 3.48 DRA, 167:29 K:BB ratio, 21-4 record, 4.5 WAR

Price: 211.2 IP, 3.91 ERA, 2.72 DRA, 217:44 K:BB ratio, 16-8 record, 6.7 WAR

Sale: 210.2 IP, 3.03 ERA, 2.65 DRA, 215:44 K:BB ratio, 16-8 record, 6.8 WAR

Hamels: 186 IP, 3.42 ERA, 2.74 DRA, 187:75 K:BB ratio, 14-5 record, 5.8 WAR

Kluber: 204.2 IP, 3.12 ERA, 2.97 DRA, 215:54 K:BB ratio, 17-9 record, 5.9 WAR

Quickly, let’s look at the three non-Sox candidates to see how Price stacks up.

In the case of Sale, outside of ERA, his numbers and Price’s are virtually identical. It’s actually kind of creepy how similar they are? Sale probably makes a better candidate by being a more exciting pitcher at this stage of his career, but he’s also on a crappy team (which, whatever) and placed himself at the center of two patently absurd scandals this year, which is not endearing to me, given how stupid they were. I’d say Sale is a marginally better candidate in a vacuum, but we don’t vote in a vacuum.

In the case of Hamels, his low IP and high walk totals — he leads the league in walks! — are quickly disqualifying in this context. He is a fine pitcher having a fine season, but he hasn’t been the best.

Kluber is still my favorite to win the award, as he has pretty much everything going for him, or did until last night’s Porcello start. There is a real argument that Price has been as good as Kluber or better — more innings, more strikeouts, fewer walks — but it’s hard enough to isolate even in this context, where I’ve taken pains to spell it out, and will likely be invisible to voters. This is fine: Kluber is great and is the clear-cut best pitcher on a first-place team, unlike both Porcello and Price, who must contend with one another, and unlike Hamels, who hasn’t put in the innings to qualify in this columnist’s opinion, has walked too many people, and won’t win anyway.

All of this is academic, of course. Price won’t really be considered because of biases both old and new, and logic both sound and flawed. He knew that his contract came with sky-high expectations, and it’s his “failure” to meet certain high standards seems to have disqualified him early on from anything better than a fifth-place finish or so. That’s too bad, because he’s had the strongest season of all Sox pitchers, and maybe the strongest in the American League. Believe it. 

Photo by Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports Images

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3 comments on “The Surprisingly Easy Case for David Price: Cy Young Winner”


DRA did not penalize Price for all those poorly located pitches in the first half that were being hit hard and/or far, and even made it look like he was doing terrific when in fact the Sox were losing games he started by substantial margins. And they were losing those games because he pitched lousy according to any eye test or smell test or just from paying attention to Jerry Remy showing you how Price left that pitch up over the plate. And confirming what DRA is telling you by using WARP which is based on DRA is, not oddly, unconvincing. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a high ERA means a pitcher is doing poorly.

The good folks at BP have done great work with DRA and WARP, but 99.99% of baseball fans have no idea what they’re derived from, or what they mean — including the ones who vote for the award.

Porcello’s IP/start is better than Price, so I’m not sure you can really consider that a win for Price here.

K:BB is also misleading, when you consider the K/BB favors Porcello significantly.


I’m supposed to take a stat seriously that ranks Michael Pineda as the 12th best starting pitcher in MLB this year? Who am I supposed to believe? BP or my lying eyes?

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