The top of the American League ballot sparked outrage on Wednesday, at least along the Detroit/sabermetric/supermodel set. Rick Porcello won the Cy Young even though Justin Verlander received more first-place votes, but Verlander finished second in part because he didn’t even finish on a couple ballots.
That alone didn’t create the five-point difference that separated Porcello from Verlander. He would’ve needed two third-place finishes on those ballots to qualify, and that’s not a given based on the way other votes went.
Verlander’s biggest problem might’ve been the value set of the Zach Britton voters. Britton received more first-place votes (five) than Corey Kluber (three) despite pitching 148 fewer innings. Yes, Britton had a great season, going 47-for-47 in saves with a 0.54 ERA ... but he was restricted to a strict usage pattern that made Buck Showalter use six relievers who weren’t Britton in an elimination loss. I don’t think it’s unfair to request that Cy Young winners average at least one inning per appearance.
In and of itself, though, it’s not objectionable that a handful of voters saluted a great closer season in the absence of a dominant starter season. But there was a correlation with the Britton voters, in that the same people who were swayed by saves were swayed by wins.
On the ballots that had Britton first:— Phenomenal Source (@SouthSideSox) November 17, 2016
Porcello: 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd
Verlander: 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 5th
And then there's this one: pic.twitter.com/HXRwRPxn0l
That’s an eight-point difference right there, so the two Verlander-free ballots from the Tampa Bay area didn’t decide it by themselves.
Looking at these results, I think we can safely conclude that Chris Sale didn’t cost himself the Cy Young with his stumble against the Twins in his finale.
Porcello can hold his record (22-4) over Verlander (16-9), as well as walk-to-strikeout ratio. Verlander had the edge in just about everything else — starts, innings, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and all advanced win metrics.
Had Sale thrown a quality start in line with his season stats, he would’ve taken the innings lead, along with a couple more wins over Verlander while posting a similar ERA. But Sale wouldn’t have had advantages over Porcello that Verlander didn’t possess. A stronger Sale probably would’ve watered down the vote concentration of those ahead of him, but probably not enough to get to the Porcello-Britton coalition of voters. Hell, if Sale presented a strong enough challenge to Porcello, that might’ve tipped more voters to Britton.
As it stands, Sale finished fifth behind Porcello, Verlander, Kluber and Britton, which is fair. That’s good enough to continue his impressive run of Cy Young finishes to five consecutive seasons (6-5-3-4-5), beefing up the wall on the right side of his Baseball-Reference.com page.
Better yet, Jose Quintana’s B-Ref page will show a Cy Young finish for the first time. He and Michael Fulmer both received one fifth-place vote, which is good enough to tie for 10th. That puts the button on a banner year for Quintana, who had previously notched his first double-digit win total and All-Star appearance while setting career highs in the other important categories.
This result is only a disappointment because Sale has been knocking on the door of a Cy Young. However, if somebody told you that Sale would finish in the top five, you’d probably be pleased enough. If somebody told you that Quintana would join him in the Cy Young voting, you’d probably expect big things from the rest of the Sox.
Alas, the White Sox were only 35-29 in Sale/Quintana starts -- as opposed to Detroit being 39-21 in Verlander/Fulmer starts -- which just about sums up the conundrum. They haven’t been good enough to win despite the best efforts of Sale and Quintana, but winning without them is going to be even more difficult. And if they already failed to capitalize on one head start, it makes it harder to believe in a second one turning out much better.