It was an innocuous line, but it was also one that summed up the hair-splitting and the divisive nature of modern-day baseball analysis. At the outset of MLB Network's coverage of the Cy Young Awards announcement Wednesday night -- before the Baseball Writers' Association of America handed out its premier pitching prizes to Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel -- Ron Darling said this:
"The problem is we have so many things sabermetrically that we can look at."
On the one hand, that's like complaining that the library has too many books. The increasingly ample advanced data available to us better educates us about what we're watching night after night.
On the other hand, this was a year when I'm sure many voters for the National League Cy Young Award (and we'll discuss the American League side of things in a sec) longed for the days of statistical simplicity. Because to bury your nose into the numbers was to come to the conclusion that there really was no correct conclusion.
The NL race was one that compelled you to look well beyond the surface-level equations and dig deeper. After all, the surface-level stats all seemed to cancel each other out. Zack Greinke had the lowest ERA in two decades. But Arrieta had the lowest second-half ERA ever.
That Kershaw -- with those 301 K's against just 42 walks, a 2.13 ERA, a tremendous finishing kick (he went 11-1 with a 1.22 ERA in his past 17 starts) and the highest innings total (232 2/3) in the NL -- was generally viewed as third fiddle in this discussion tells you plenty about just how dominant Greinke and Arrieta were.
Honestly, Kershaw would have been the only of the three finalists who would have remotely resembled an "incorrect" winner. And even then, we'd all at least be excited for that posse of preppies he had sitting behind him.
So the voters got it right with Arrieta. And they got it wrong with Arrieta. Either way. Sure, it's kind of bizarre that we just watched Greinke post the lowest ERA in two decades and the fourth-lowest WHIP in the live-ball era only to see him miss out on the hardware. But it would have been equally bizarre to see Arrieta's 0.86 ERA over his past 20 starts -- the lowest over such a stretch since earned runs became an official stat -- go unrewarded.
We can't get in the head or heart of every voter. I wonder, for one, if Kershaw might have cost Greinke a few first-place votes. But as far as Arrieta vs. Greinke is concerned, I'm sure some used wins (Arrieta had 22, while Greinke had 19) as a tiebreaker, despite the faults of the win stat.
My hunch is that many used Fielding Independent Pitching (Arrieta had a 2.35 mark, while Greinke ranked fifth in the league at 2.76) as a big tiebreaker, despite the fact that FIP is more about what should have happened and awards, one would think, should be about what actually did happen. But Greinke did have the largest gap between ERA and FIP of any NL pitcher, and his .229 batting average against on balls in play was well, well below the league average. So a scrupulous voter could conclude that Greinke had more luck on his side, give the first-place vote to Arrieta and sleep comfortably at night.
Overall, I'm sure some bit of recency bias set in here, because Arrieta was absolutely on fire at season's end (and the Pirates can attest that he was on fire one more night beyond that point).
Is that fair? Nothing's fair here. Because if Greinke would have won, Arrieta supporters would have had reason to howl. And actually, if you go by FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement calculation or look back at that FIP leaderboard, there's good ol' Clayton Kershaw on top of everybody.
So ... NL Cy Young? An impossible vote to get right. And an impossible vote to screw up. We've seen co-Cy Young Award winners before, but, realistically, only one guy was going to win this one. And only one guy did.
As for the AL installment, well, David Price tweeted this after the announcement:
Congrats to @kidkeuchy for winning the American League cy young!! He was my pick and I think the writers got it right!!
If the runner-up thinks the voters got it right, who are we to argue?
I did actually think the AL voting would be closer than it was. By and large, though, the voters weren't swayed by Price's superior ERA (his 2.45 mark was the best in the AL) or the storyline associated with his move to the Blue Jays and his prime pitching for the AL East winners down the stretch.
Keuchel led the league in wins, innings pitched and WHIP. He didn't finish as strong as Price (really just because of one brutal September start against the Rangers), but he had a pretty great storyline of his own, pitching the Astros into relevance, going undefeated at home and completing his rise from middling starter to ace among aces.
Keuchel deserves to put the Cy Young Award on his mantle. Or in his big beard. Whatever his preference.
And in the NL, the decision between Arrieta and Greinke was all about personal preference, too. The stats augmented the discussion -- and they complicated the discussion.
Ultimately, the voters got it right. And they got it wrong.