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Baseball awards have always been unpredictable. As new statistics are entering the annual discussion, the tides of opinion are even more erratic. Last year, Justin Verlander won not only the AL Cy Young Award, but the MVP as well. Yet to me it seemed like Roy Halladay – who won no awards – was the better pitcher. This year Verlander did not win any MLB awards, but it appears that he was, by a good margin, the best. His closest rival this year was last year’s NL Cy Young winner (and non-winner this year) Clayton Kershaw.

The winners of the Cy Young Awards this year were David Price of Tampa Bay and R.A. Dickey of the Mets. While both were outstanding – only a half step or so off the pace set by Verlander and Kershaw – they fell short in some of the most important indicators of excellent performance. Yet too many voters still consider the unfortunate statistic known as the “Win” as a real indicator of talent, and both Dickey and Price reached the historically lauded 20-Win plateau. 

So without further ado, the winner of the 2012 Three Finger Brown Award is Justin Verlander. He again lead all of baseball in Innings Pitched, Complete Games and Strikeouts. These numbers demonstrate, perhaps more than any other, his value to the Tigers. Yet there is much more supporting his claim to the top spot.

The much debated statistic known as “Wins Above Replacement” has Verlander as the clear winner from all three major sources of the WAR statistic (listed with preference to fWAR):

  fWAR rWAR WARP
Verlander 6.8 7.6 4.8
F. Hernandez 6.1 4.6 3.6
Kershaw 5.5 6.2 3.8
G. Gonzalez 5.4 4.5 3.4
D.Price 5.1 6.4 3.2

Or we can look at Bryan Grosnick’s work to compute a scaled average of the three WAR scores, which he calls “WARi”. (Read more HERE.)

  IP WARi
Justin Verlander 238.3 6.4
Clayton Kershaw 227.7 5.2
David Price 211 4.9
Felix Hernandez 232 4.8
Chris Sale 192 4.8

However you look at it, Verlander is easily 2012’s leading WAR pitcher. Yet I am not completely sold on the way that WAR is calculated for pitchers. In this particular case, my opinion matches the WAR calculations, but there is more to it for me.

WPA and RE24 (click for definitions) are two of the best indicators of situational performance. In other words, they take into account the score and who is on base during an inning; in fact, WPA also accounts for what inning it is. So a strikeout with two men on in a close game in the bottom of the eighth is more valuable than a strikeout in the first inning with nobody on and your team is already up 4-0. I like to think of these numbers not so much as “clutch” numbers, but as a gauge of a good player’s ability to play at his full skill level in pressure situations throughout an entire season. This year, Verlander dominated both of these as well:

  WPA   RE24
1 Verlander 4.04 1 Verlander 37.44
2 Sale 3.44 2 Sale 35.93
3 Weaver 3.39 3 Price 35.01
4 Price  3.23 4 Kershaw 30.29
5 Lohse 3.18 5 Cueto 29.51

Finally, we’ll take a look at the rest of the important pitching stats. The list below is in order of best ERA- (i.e. league and park adjusted ERA). You will also note, that Clayton Kershaw is the only pitcher who compares to Verlander across the board.

    IP ERA- K% BB% AVG WHIP
1 Verlander 238.1 64 25.0% 6.3% 0.215 1.06
2 D.Price 211 66 24.5% 7.1% 0.224 1.1
3 Kershaw 227.2 67 25.4% 7.0% 0.204 1.02
4 Cueto 217 69 19.1% 5.5% 0.248 1.17
5 Sale 192 71 24.9% 6.6% 0.234 1.14
6 Weaver 188.2 72 19.2% 6.1% 0.213 1.02
7 Dickey 233.2 72 24.8% 5.8% 0.222 1.05
8 G.Gonzalez 199.1 73 25.2% 9.3% 0.201 1.13
9 Cain 219.1 74 22.0% 5.8% 0.217 1.04
10 Lohse 211 74 16.6% 4.4% 0.234 1.09

Barring injury, it seems like Verlander, Kershaw and perhaps pitchers like David Price and Chris Sale will be appearing in this debate every year for quite a long time. Nonetheless, my prediction for the winner of the 2013 award is Stephen Strasburg.

Previous Winner: 2011

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