David Price just won the Cy Young award, because he's really good at pitching. This caused Dave Cameron to write an article over on Fangraphs claiming that Verlander is a better choice for AL CY Young (I know that Cameron wrote the article before the award was announced, don't try to restrict me to temporally linear causality). Now, usually, when Dave Cameron writes something, I read it, link to it, and take it as the final word. But not this time. Price is my guy, and vicious attacks by intelligent, logical writers who claim he is, by a slim margin, the second best pitcher in the American League must be responded to.
Cameron's first and strongest point is about innings pitched. Verlander pitched 238 innings, Price only 211. Because of his impressive stamina, Verlander did in fact personally accumulate more value. Good on him. I can't say that Price could have pitched 27 extra innings (and won't say that he couldn't have), but the simple truth is that he didn't need to. The Rays bullpen was fantastic in 2012 (and the Tigers bullpen was not). The Rays had five relief pitchers with a FIP- similar to or better than Price. Five. The Tigers? Two. And keep in mind that I'm comparing them to the starters' average performance, not their performance late in games, when they're tiring and facing the batting order for the third and fourth time. If Verlander were to come to Tampa Bay and pitch his 238 innings, he would be hurting the team by keeping better relief arms on the bench.
Also, MGL has presented some preliminary evidence possibly suggesting that pitchers are able to perform better than expected the fourth time through the order because at the end of a long game, the temperature is dropping. Verlander pitches his home games in Detroit, Price pitches in a climate controlled dome. Sure, there are park effects that make the argument for Verlander, but they also may give him a longevity advantage against DP.
Cameron allows that Price gets some points for pitching against tougher competition in the AL East, but he also points out that the AL East wasn't as strong offensively as in past years. He lists each AL East team and each AL Central team with it's wRC+, to show that the East was New York and a bunch of duds. But what if we go a step further? What if we look at the splits?
AL East wRC+ vs. Left Handed Pitching:
Yankees - 111 (second)
Red Sox - 102 (fourth)
Orioles - 97 (eighth)
Blue Jays - 96 (tenth)
AL Central wRC+ vs. Right Handed Pitching:
Indians - 103 (tied fourth)
Royals - 96 (tied eighth)
White Sox - 96 (tied eighth)
Twins - 95 (tied tenth)
So yes, the Red Sox were not the offensive juggernaut they once were, but their demise against left handed pitching has been much exaggerated. You might claim that being left handed or being right handed is a skill, and that a pitcher shouldn't get more or less leeway for it, but if we're going to compare strength of schedule, let's go ahead and be precise.
My last, and probably biggest disagreement with Dave Cameron's yellow-journalism character assassination of Price is his contention that Verlander was actually better on a rate basis. Yes, Verlander posted a lower ERA- (outcome based) and a lower FIP- (defense independent, more process based), but these are not the only way to tabulate rate stats. Why use FIP? There's plenty of research to suggest that pitchers have only limited control over their HR/FB rate, and that's an area that Verlander far outstripped Price in 2012 (8.3% to 10.5%). And even if you believe that Verlander has a special ability (beyond being good) to suppress home runs, which he very well may, there's little reason to think at this point that Price does not, as his still short career rate falls below his 2012 level. If you generalize HR/FB rate and use xFIP-, as opposed to FIP-, Price comes out ahead, 75 to 80.
And that's not the only place Price comes out on top, either. Probably the biggest reason for his 2012 breakout has been Price's transformation into an extreme groundball pitcher. A full 53% of the balls put in play against Price this season were ground balls, compared to Verlander's 42%, and that means fewer extra base hits and more double plays, and the extreme rate is likely a signal of sustainable weak contact. There's a statistic, SIERA, that lives mostly under the DIPS umbrella, but tries to take all of these other factors into account. It has Price as the clear winner, with a 3.16 SIERA, compared to Verlanders 3.26.
Yes, Justin Verlander is a great pitcher. Yes, David Price plays in front of a better defense (at least theoretically - the Rays were merely average defensively last year), and yes he plays in a better pitcher's park. But this Cy Young award was not just about his 20 wins and his league leading ERA. Price deserves it.
All statistics are from FanGraphs.