R.A. Dickey won the N.L. Cy Young and the SB Nation NL Pitcher of the Year awards, but didn't the top 5 when Gaslamp Ball sent in their ballot. There's a method to this madness.
When asked to vote for 2012's NL Pitcher of the Year, the Gaslamp Ball representation went the objective route and chose to use fWAR (Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement). This way any bias' (i.e. Dodger hatred) could be left out and all the pitchers could be measured on the same scale.
R.A. Dickey had 4.6 fWAR and finished 6th in the NL in fWAR behind Clayton Kershaw (5.5), Gio Gonzalez (5.4), Cliff Lee (4.9), Wade Miley (4.8) and Johnny Cueto (4.8). Simple enough. But, why did he end up in so many other top 5s without doing as well as 5 others in this statistic? Let's dig in.
fWAR is based on a statistic known as FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). Here's a quick summary regarding FIP:
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average. Here’s the formula for FIP:
FIP = ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP))-(2*K))/IP + constant
The constant is solely to bring FIP onto an ERA scale and is generally around 3.20. FIP does a better job of predicting the future than measuring the present. It is less effective in describing a pitcher’s single game performance and is more appropriate in a season’s worth of innings.
As mentioned, one of the utilities of using FIP is trying to take the data from pitching performances and see what you can expect out of the player in the future. However when determining awards, we aren't that set on trying to find out what a player can do as much as we want to credit them for what they have already done.
Does that mean we should have just fallen back on ERA, Wins and subjectivity and call it a day? Or is there another method that can cover our rear ends? Well, not every ERA is created equal. Each pitcher will play under different circumstances. They will have a different supporting defense, play in different parks and even face different levels of competition. If you really want to dig deep and find out who actually pitched the best over this past season, you want to level the playing field and try to measure them all on the same scale. And when it comes to WAR, there is another. This other WAR will help us see who had the better year.
rWAR is based on a pitcher's RA (Runs Allowed) and is the WAR of choice at baseball-reference.com. This is just unearned runs plus earned runs. From that very basic measurement, a few adjustments are made. First, the Runs Allowed is turned into a rate stat based on the innings pitched. Then there is an opponents adjustment, where you take into account the run scoring ability of each of the teams the pitcher faced. Then a park adjustment based on the parks the player actually pitched at. With these adjustments you have the basis for calculating a WAR stat similar to how FIP is used as the basis fWAR.
Dickey ends up finishing 3rd in the NL in rWAR (5.6). Gaslamp Ball favorite Clayton Kershaw was first (6.2) and Johnny Cueto finished second (5.8). Why? First off his Runs Allowed/9 was 3.00. Kershaw's was below 3.00 at 2.77. Cueto's was ever so slightly about at 3.06. Dickey also appears to have faced weaker competition. I can't really explain the grimy details of how that is the case, but that's what the data says.
The only defense I would have of Dickey stems from his innings pitched. Even though many of these stats account for that number, its feels to me that he should get credit for his high level of pitching while being a workhorse. That being said, Kershaw only pitched 6 less innings that Dickey. So, it's not like you can vault Dickey to #1 just because of that.
In the end, using fWAR over rWAR gives guys like Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley and Cliff Lee some style points for what stats geek might argue were better pitching performances rather than just giving credit to Dickey for his results. That's just a matter of taste. In any case, there are good objective reasons that Dickey shouldn't win any award for 2012's best pitcher in the NL and that's what we are really try to evaluate here. If he's left out of a couple top 5 lists along the way, then who really cares?