Why Vote for Webb When You Can Vote for Hamels?

With Brandon Webb earning his 22nd victory of the 2008 season yesterday, his candidacy for the NL Cy Young award grows ever stronger. What a lot of people don’t know is that Webb might barely be top-five material when it comes to that award, and Philadelphia’s own Cole Hamels is a better selection.

Cole Hamels vs. Brandon Webb, NL Cy Young 2008

As we can see, Hamels averages nearly a third of an inning more (doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not nothing), has a lower ERA and WHIP, and strikes out more and walks less. The only mark against Hamels is the home run rate, but he’s a fly ball pitcher and Webb is a ground ball pitcher, so that’s to be expected.

Back at the end of July, I noted that both Cole Hamels and Johan Santana (another unmentioned Cy Young candidate) had been unlucky. At that point (July 23), Hamels had four no-decisions and three losses in quality starts. Since then, Hamels has had 11 starts, eight of which were quality starts. In those eight quality starts, he hasn’t lost, but has had two more no-decisions.

Webb has 23 total quality starts this season. He’s lost in only one of them and got two no-decisions in the others. In his non-quality starts, Webb has also received one win.

With all of this talk about quality starts, it’s important to realize that it’s just a very quick way to separate a pitcher’s good performances from the bad. It’s very general. To utilize the quality start in a more efficient way, I suggest reading Brian Joseph’s article at MVN called Revisiting and Reinventing the Quality Start.

Of course, this Webb-Hamels debate leaves out other, more deserving candidates, like Tim Linceum, Johan Santana, and Ryan Dempster. Hamels is probably fourth on the list behind that trio, and Webb might be fifth.

A case can also be made for closer Brad Lidge. In my previous entry, I noted that many are making a case for K-Rod for MVP and/or Cy Young in the American League (which is completely ridiculous), but Lidge should get some limited support for the NL Cy Young. He leads all relievers, by far, in WPA. It is arguably one of the best seasons by a closer since Eric Gagne in 2003.

The Phillies are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers, their likely NLDS opponent, for the best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.25. Lidge, with a 1.87 ERA (238 ERA+) in nearly 70 innings, is a big part of that (15% to be exact). The Phils also have the fewest blown saves in the league with 15, and none of those are Lidge’s — he’s a perfect 40-for-40 in save opportunities.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of awarding relief pitchers since they pitch three times fewer innings than starters, but practically speaking, Lidge has been the difference between October baseball and October golf for the Phillies. Let’s take a look at the Phillies’ record if Lidge blows a specific percentage of his saves and the Phillies lose as a result.

Brad Lidge Saves

If Lidge saves “only” 95% of the games, the Phillies are tied with the Mets. If he saves “only” 90% (four blown saves, which appears to be the average), they’re two games back.

It’s not fair to just take away games from the Phillies as if this hypothetical world is a vacuum, but it still gives you a good idea of how Lidge’s success has pushed the Phillies this far.

All told, Hamels should be at the back end of the top-five in the NL Cy Young race and Lidge should be at the back end of the top-ten.

The Best Team Never to Win 90 Games

Looking at the Phillies’ records from present back to 2001 is interesting: not once have they won 90 or more games, but they’ve been in contention down to the very end in just about every season. They won 89 last season, and they’re at 89 now with five games left. Even better, the Phils have won 85 or more games every season since 2003. Could they be the best team never to win 90 games in a six- or eight-year span? They’d have to be up there especially if you add another qualifier — “never to win a post-season game.” Before last season, that qualifier would have been “never to make the playoffs.”

How much better is this year’s team compared to last year?

2008: 4.92 runs per game
2007: 5.51 runs per game (+0.59)

2008: 4.20 runs allowed per game
2007: 5.07 runs allowed per game (+0.87)

2008: 0.72 run differential
2007: 0.44 run differential (-0.28)

In the National League this season, only the Cubs are better in that respect.

How about a more in-depth look at the pitching?

2008: 4.26 starters’ ERA
2007: 4.91 starters’ ERA (+0.65)

2008: 3.29 relievers’ ERA
2007: 4.50 relievers’ ERA (+1.21)

Obviously, the biggest reason for the bullpen’s success is Brad Lidge, who has a 1.87 ERA and leads all relievers in WPA by far. Many are talking about Francisco Rodriguez as a viable candidate for the AL MVP, which is laughable, but if you’re going to include K-Rod, why not Brad Lidge? He’s certainly a much better candidate for MVP than Ryan “120 OPS+ compared to Albert Pujols’ 184 OPS+” Howard.

Is the post-season rotation improved over last season’s quintuplet of Hamels, Kendrick/Lohse (both in Game 2), and Moyer? The only difference is that Brett Myers will get Game 2 and, aside from his last start against the Marlins, has been immaculate since being called up from his demotion to the Minor Leagues.

The Phillies, as likely winners of the division, will end up playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the NL Division Series. In his only start against the Dodgers this season, Myers scattered 9 hits over 7 shut-out innings while walking 3 and striking out 8.

Hamels pitched against the Dodgers twice this season with eerily similar results. He pitched 7 innings in both, gave up 5 hits in both, and allowed two runs in both. The only differences were in walks and strikeouts: 2 BB, 7 K in the first one, 0 BB, 5 K in the second.

The Dodgers haven’t seen Jamie Moyer this year.

Lastly, one more item to look at as it relates to the playoffs: the Phillies, with five games left, have one more turn through the rotation before the NLDS starts on October 1. Hamels on the 23rd, Myers on the 24th, Blanton on the 26th, Moyer on the 27th, and Happ on the 28th. That means that Hamels and Myers will have plenty of rest in-between starts, at 7 days apiece.

Things are looking pretty good. Right now, the pressing questions are, “Who is going to be on the mound when the Phillies clinch?” and “How can they celebrate better than Brett Myers did last season?”