With all the furious speculation about how many people are going to vote for Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young, it seems instructive to look at how the vote is actually structured. It’s not like voters have the choice of selecting Felix first, or not voting for him at all. And I think he can win the Cy Young even if a majority of voters decide that they simply can’t stomach giving a first-place vote to a guy with 13 (or perhaps 14) victories.
A lot of people aren’t aware of this, but the Cy Young voting has changed this year. In past years, the voters — two members of the Baseball Writers Association from each American League city — voted for their top three candidates. At last year’s winter meetings in Indianapolis, the BBWAA voted to expand the Cy Young vote to include a top 5. The votes will be tabulated by the forumula of 7 points for first, 4 points for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, and 1 for fifth. In the past, it was 5-3-1.
Here’s a scenario that takes into account the possibility that Hernandez’s lack of wins will cost him numerous first-place votes (even though I don’t think this will happen; I think Felix’s body of work will be so overwhelming that he will win fairly substantially. But let’s go with this anyway):
I heard Steve Phillips predict on Mitch Levy’s KJR show this morning that 20 out of 28 writers would vote for Felix first. If that happens, he’s in. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that only half that many do, and Hernandez gets 10 first-place votes (I can’t even fathom that he would get any fewer than 10).
That would be 70 points. Now, surely, the vast majority of the people who omitted Hernandez from the top of their ballot because, by God, I’m not voting for a .500 pitcher, would feel obligated to give him a second-place vote. Let’s say Felix gets 16 second-place votes and two thirds. That would be 70 more points for a total of 140.
At this point, the best thing Hernandez has going for him is the absence of a definitive alternate choice. Some might say C.C. Sabathia, some might say David Price, some might say Jon Lester, some might say Clay Buchholz, some might say Jered Weaver, some of the more hard-core sabermetric types might even say Francisco Liriano. In this scenario, a splitting of the vote is Felix’s friend, much in the same way it was for Alex Rodriguez when he won the MVP award with the last-place Rangers in 2003.
Let’s say Sabathia and Price emerge as the leading candidates, splitting the remaining 18 first-place votes. That would give each a jumping off point of 63 points, and make it impossible for either to surpass Felix’s total. Even if Price or Sabathia got all the remaining second-place votes (10 of them, for 40 points), and all the remaining third-place votes (nine of them, for 27 points), they would finish with 130 points — 10 fewer than Hernandez.
The only way for Felix to lose in my concocted scenario is for one non-Hernandez candidate to emerge from this pack as the definitive first-place choice. They could do it, for instance, by getting 12 first-place votes (84 points), 10 seconds (40 points) and 6 thirds (18) for 142 points.
Of course, the more first-place votes, the more margin for error down the voting road. But I simply don’t foresee enough consensus in the “anyone but Felix” realm to envision how Hernandez can lose — even if he doesn’t get a majority of voters to believe he should be the Cy Young Award winner in 2010.