Sports

ESPN’s ‘Cy Young Predictor’ is laughably on the fritz


Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano is listed as a top-10 AL contender according to ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor. This is not a great system.

Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano is listed as a top-10 AL contender according to ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor. This is not a great system.
Photo: Getty Images

Predicting who is going to win major awards across the Big 4 American sports is one of the nation’s most popular pastimes. Oftentimes, arguments can be made for several different players. That’s why several years ago, ESPN put out its Cy Young Predictor, an AI system that would take a pitcher’s stats and determine how likely each pitcher was to receive the Cy Young Award based on how voters had voted in the past. It’s a flawless system… for 20 years ago, maybe.

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Now, the Cy Young Predictor is a shell of its former self. It has two closers as the front-runners in the American League. That’s nuts. A closer hasn’t won either Cy Young Award since the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Eric Gagne in 2003. Prior to that, it was Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in 1992. Relief pitchers haven’t even cracked the top three in Cy Young voting since Francisco Rodriguez recorded 62 saves for the Angels back in 2008. The man recorded 62 saves, and STILL finished only third. Liam Hendriks and Raisel Iglesias combined have only 65 saves.

I’m not trying to downplay the importance of a solid closer. I’m a Giants fan. They haven’t had stability at that position since Sergio Romo. However, it’s clear that Cy Young voters now give way more attention and value to starting pitchers over their reliever counterparts. I know the American League Cy Young race is about as muddled as the Ohio River, but let’s not act like Gerrit Cole, Robbie Ray, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Rodon don’t exist. According to the Cy Young Predictor, it shouldn’t even be a contest, Hendriks has 26.9 more Cy Young points than Iglesias and 34 more points than third-place Cole. To put that in perspective, there’s just a 25.4 point difference between Los Angeles’ Walker Buehler (first place in the NL Cy Young Predictor) and Atlanta’s Charlie Morton (tenth place).

A reliever winning the Cy Young is like someone at a non-quarterback position winning the NFL MVP Award. Sure, it’s possible, but the road is much tougher. If any reliever has a chance to win a Cy Young Award this year, I believe it should be San Diego’s Mark Melancon. In all fairness, he is listed on the Cy Young Predictor at seventh in the NL, and that still might be too high for the league leader in saves.

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But the NL Cy Young Predictor still seems much better than the AL. Buehler is clearly the favorite, and Kevin Gausman could definitely finish top-three. Personally, I believe Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler should be much higher. Currently, the two of them have the second and fourth-best odds, respectively, to win the award. But hey, I’ll let it slide.

The AL Cy Young Predictor is irredeemable though. I haven’t even gotten into the fact that Toronto’s closer Jordan Romano, who has recorded just 17 saves all season, is listed as a top-10 candidate. By George, that’s just the worst thing I’ve seen all day! I know that saves aren’t everything when determining a closer’s value. Opportunity plus ballpark factor plus a dozen other things also play a major role in determining how well a closer has truly performed, but raw stats are clearly something that voters still fall back on to determine award winners, and Romano doesn’t have those.

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Don’t listen to ESPN on this one. The AL Cy Young is Gerrit Cole’s, Robbie Ray’s, and Lance Lynn’s to lose. A reliever will not take home the award. They won’t even get close. I love Hendriks and Iglesias. They’re two of the best in the business at what they do, but the Cy Young is a starters award, and that’s not changing anytime soon.

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