So Who Gets the NL Cy Young?

So Who Gets the NL Cy Young?

The question of which National League pitcher will go home with the Cy Young award is as hard a question to answer this year as it has been in a long time. I will freely admit my homerism here and confess that my Cubs bias has, more than once, gotten in the way of me being able to see the picture clearly. Like, say, after Jake Arrieta won his 20th game of the season (though, as an aside, I don’t put much, if any, stock in pitcher W-L stats – read more about that here) on Tuesday night, my rational side took a back seat:



And I’ve had a few tweets like this along the way, so I can’t say that I’m totally objective, but after seeing this from Ryan Davis (@Ryan_Davis17), it sort of forced me to consider the Cy Young question a little differently:



So, with that said, I’m going to make an attempt to examine each of these three pitchers’ seasons as objectively as possible. Let’s start with the two from the Dodgers (note: WAR here is according to Baseball Reference, so that number may vary slightly depending on where you look at stats):

Clayton Kershaw:

Starts: 30

WAR: 6.6

IP: 215

ER: 52

K: 272

FIP: 2.09

WHIP: 0.902

ERA: 2.18

I haven’t listed these stats in any particular order, but these are the things I tend to look at, so you might find that you judge some of these pitchers differently.

In his 30 starts so far, Kershaw has only pitched fewer than 6 innings in a start once, on May 10 against the Rockies, when he went 5.2 innings. Kershaw did get off to a bit of a rough start – his ERA as of May 21 was 4.32, but after a 7 scoreless innings against the Braves on May 26, his ERA has steadily dropped, bringing us to where it sits now, at 2.18. In his last 4 starts (all in the month of September), Kershaw has given up 6 earned runs, but has 36 strikeouts, including a 15 K performance against the Giants on September 2. Not to mention his 14 strikeouts against the Cubs in the start before that, and even 10 strikeouts against Houston on August 23. That’s 39 strikeouts in just 3 starts. You don’t get much more dominant than that.

Zack Greinke:

Starts: 30

WAR: 8.6

IP: 207.2

ER: 38

K: 185

FIP: 2.77

WHIP: 0.848

ERA: 1.65

First of all, that ERA is freakish. For as excited about Arrieta’s 1.88, this is just unreal. Greinke strikes out far fewer batters than his teammate does, but he’s still allowing fewer to get on base as a whole. He does not overpower hitters like Kershaw, but he has been extremely consistent, never going fewer than 6 innings in a start this year. What’s possibly most profound here though, is that his ERA has never once risen above 2.00. At its highest, he was at 1.97 on June 2. He makes a very hard case for deserving the award simply because of that. Most pitchers experience fluctuations throughout the season, and even to have an ERA under 3.00 all season is quite impressive, let alone below 2.00 all year.

Jake Arrieta:

Starts: 31

WAR: 8.0

IP: 216

ER: 45

K: 220

FIP: 2.44

WHIP: 0.903

ERA: 1.88

Arrieta is the only 20 game winner of the 3, but Greinke (at 18 wins) could pretty easily get there as well. Arrieta’s season has been consistently successful (he’s pitched fewer than 6 innings in a start just twice), but a lot of his case for the award comes from what he’s done in August and September. It could be argued that the value he is adding to his team is greater simply because of when it is coming (and assuming it continues into the postseason), but it’s not as if Kershaw or Greinke have ever pitched poorly.

In his 10 starts since the end of July, Arrieta has allowed just 4 earned runs and has 73 strikeouts. His ERA has dropped from 2.62 as of July 30 to 1.88 following Tuesday night’s complete game shutout. Since May 12, Arrieta has been credited with the loss just twice. Really, the talk around Arrieta as a candidate started after his no-hitter against the Dodgers on August 30, but his season as a whole makes a strong case as well. For instance, since the All Star break, Arrieta has a 0.86 ERA in 13 starts, the lowest in that stretch in MLB history. Again, what he has done in his last 10 starts has been historic, but he has very stiff competition here.

Final Thoughts:

It’s still very hard to set aside my bias here, but the season that Greinke is having is just too hard for me to ignore.  I think it comes down to Greinke and Arrieta (and with Kershaw just barely out of the discussion), and I may have to admit, though this is painful, that I think Greinke might just be the most deserving right now. I value consistency, and Greinke has been rock solid for Los Angeles since his first start in April and has never wavered. Quietly, I’m hoping for a Cubs-Cardinals NLCS not just for redemption of the 2008 NLDS, but because of the pitching matchups that we’ll get to see.


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    I agree with your analysis and final decision regarding the Cy Young. I just don't think it would be fair to give the Cy Young award to someone with a higher ERA than someone else, especially in the case of Greinke vs Arrieta. If Greinke doesn't win it this year, then when can he win? What kind of numbers does he have to put up to be worthy of a Cy Young?

    Honestly, I'd love to see Arrietta and Greinke share the award, but that ain't going to happen. I was also thinking Greinke could win the Cy Young, and Arrietta the MVP, but Harper seems to have that award under wraps. Lets just hope Arrietta ends up with a few post season wins and a Cubs World Series appearance. Perhaps in the post-season we will find out who the better pitcher is.

  • In reply to Patrick Shannon:

    I think the idea of sharing the award is an interesting one, and this year these three pitchers are making a strong case for that. Three very deserving candidates.

  • One correction: It should say Greinke at 18 wins, not Kershaw.

  • In reply to Jared Wyllys:

    Just corrected this, so it's accurate now.

  • Do you think the Cubs should have signed Adam Dunn in 2008? That type of player (patient hitter...ton of Ks...ton of dingers) might have been a better option than bringing in Milton Bradley.

  • In reply to jswanson:

    But can he smash a Gatorade cooler?

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