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:
Is the NL Cy Young even debatable anymore?
— Jared Wyllys (@jwyllys) September 23, 2015
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:
Arrieta: 20-6, 1.88 ERA, 216 IP, 220 K, 48 BB Greinke: 18-3, 1.65 ERA, 207.2 IP, 185 K, 36 BB Kershaw: 14-7, 2.18 ERA, 215 IP, 272 K, 49 BB
— Ryan Davis (@Ryan_Davis17) September 23, 2015
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.