This year’s Cy Young races are about as unpredictable as the end of an epidose of Full House. The voters will reward Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw for their exemplary work this year, and at first glance, they’re right in doing so.
Before I declare Scherzer and Kershaw the victors and waste words on second place votes on my imaginary ballot, I’d like to apply the same logic to this year’s race that I applied last year, based on types of outcomes and the extent to which I believe a pitcher controls them.
Looking at fangraphs’ pitcher value leaderboard, I’ll use this formula to determine the most worthy pitchers in each league:
FIP wins + (LOB wins)/2 + (BIP wins)/4
This assumes that a pitcher has almost complete control over his strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed, a reasonable amount of control over how many baserunners wind up scoring against him, and very little, but possibly some control over the rate at which batted balls are turned into outs. Let’s take a look:
1) Max Scherzer, Tigers 5.85
Anibal Sanchez, Tigers 5.85
3) Felix Hernandez, Mariners 5.65
4) Yu Darvish, Rangers 5.4
5) Chris Sale, White Sox 4.975
James Shields, Royals, 4.975
7) Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners 4.875
8) Derek Holland, Rangers, 4.7
Bartolo Colon, A’s, 4.7
10) Doug Fister, Tigers, 4.5
Justin Verlander is eleventh, giving Detroit the top two pitchers and four of the top eleven. Sanchez equals Scherzer here, and he’s scheduled for one more start, Saturday against the Marlins. Could a shutdown start from Anibal earn him my Cy Young vote?
Probably not. He’s been brilliant (2.64 ERA, 2.46 FIP) this season, but has pitched just 177 innings, to Scherzer’s 214 1/3. Most of Sanchez’s shortage is due to injury, but Scherzer pitched more than half an inning deeper into his average game, meaning Sanchez left the Tigers depending on sub-replacement-level starter Jose Alvarez and their beleaguered bullpen (13th in the AL in ERA, though 5th in FIP) for too many innings.
Sale actually leads the AL in baseball-reference’s WAR, due in large part to an adjustment for the tougher opponents he faced than Scherzer (it can’t hurt pitching against the White Sox five times), so he’s a reasonable candidate, at least to those of us willing to overlook his 11-13 record. My system doesn’t love Sale’s dependence on a .282 BABIP to make up for the .99 homers he allowed per game, but there’s a reasonable argument that he was as effective as Scherzer against a tougher slate. I’m willing to give him a bit of a bump for that.
According to True Season Score, a metric I developed in an attempt to bridge FIP- and RA9-based results, Scherzer leads the league at 374, followed by Sale, Darvish, Iwakuma, and Hernandez
To wit, my ballot:
By the formula explained above:
1) Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, 6.25
2) Matt Harvey, Mets, 5.9
3) Adam Wainwright, Cardinals, 5.75
4) Cliff Lee, Phillies, 4.775
5) Jose Fernandez, Marlins, 4.45
6) Mat Latos, Reds, 4.275
7) Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies, 4.2
8) Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks, 3.85
9) Cole Hamels, Phillies, 3.725
10) Homer Bailey, Reds, 3.675
As I wrote right before Harvey’s season-ending injury, I might have voted for him at that point in the season, based on his ridiculous 2.01 FIP. Looking back, I’m left trying to justify giving him a second-place vote with just 178 1/3 innings pitched, which will likely be fewer than Sanchez at season’s end. Then again, from a run-prevention standpoint, his best competition might be Jose Fernandez, who pitched 5 2/3 fewer innings than Harvey, with a better ERA (2.19 to 2.27), but a higher FIP (2.73).
Jordannn Zimmermannnn will claim some second-place votes on writers’ ballots based on his 19 wins, but his 3.25 ERA is less impressive given that he made half his starts in Washington. Zack Greinke’s newspaper line (15-3, 2.67 ERA) looks good too, but he suffers from park adjustments, low usage (171 2/3 innings), and a BABiP (.277) way out of line with his career average (.305).
True Season Score ranks Kershaw far ahead of the field at 496, with Wainwright (414), Lee, Harvey, and Madison Bumgarner in spots two through five.
Kershaw should be unanimous here, but just for fun, my ballot: