Who’s The NL Cy Young Frontrunner?


Remember all the heartache that went into debating Mike Trout vs Miguel Cabrera in 2013, sabermagicians versus hard old school types, well that might happen this year only in the National League, and it might come down to two pitchers on the same team doing insane things from both an enjoyable standpoint, and a historical standpoint.

First the fWAR leaderboard

Now the bWAR leaderboard

Reigning MVP, Clayton Kershaw tops the FIP based WAR, owner of the best “non Pedro Martinez thrown” season this century Greinke tops the run prevention based WAR, and they pitch on consecutive days for the best 1-2 punch in the entire land, the NL Cy Young race is becoming more and more clear in terms of the names, but it’s anyone’s guess as to who will win it, Max Scherzer has had an unreal season, striking out more while walking fewer than anybody in baseball, Jacob deGrom has a 2.03 ERA two point zero three! That’s really good and the likelihood that Max or deGrom take a step forward and win the award isn’t that far behind the likelihood that one of Clayton or Zack win it, but for the sake of argument let’s boil it down to Kershaw (who leads in K’s by a lot) and Greinke (who leads in ERA by a lot)

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Argument for Kershaw:

The argument for Clayton Kershaw is pretty simple, he’s the best at striking people out, a 11.39 K/9 holds some historical significance as it’d be the 13th best rate ever), and he pitches a lot of innings. In fact, there are only 2 pitchers who have ever struck out 11.39 batters per 9 innings, AND have led their respective league in innings pitched, those names are Clayton Kershaw (2015) and Randy Johnson (1999/35 years old) and Randy Johnson again (2002/ 38 years old), that’s absurd company.

In a world where Mike Trout won a MVP while leading the league in strikeouts, maybe the tide is shifting, and there will be a time where a Cy Young winner will win a Cy Young because of his FIP and gaudy inning totals, not necessarily his run prevention counts.

Think what you will on this method, but the direction of the game is definitely headed towards a more analytically inclined way of analysis and FIP is the poster child for the pitching side of that movement, and besides, Kershaw’s argument for the Cy Young isn’t that difficult to construct without looking at FIP, he’s got a 1.40 ERA in his last 96.2 innings (13 starts), while he only had a 3.86 ERA in his first 65.1 innings, his BABIP and HR/FB percentage is correcting itself closer to his career norms.

The Argument for Greinke

Nothing to see here

Nope, nothing all that special, just a 222 ERA+ remember that 100’s league average. That’s the 3rd best this century and like the tweet indicated, the 7th best dating back to 1947. His adjusted FIP is very nice sitting at 69 FIP- with a slightly less nice 83 xFIP-. Those aren’t anything to be upset about, but not anything close to the 7th best season of all time.

But the thing is, who cares?

He’s been worth 4.4 wins above replacement in FIP based WAR, good for 3rd best in the NL. Mix this with the 7th best season ALL TIME and there’s just no way that Greinke isn’t leading right now.

Hey, the FIP argument is respectable, and using that as the main metric in evaluation of pitchers is generally accepted as the best method, but for an award like the Cy Young, in my opinion, value should be looked at in terms of what actually happened, the most valuable thing a pitcher can do is keep runs off of the board. Zack isn’t having the most sustainable year according to FIP, but his peripherals are good enough to where a season 122 points above the league average should easily take the cake.

The most reasonable thing to do would be to average out bWAR and fWAR, and if you do that these are the leaders:

Greinke-  5.5 b/fWAR

Scherzer- 5.15 b/f WAR

Kershaw- 5.0 b/fWAR

deGrom- 4.4 b/fWAR

Arrieta- 4.3 b/fWAR

Considering that WAR is a guess, deciding the better season between deGrom and Arrieta is impossible with one metric, but using the average of the two figures, Greinke comes out ahead pretty definitively.

This is probably much ado about nothing, and former reclamation project Jake Arrieta might sneak in there and win the whole thing. And it’s important to preface this with a huge asterisk that says this could all change, Greinke could implode down he stretch and make me look like a giant dummy for writing this but Greinke deserves all of the good things that are being said about him up to this point, and Kershaw is still the best pitcher on the planet even if he’s not having the best season.