Tonight, we will find out the winners of this year’s Cy Young Awards. I believe this is easily the most difficult choice for the BBWAA this offseason. Manager of the year doesn’t have a lot of pressure behind it; Rookie of the Year was obvious in one league, and you couldn’t go wrong between two guys in the other; MVP is pretty clear in both leagues. But, Cy Young? In the National League you have a nearly impossible choice to have to make between three fantastic pitchers. In the AL, there wasn’t one especially dominant pitcher, so they all have flaws. You just have to figure out which one’s flaws matter the least. Due to the nature of this year’s candidates, I’m only going to give my top 3 in the NL, but a top 4 in the AL.
Let’s start with Sale. I wanted to include him on this list, because even though he wasn’t a finalist for this award, he deserves some recognition. I can understand why he wasn’t a finalist (10th in ERA, 13th in BAA), but Sale still had an excellent season. He led the league in FIP, K’s and K/BB ratio. And, if he had received just a little more run support (38th among starters with at least 140 IP in the AL), he likely would have finished well above 13 wins.
There were only three pitchers in the AL that finished in the top 10 in wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, and BAA. And, those are your three “finalists” for the award. While Sonny Gray had an excellent season (14-7, 2.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), and deserved to finish in the top 3, his FIP (3.45) only ranked 8th, and he was definitely not a strikeout pitcher (169 K’s – good for 12th in the league). So, in the end, this came down to a two-man race. And, trying to decide between these two pitchers is splitting hairs. Looking at seven major pitching statistics (wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, K’s, K/BB, & BAA), Keuchel ranks in the top 5 in every single one. The lone blemish on Price’s resume is that he ranks 8th in BAA (.227), though it’s just .009 points behind Keuchel, who ranks 2nd. Keuchel led the league in wins (20) and WHIP (1.02). But, Price led the league in ERA (2.45), and is ahead of Keuchel in FIP, K’s & K/BB ratio. If you toss wins aside (which seems to be a habit of many analysts these days), you’re left with six primary categories. And, Price leads Keuchel in four of them.
There were a few deciding factors, for me, in choosing Price. One is the aforementioned lead Price has over Keuchel in 4 of 6 categories. Second, one of those categories is FIP – which tells me that if Price had Keuchel’s defense behind him, his numbers would have been even better. Third, when it came to crunch time at the end of the season, Price was practically unbeatable – 9-1, 2.30 ERA from August 1st on. Keuchel wasn’t awful during that same stretch (8-3, 2.78 ERA), but not nearly the dominance Price demonstrated. Like I said, this is splitting hairs. But, I would give my vote to Price.
What’s the only thing more difficult than splitting hairs between two quality candidates? Splitting hairs between three. Kershaw led the league in FIP and K’s. Arrieta led the league in wins and BAA. Greinke led the league in ERA and WHIP. So, how am I supposed to figure this one out? Well, here’s how I came to the decision that I did. In the categories that Kershaw doesn’t lead, he’s 3rd behind the other two guys on the list. So, he’s just a notch behind them. Arrieta and Greinke ranked 1 & 2 in the league in 4 major categories (wins, ERA, WHIP, & BAA). So, what about the two categories in which Kershaw led the league? Arrieta ranked 2nd in FIP and 3rd in K’s. Greinke ranked 5th in FIP and 11th in K’s.
And, for the same reason I chose Price over Keuchel, it’s important we consider crunch time of the season. Over the last two months of the season Greinke had numbers very similar to Price – 9-1, 2.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP. Very impressive. But, Arrieta’s numbers weren’t just impressive . . . they were historic. The last time someone had a run of starts similar to Arrieta’s within a single season, they decided to lower the pitching mound because the pitchers had too much of an advantage over the batters (Gibson in ’68). The four best 10-start stretches, in terms of ERA, in the history of baseball include two guys from the dead ball era (Johnson in 1918 – 0.44 ERA, and Meadows in 1919 – 0.47 ERA), Gibson’s ’68 season (0.20 ERA), and Jake Arrieta from August 1st – Sept. 22nd. Over those 10 starts, Arrieta was 9-0, with a 0.48 ERA and 0.69 WHIP. After the All-Star break, Arrieta had arguably the greatest second half of a season in the history of the game (15 GS, 12-1, 0.75 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, .148 BAA, 113 K’s, 2 HR). All while knowing each start mattered, as his team was in the midst of a division & playoff race. As great of a season as Greinke and Kershaw had – Arrieta deserves this award.