2016 Cy Young Winners: Sale and Scherzer

“Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

As the season winds down, we can look ahead to who might win the Cy Young Awards.   In years past, the pitcher who won the most games often won the Cy Young or, at least, ranked high in voting.  However, wins by a pitcher are the worst stat to use to determine a pitcher’s success.  Often, a pitcher will not yield a single run, but still not win that game.  Theoretically, a pitcher could go an entire season without giving up a run and still not win any games if his team failed to score or played poor defense to allow unearned runs.

© Scott Anderson | Dreamstime.com - Cliff Lee
© Scott Anderson | Dreamstime.com – Cliff Lee

In 2012, Cliff Lee pitched 211 excellent innings, but ended the season with just 6 wins.  Despite having the lowest BB/9 and best K/BB ratio that season, Lee received zero Cy Young votes.  While there were plenty of deserving pitchers who did receive votes, 2 of them were closers.  Pitcher wins should only factor in as an ultimate tiebreaker between pitchers with virtually identical stats.

In 2005, Bartolo Colon won the Cy Young essentially by default because he led the league in wins with 21. When you compare his other stats to Johan Santana’s, you will see that Santana was the superior pitcher with a lower ERA, fewer hits and runs, and more strikeouts in more innings.

Voters were able to put together a sensible ballot in 2010, when Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young with a mediocre record of 13 wins and 12 losses.  There were other viable candidates, but Hernandez was most deserving based on the entirety of his numbers.

In determining the top Cy Young candidates this year, I will ignore wins and relievers.  The Cy Young award began in 1956 for the best pitcher in all of baseball and was expanded to 1 award per league in 1967.  While “best pitcher” is open for debate, the fact that it is named after the most prolific starter in history and MLB has added awards for relievers, the Cy Young belongs to starting pitchers.  Since 1976, Relievers have had their own version of the Cy Young known as the Rolaids relief award or, by its name today, the Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera awards. Are relievers the most important players on a baseball team?  If you consider that relievers are the only players who qualify for each major award, you might say yes.  In reality, they are not.  MVP should be for offensive players, Cy Young should be for starting pitchers, and the Rolaids Relief award for relievers.

The most important stats are those that show a pitcher’s ability to prevent base runners and runs. Traditional stats such as ERA, WHIP, walks, and strikeouts make it simple to determine who the best pitcher is.  Some voters and fans will give preference to a pitcher who pitched in “meaningful games”.  The pitchers from a contender will often get preference over those who played for a bad team.  I disagree with that notion.  Superior pitchers on last place teams don’t have the luxury of facing that bad team.  In fact, that bad team is likely playing subpar defense or providing anemic run support for that unfortunate pitcher. The pitcher on the good team enjoys the benefit of greater run support, better defense, and being surrounded by other excellent pitchers to take the pressure off.

dreamstime_xs_42033406Bob Welch won the 1990 Cy Young Award with 27 wins, while his better teammate, Dave Stewart, finished 3rd in voting.  Roger Clemens, the runner up in voting, should have won the award this year, but voters could not ignore the gaudy win total for Welch.  In addition to Stewart, that Oakland juggernaut featured Dennis Eckersley, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and AL MVP Rickey Henderson. The 1990 Oakland Athletics are considered to be one of the top offenses in history and Bob Welch never had to face them.  He just kept on winning as they scored runs with regularity.

Now that I have made my point about how the Cy Young should be awarded, here are the top candidates in the American and National leagues with my pick for who should win with a few weeks left in the season.  First, the winner should be in the top 10 in ERA.  From that list, we can identify those who appear in the top 10 in WHIP.  Thirdly, we can identify those who rank in the top 10 for K:BB ratio, which gives credit for strikeouts in the context of displaying control.  We can also view complete games and WAR for a more complete picture, but the first 3 stats give us most of what we need to know.  In the stats after ERA, I have excluded those who don’t fall within the top 10 in ERA to narrow the field.

American League: 

ERA      Tanaka, Sale, Quintana, Kluber, Porcello, Duffy, Sanchez, Hamels, Happ, Carrasco

Whip    Porcello, Sale, Kluber, Tanaka, Duffy, Quintana, Carrasco, Happ

K:BB     Porcello, Duffy, Sale, Tanaka, Carrasco, Kluber

CG        Sale, Kluber, Porcello

WAR    Kluber, Tanaka, Sale, Hamels, Quintana, Porcello

© Dan Fleckner | Dreamstime.com - Chris Sale Warms Up
© Dan Fleckner | Dreamstime.com – Chris Sale Warms Up

The AL ERA leaders are all clustered together around an ERA of 3, so the other stats will call this contest.  In a close race, Chris Sale is a cut above the field.  Rick Porcello makes a strong case, as his W-L record will likely motivate voters to swing his way, but Sale is the superior pitcher with Kluber and Tanaka also worth consideration.

National League:

ERA      Hendricks, Lester, Syndergaard, Bumgarner, Roark, Scherzer, Cueto, Arrieta, Fernandez, deGrom

Whip    Scherzer, Hendricks, Lester, Arrieta, Bumgarner, Cueto

K:BB     Scherzer, Syndergaard, Bumgarner, Fernandez, Cueto, deGrom

CG        Cueto, Bumgarner, Lester, Hendricks

WAR    Scherzer, Roark, Syndergaard, Cueto, Lester, Bumgarner, Hendricks

Kershaw would have won the 2016 NL Cy Young award easily had he remained healthy, so the winner (as of 9/16) should be Max Scherzer.  Overall, he is the most effective at preventing base-runners and runs.  His ERA is higher than his other numbers would suggest which is why Hendricks may end up taking the prize.  The last few starts of the season will be the difference maker and I am betting on Scherzer who is more proven than Hendricks.

Those are my selections for Cy Young this year.  These pitchers could easily change my mind with a few starts remaining, I just hope the voters don’t give too much credit to wins and losses and that they leave relievers out of the voting altogether.


Author: Jake White

I am a child of the 1980's who became engrossed in baseball after attending my first Angel game in 1982. As we headed to the Big A, I was told great tales of a man named Reggie. Sitting down the first base line, I watched the lineup announcement with great anticipation, but discovered that Reggie wasn't in the lineup. It didn't matter, the experience was magical, my grandma bought me my first Angel cap, and I fell asleep in the car on the way home. As the next decade emerged, I started a 25-year run in fantasy baseball, which ended with the 2014 season. I have been working in education since 2002 and also spent 2 seasons working for the LA Dodgers. Now, I am having fun observing baseball rather than obsessing over every box score that included one of my fantasy players.

6 thoughts on “2016 Cy Young Winners: Sale and Scherzer”

  1. Where is Verlander? He is about 7th in ERA (3.22), 2nd in WHIP (1.02), in the neighborhood of a guy like Sale in K/BB (220- something Ks to 50-something walks), is on the complete game leaderboard, and I assume must be top 10 in WAR (4.4 on Fangraphs) although I didn’t check that.

    Probably Sale edges him out, but Verlander is definitely in the conversation. I don’t really know that this should affect the analysis, but it is interesting that JV’s stats are skewed by 3 absolutely horrid starts, one against Pittsburgh and two against the Indians, in which he gave up 7, 7, and 8 ER and 34 hits/walks in 14 IP. Outside of those three starts he’s gone 193 innings, 2.42 ERA, .91 WHIP. Of course, I am sure Sale and all the other contenders look somewhat better as well with their worst three starts wiped off the board…

    1. Verlander’s great start on Saturday occurred after I wrote this post, so he would definitely force himself into the conversation. I love that Verlander has been able to return to the great starter he used to be. Maybe my post should have focused more on why Rick Porcello shouldn’t be the automatic Cy Young because he is a 20-game winner.

  2. “Sale is the superior pitcher, the end” is a poor argument against Porcello. WHIP/ERA+/KK-BB/QS/Wins/Win% and many others favor him. He also has a much more difficult division and park factors against him. Sale’s only advantage is K/9, and a smidge of ERA.

    1. In my opinion, Wins and Win % are completely irrelevant. I am not saying Porcello isn’t a deserving candidate, I just don’t want him to get the nod based on his wins. If Porcello ends up winning, I wouldn’t be upset nor surprised. Tanaka, Kluber, and Verlander also could win.

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