Arms Race: Breaking Down the NL Cy Young Award Race

By Louis Addeo-Weiss

With August nearing the halfway point, and the regular season about 75-percent of the way through, it is now where serious discussion begins to erupt regarding Major League Baseball’s end-of-season awards.

For one thing, it seems a formality that Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who leads all American League players in WAR (7.6), is seemingly a shoe-in to win his third AL MVP.

In the National League, while Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich being sidelined at the moment for a back injury, he is in the midst of what has been a season-long MVP race with Dodgers first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger. As of August 12th, Bellinger, who has appeared in games this year at three different positions, leads Yelich in WAR 7.6-6.0, with Yelich pacing the senior circuit in OBP (.427), OPS+ (184), as well as leading the majors in slugging percentage (.703), OPS (1.130), and total bases (279).

As for the National League Cy Young Award, as is the case with the league’s MVP, we appear to have come down to a two-horse race, this one being run by the Nationals Max Scherzer and the Dodgers Hyun-Jin Ryu.

While both pitchers have missed time due to injuries, the results they’ve generated while on the field have been nothing short of spectacular, especially considering the two names go about getting hitters out in entirely different ways.

For Scherzer, who is well on his way to a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection once he becomes eligible, his game is permeated on overpowering hitters, as seen by his league leading 189 strikeouts and 12.7 K/9 (third in MLB). 

As great as Scherzer’s been though, multiple stints on the injured list with recurring back injuries will greatly affect his chances as the season winds down.

Regarding the forenamed Ryu, who recently returned with 7 shutout innings against the rival Diamondbacks, all signs point to him winning the award come season’s end.

A look at the back of the baseball card is a good indicator of this.

His 1.45 ERA, 5.4 WAR, .857 winning percentage, 0.93 WHIP, 1.07 BB/9, 288 ERA+, and 4.6 WPA (win probability added) are all tops among NL pitchers.

Ryu’s 1.45 ERA, according to STATS, is tied with Roger Clemens in 2005 for the fourth lowest mark through 22 starts in the live-ball era, trailing only Bob Gibson in 1968 (0.96), Luis Tiant, also in 1968 (1.25), and Vida Blue (1.42). With exception to Tiant, each name here won the league’s Cy Young in their respective season, with Gibson and Blue also taking home the league’s MVP award.

Like we saw last season when the Rays Blake Snell won the AL Cy Young Award with 180.2 innings pitched, the winner of this year’s award in the NL will finish below the 200 innings mark.

Other names such as the Mets Jacob deGrom, who won the award in 2018 with a marvelous 1.70 ERA and sport-leading 1.98 FIP, is another name in contention for the award.

DeGrom’s 189 strikeouts are tied with Scherzer for most in the National League, and his 5.1 WAR isn’t far off from Ryu’s 5.4 and Scherzer’s 5.3. And while the influx of sabermetrics favors metrics such as WAR, FIP, and WPA, deGrom won the award largely off his ERA, though his 10.1 WAR led all pitchers in 2018.

Currently, the Mets’ ace has pitched to a respectable 2.68 ERA, fourth in the NL to Ryu (1.45), Soroka (2.32), Scherzer (2.41).

Should Scherzer return and continue to pitch at the level he has all season, it’ll make the decision that much harder for the voters, but for now, Ryu is the consensus winner.

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