Throughout the month of September, we’ve been checking in on the Cy Young races every Friday. Both races remain contested, though the field of potential winners is narrowing. Each starter has only a few more chances to potentially nail down the hardware and any relievers have just a few more weeks to round that resume into shape.
As a reminder, what follows isn’t necessarily how I would vote, or the candidates I absolutely consider the most deserving. Instead, I’m handicapping how the field is shaping up for the voting body at large, based upon my decades of experience studying BBWAA voting trends.
These aren’t ranked unless I say so with a number.
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American League Cy Young field
We have a leader with a clear runner-up and then a field of contenders for number three.
Ray faltered a bit last Friday, undoubtedly due to me naming him the AL Cy Young frontrunner. He rebounded this week with a huge outing against the Rays and he remains in the driver’s seat. Ray leads the AL in WAR, ERA, lowest rate of hits allowed, innings, strikeouts and ERA+ while sitting second in WHIP (1.009, trailing just 1.002). He’s third in strikeouts per walk. This kind of across-the-board dominance in rate stats while leading in innings is the good stuff. The last Blue Jays Cy Young winner? The late, great Hall of Famer Roy Halladay in 2003.
Cole leads the AL in wins, WHIP, strikeout rate, strikeouts per walk and FIP. He is second to Ray in WAR, ERA, ERA+, lowest rate of hits allowed and strikeouts. He is sixth in innings pitched, trailing Ray by 13 2/3. Even if the above few lines look like a tie — and I lean Ray — the workload has to make the difference here. That is, if you think the two pitchers have been just about equally as good, one has done it a decent bit more. As noted, though, these are the clear top two. This thing isn’t over, either, as Cole is right on Ray’s heels and they both have several starts remaining.
José Berríos, Blue Jays – It’s a step down now, but not a huge one. Berríos has been a workhorse for two teams this season, leading the AL in batters faced and trailing only Ray in innings (by four). He’s fourth in ERA, fourth in WHIP, sixth in FIP, fifth in ERA+ and sixth in strikeouts. It would be tough to justify first-place votes ahead of a clearly superior teammate, but Berríos deserves strong down-ballot consideration.
Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox – What a year for Eovaldi, a first-time All-Star at age 31 who had only surpassed 155 innings one time, previously, in his career and that was 2014. At 168 2/3 innings, he’s third behind Ray and Berríos. He’s also third in WAR behind Ray and Cole, fifth in ERA, sixth in WHIP, seventh in strikeouts, second in strikeouts per walk, third in ERA+, second in FIP and has the lowest walk rate in the league. His value to a crumbling-around-him Red Sox rotation cannot be overstated.
5. Frankie Montas, Athletics – Welcome to the top five, Frankie! Montas sits fourth in innings along with sixth in ERA, eighth in ERA+, fifth in FIP and 10th in WHIP. He’s fifth in strikeouts, ninth in strikeouts per walk and eighth in lowest hits allowed rate. Overall, he’s stepped up his game as the year has gone on, going 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings in his last 14 starts.
You’ll note I believe Montas is fifth but I’m not slotting Eovaldi or Berríos. They are that close.
Don’t forget about
The White Sox – There’s Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodón, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Liam Hendriks to discuss. Lynn is fourth in WAR and has a 10-4 record with a 2.50 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 161 strikeouts, but that comes in just 140 2/3 innings. Rodón is 12-5 with a 2.38 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 175 strikeouts, which is a brilliant case. It’s only in 124 2/3 innings, though. Among qualified starters — of which Lynn and Rodón are not — Giolito is eighth in ERA and fifth in WHIP. He has a full workload and sits eighth in innings and fourth in strikeouts. Cease is third in strikeouts and trails only Cole in strikeout rate, but he has a 4.22 ERA. If there is a reliever who deserves a look in the AL, it’s save leader Hendriks, who has a 2.81 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 101 strikeouts against six unintentional walks in 64 innings.
Chris Bassitt, A’s – Bassitt is still sitting eighth in WAR and third in both ERA and WHIP. He’s recently thrown a few bullpen sessions but it seems unlikely he’ll make it back after taking a liner to the face in late August.
Cal Quantrill, Cleveland – It wouldn’t be a season without a breakout pitcher from Cleveland, right? Quantrill has only 137 innings, but he’s pitched to a 2.89 ERA and sits seventh in WAR despite starting the season in the bullpen.
National League Cy Young field
This is a really crowded field. I think there’s a top four right now, but I’m not positive.
The big four
First things first, this is so close that I’m listing these four alphabetically. Buehler bounced back from his worst start of the season with a good outing last time out to move to 14-3. He’s third in ERA, third in WHIP, fourth in innings, ninth in strikeouts, third in ERA+ and sixth in FIP. He’s one of the most difficult pitchers in the league to hit (second-lowest H/9), too, but is he now overshadowed by a new teammate?
The mark against Burnes is a relatively low workload, as his 152 innings are outside the top 10 and over 40 off the lead. His rate stats are just so overwhelming, though, that he’s right here. Burnes is second in ERA, second in WHIP, has the lowest walk rate, the highest strikeout rate, the lowest rate of home runs allowed, the fourth-lowest rate of hits allowed, leads in strikeouts per walk and leads in FIP by a mile (1.50 with 2.67 being second). Despite the workload gap, he’s third in strikeouts and fifth in WAR.
Max Scherzer, Dodgers
He’s shooting for history, as taking the honors here makes him the second pitcher ever to win the Cy Young after switching teams and joins just four Hall of Famers with at least four career Cy Youngs. Further, the Dodgers have won all eight of Scherzer’s starts since acquiring him as he’s pitched to a 0.88 ERA and 0.67 WHIP along the way. He also recorded his 3,000th career strikeouts while flirting with a perfect game last Sunday. To be clear, I don’t think that any of this stuff should carry extra weight with the voting body, but I believe it will with some of them, even if it’s a small percentage. Anyway, Scherzer has a case overall. He leads in ERA and WHIP, is second in WAR, strikeouts, strikeouts per walk, ERA+ and is third in FIP. He’s outside the top 10 in innings pitched, but only by five.
If I had to bet on someone right now to win it, Scherzer is the pick.
The workload king for the season, Wheeler leads the majors in innings pitched, complete games and batters faced. He’s also been effective enough to sit sixth in ERA, fifth in WHIP, seventh in ERA+ and second in FIP — the latter suggesting he’s pitched better than his ERA and the Phillies defense has hurt him. He also leads the league in strikeouts and is fourth in strikeouts per walk. It’ll be very interesting to see how the voters deal with Wheeler’s huge workload vs. Burnes’ extreme performance in rate stats with so many fewer innings (almost 25 percent fewer!). I’m truly, sincerely curious.
In the mix for down-ballot votes
Brandon Woodruff, Brewers – He’s sixth in WAR, fourth in ERA, fourth in WHIP, seventh in innings, sixth in strikeouts, seventh in strikeouts per walk, fourth in ERA+, fifth in FIP and no better than second on his own team in this exercise. Woodruff has had an amazing season and it looks like he’s fighting a decent-sized crowd for some fifth-place votes.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals – Now 40, Wainwright hasn’t gotten a single Cy Young vote — not even one fifth-place vote — since 2014. That’s the last time he was an All-Star. And yet, he’s now 16-7 and the Cardinals have won 15 of his last 18 starts and 10 of his last 11. He’s second in innings, eighth in ERA and seventh in WHIP.
Marcus Stroman, Mets – Stroman has only gotten Cy Young votes once, when he finished eighth in 2017. He might grab some votes this time around, in spite of his teammates not helping (he has a 9-12 record). He’s ninth in innings pitched and seventh in ERA.
Julio Urías, Dodgers – The MLB leader with 18 wins. Getting to 20 doesn’t mean what it used to, nor should it, but it might turn some heads. He’s also ninth in innings, 10th in ERA and sixth in WHIP.
Josh Hader, Brewers – He’s tied for fourth in saves, but that’s not nearly as important as it used to be (again, rightfully so). Hader has a 1.39 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. He’s only blown one save and leads the majors in win probability added.