Oh, Cy Can You See: Who Will Be Named the NL’s Best Pitcher?

A month ago, I’d have given little credence to the idea that Jake Arrieta was a legitimate candidate to win the Cy Young. But then he shifted his performance into high gear and really started making noise that was more than just the excited rabble of the Wrigley faithful. And with another nationally-televised game against a good team in the Pirates, Arrieta can further improve his resume.

With that in mind, I wanted to look over the respective cases for each of the three pitchers in the running for the NL Cy Young before providing my own voting opinion and then a prediction for what the actual results will be.

Jake Arrieta

Case for: Arrieta leads the majors wins, is second in ERA, FIP, innings pitched, and WAR, third in xFIP, and is in the top 10 in strikeouts (lots of guys bunched up between 219-224). His 2nd-half ERA is 0.86, which is the lowest in MLB history right now (two starts left). He has emerged as the team’s ace in a season following the trade of the de facto #1 and the offseason signing of another.

Case against: Voters may choose to hold Arrieta’s non-All-Star-worthy first half against him, though that didn’t stop Corey Kluber from winning in the AL last year. More than that, though, is the lack of pedigree when compared to the other candidates. We are creatures of habit and it’s very easy to either stick with what we know or to be skeptical of something that is new. It’s hard to see Arrieta’s numbers and argue logically that he’s not worthy, but voters aren’t always logical.

Key moment/stat: 20 wins and a no-no. It’s possible that Greinke and/or Madison Bumgarner join Arrieta as 20-game winners, but being the first is a big deal. Not only was Arrieta the first in the majors to get there, but he’s the first Cubs pitcher to do so in 14 years. And the no-hitter, thrown against the Dodgers in LA and televised nationally on ESPN, holds a lot of sway.

Clayton Kershaw

Case for: He’s won the last 2 Cy Youngs and 3 of the last 4 (finished 2nd in 2012), so the Kershaw is already universally believed to be the best pitcher in the game. He leads the world in FIP, xFIP, WAR, and strikeouts; he’s third in ERA and fourth in innings pitched.

Case against: While we love to stick with the tried and true, there’s also the desire to not get stuck in a rut and to just hand a guy an award just because of his name. Well, unless his name is Derek Jeter. Kershaw’s excellence may actually hurt him here, though it’s silly to think that he’s not deserving of the award. Rather, it’d be a case of the voters wanting to give it to someone different just to break up the monotony

Key moment/stat: Strikeouts. Kershaw has an outside shot at 300 K’s, which would be the highest total of his career. While less indicative of his talent than the other metrics, there’s something to be said for a guy putting up career-high numbers in a sexy category.

Zack Greinke

Case for: Most of the members of the BBWAA are guys and ERA is like boobs. Well, except that smaller is better in their eyes. I guess what I’m trying to say is that that one stat really stands out and makes it difficult for the voters to focus on what might be some other important factors. Admittedly, it’s difficult for me to move beyond the 1.65 ERA and the 18-3 record. In keeping with the idea of pedigree and over-saturation, Greinke is a good fit because he won, but it was a several years ago (2009).

Case against: While Greinke’s ERA is incredibly minuscule, his peripheral stats don’t really back it up. He is 19th in K’s, 16th in xFIP, 8th in FIP, 6th in WAR, and 5th in innings pitched. Under normal circumstances, those would all still be phenomenal rankings, but when compared to two guys who rank higher across the board, well…

Key moment/stat: It’s gotta be the ERA. If he’s able to get to 20 wins, that will help too.

My vote: While I don’t have a say in who gets any actual hardware, I am a voting member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, which votes on the same end-of-season awards as our more well-known brethren. My ballot looks like this: Kershaw, Arrieta, Greinke, Cole, Bumgarner. I’m sure some of my readers will be upset that I don’t have Arrieta in the top spot, but I just can’t look past what Kershaw has done.

Prediction: Before getting into my final thoughts, I think it’s important to note that while the stats I’ve been referring to were pulled from FanGraphs, the numbers from Baseball Prospectus paint a slightly different picture. Their DRA (deserved run average) metric ranks Greinke (2.05) higher than Kershaw (2.17), and Arrieta (2.19). Looking at their DRA run values, Greinke (7.36), Kershaw (7.31), and Arrieta (7.31) are nearly identical in terms of WARP.

That said, I think the voting is going to be a bit of a toss-up for lot of BBWAA members. I believe we’ll see the two Dodger pitchers split a good deal of the votes, but they’ll list Arrieta 2nd. As a result, Jake Arrieta will end up winning Cy Young. I really don’t think there’s a wrong way to go here, though it’d be really cool as a Cubs fan to see Arrieta win it. But I can guarantee you Jake himself would agree with me when I say it’d be far better to see him hoist a World Series trophy than the Cy Young.

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