MLB

MLB Cy Young races: Why Dodgers’ Max Scherzer, Blue Jays’ Robbie Ray are new frontrunners

Throughout the month of September, we’ll be checking in on the Cy Young races every Friday. The award in both leagues appears to be there for the taking for several individuals, too, so these rankings could change by the week. 

As a reminder, this 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. 

American League Cy Young field

If we’re talking about the competition for first place, there are two guys competing. After that, there are discussions about circumstances — the Bassitt one a total bummer — and some fun stories. 

1. Robbie Ray, Blue Jays
There’s now a new frontrunner in the race, and it’s a man who took a one-year, $8 million deal in free agency last offseason. Ray leads the AL in ERA (2.60) and ERA+ (171) and has the lowest rate of hits allowed while sitting second in WHIP (by 0.005) and he’s done this while sitting second in innings pitched by just 1/3 of an inning. 

So we’re looking at the best pitcher in the league by rate stats who also is essentially tied for the highest workload. 

Ray is also second in strikeouts by just five. There is only area where he isn’t elite: he’s allowed 25 home runs. But that still only knocks him down to fifth in FIP and he’s still sitting third in win probability added.

Oh, and Ray is running away in WAR. He’s at 6.7. Second place is …

2. Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Cole has 5.5 WAR. Last week at this time we had Cole as the frontrunner, but since then Ray dominated, Cole had a lackluster outing and suffered a hamstring injury. There’s still plenty of time to bounce back and take his first Cy Young after four top-five finishes (including one runner-up). 

Cole leads the AL in wins, but most voters aren’t really into that sort of thing anymore. He’s leading in WHIP and strikeouts. He’s second to Ray in ERA, ERA+ and allowed hit rate. He’s tied for sixth in innings pitched, but it’s only 7 1/3 innings behind Ray. Cole also leads in FIP and win probability added. 

While I believe Ray is the frontrunner, Cole is breathing down his neck and this race is far from over. 

The White Sox: Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodón and Lucas Giolito have all been injured lately. Lynn is 10-4 with a 2.59 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 152 strikeouts in 135 2/3 innings. That’s an excellent season that is 20 innings short of the top-10 and doesn’t qualify for the ERA title. Rodón is 11-5 with a 2.41 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 168 strikeouts in 119 2/3 innings, so he’s even better but with an even smaller workload. Giolito does qualify for the ERA title, but he trails Ray in ERA by more than a run and is fifth in WHIP and strikeouts. Don’t forget about Dylan Cease as a possible down-ballot candidate, either. But right now it looks like the White Sox have four guys who might, could, possibly get some lower-tier votes but don’t have a chance to win it. 

Chris Bassitt: A’s ace Chris Bassitt was hit in the head with a line drive on Aug. 17. He’s still eighth in WAR and has a 12-4 record with a 3.22 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He struck out more than a hitter per inning. He deserves mention here, but he’s currently sitting on 151 innings and that’s just not going to make a dent when it comes to Ray and Cole. 

Ohtani’s workload: Angels‘ two-way star Shohei Ohtani is 9-1 with a 2.97 ERA and is seventh in AL pitcher WAR, but he’s only thrown 112 innings. He’ll probably just have to settle for AL MVP honors.

Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox: He’s always flashed upside, but had never previously been able to keep it together and stay healthy for a full season. Now 31, Eovaldi is a first-time All-Star. He has his second-highest workload in terms of starts and innings ever, after 2014 when he was 6-14 with an 85 ERA+. Right now, Eovaldi is third in WAR, tied for sixth in ERA, eighth in WHIP, tied for third in innings and eighth in strikeouts. 

José Berríos, Twins and Blue Jays: There’s only been one Cy Young winner in history who was traded during the season (Rick Sutcliffe in 1984). Berríos would need a really hot close to the season, but he’s fourth in ERA, fourth in WHIP, sixth in strikeouts and leads in innings pitched. 

Zack Greinke, Astros: As I’ve mentioned before, a Greinke win would set the record for the most years between Cy Youngs (he won in 2009). He would need a monumental finish teamed with a historic meltdown from several others, but he’s eighth in ERA, seventh in WHIP and fifth in innings. 

National League Cy Young field


1. Max Scherzer, Nationals/Dodgers
As mentioned above, only one pitcher has ever won while playing for two different teams. Scherzer looks to be in the driver’s seat right now to become the second. He’s first in NL ERA, WHIP, lowest hit rate, strikeout rate and ERA+ while sitting second in strikeouts. For once, though, workload is a concern. At 154 innings, he’s outside the top 10 in the NL. He’s been so good everywhere else that he’s fourth in WAR. 

I also think there’s a strong narrative bound to take shape. The Dodgers have had serious rotation issues this season. Since joining them, Scherzer is 5-0 and they’ve won all seven of his starts. He has a 1.05 ERA with 63 strikeouts against five walks in 43 innings in his time there. 

Only Roger Clemens (seven), Randy Johnson (five), Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux have at least four Cy Youngs. This would be Scherzer’s fourth. Might that play in his favor if it’s close? 

Right in the mix

Walker Buehler, Dodgers
Our clear frontrunner last week, Buehler got crushed Sunday by the Giants in a game where the Dodgers could have taken the NL West lead in their last head-to-head game against San Francisco. 

Zack Wheeler, Phillies
From Aug. 13-30, Wheeler faltered from his frontrunner status with a 6.41 ERA in four starts (three Phillies losses in there). Last time out, though, he threw six scoreless innings while striking out nine and walking none in a win over the Brewers. If he’s back, he has a good shot here. He leads the NL in WAR, innings, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts. He’s ninth in ERA and seventh in WHIP, so does that hurt him? 

Brandon Woodruff, Brewers
The Brewers have run away from the rest of the NL Central and it’s been due in large part to three aces. Woodruff has the highest workload and sits sixth in the NL in innings. He’s also fifth in WAR, fourth in ERA, fourth in WHIP, sixth in strikeouts and fourth in ERA+. 

Corbin Burnes, Brewers
Burnes is third in strikeouts and his rate stats are ridiculous. He’s third in ERA, third in WHIP, first in lowest walk rate, second in strikeout rate, first in strikeout-to-walk rate, first (by a MILE) in lowest allowed home run rate, second in ERA+ and first in FIP by over a run. He’s only seventh in WAR, though, because he’s sitting at 144 innings, or 44 2/3 away from Wheeler. 

Still worth a mention

Wade Miley, Reds
He’s 12-5 with a 2.89 ERA (8th). He’s actually second to Wheeler in WAR, though he’s outside the top 10 in WHIP, innings, strikeouts and most other rate stats. He is fifth in ERA+, suggesting that his work in a pitcher’s park is scoring him big points in WAR. 

Kevin Gausman, Giants
Gausman sits sixth in WAR, fifth in ERA, fifth in WAR, third in lowest allowed hits rate, seventh in strikeout rate, tied for fourth in strikeouts and fifth in innings. 

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Only Wheeler has thrown more innings than Wainwright this season. Wainwright has managed with that workload to sit 10th in ERA and eighth in WHIP. 

Joe Musgrove, Padres
He’s sixth in ERA and ninth in ERA+. 

Julio Urías, Dodgers
The MLB leader in wins with 16. I don’t think it moves the needle a ton these days, especially with two teammates ahead of him in the pecking order, but we’ll mention him. 

Marcus Stroman, Mets
He’s seventh in ERA and seventh in innings pitched. He could net a few down-ballot votes. 

Josh Hader, Brewers
If there’s any reliever in either league who will get much attention here it’s Hader. He leads all NL pitchers — not just relievers, all pitchers — in win probability added. I just believe the starting crops in both leagues are so strong and the voting has mostly gone away from relievers here. The highest reliever in either league last year finished seventh; in 2019 one reliever got two fifth-place votes and finished ninth.



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