IBWAA NL Cy Young Ballot – Johnny Cueto
With Clayton Kershaw suffering a mid-season back injury and missing a somewhat significant chunk of time, the National League Cy Young race became wide open. For the most part, the season was very close with many viable choices. Here is my ballot:
1st – Johnny Cueto
Understandably, Madison Bumgarner gets all the publicity with his postseason heroics, but in reality, Cueto was the staff ace for the San Francisco Giants this year, and ultimately the one pitcher who should win the Cy Young Aaward this season.
In 2016, Cueto made 32 starts pitching 219.2 innings while throwing five complete games. Overall, Cueto was 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA, 1.093 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 198 strikeouts, a 147 ERA+, 2.95 FIP, and a 5.7 WAR.
While complete games was the only category Cueto led, his name was spread out all over the National League Top 10 pitching categories. On the season , Cueto finished second in pitcher WAR, fifth in ERA, third in wins, third in win-loss percentage (.783), ninth in WHIP, third in walks per nine (1.844), second in innings pitched, sixth in strikeouts, third in starts, second in shutouts (2), fifth in strikeout to walk ratio (4.400), second in home runs per nine (0.615), second in batters faced, sixth in ERA+, third in FIP, fifth in adjusted pitcher runs (34), fifth in adjusted pitcher wins (3.6), second in WPA (5.0).
More so than any pitcher across the National League, Cueto’s traditional and advance statistics hold up. In an era where going deep into games is a lost art, Cueto led the league in complete games. By the thinnest of margins, Cueto edges out the rest as being the best pitcher in the Naitonal League this season.
2nd – Max Scherzer
Like Cueto, Scherzer was a traditional and advanced statistic darling this season. For the season, Scherzer made 33 starts pitching 223.1 innings. Overall, he was 19-7 with a 2.82 ERA, 0.940 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 277 strikeouts, a 148 ERA+, a 3.16 FIP, and a 6.5 WAR.
Looking over these stats, Scherzer is the National League leader in WAR (for pitchers), wins, WHIP, hits per nine (6.287), inning pitched, strikeouts, games started, and strikeout/walk ratio (5.130). Scherzer was also sixth in ERA, fourth in win-loss percentage (.731), third in K/9, eighth in complete games (1), third in batters faced (877), fifth in ERA+, fourth in FIP, fourth in adjusted pitching runs (35), fourth in adjusted pitching wins (3.8), and fourth in WPA (4.4).
Looking at his numbers as a whole, Scherzer leads in most of the important traditional ones like wins, strikeouts, WHIP, starts, and innings pitched. He is also scattered across the top 10 in the advanced statistics that were created to normalize pitching across teams and ballparks. Overall, he just falls short of Cueto as Cueto was better in run prevention with him having a better ERA, FIP, and WPA.
3rd – Noah Syndergaard
It was a tale of three seasons for Syndergaard. There was the first part of the season where he debuted a 95 MPH slider to go with his 100 MPH fastball that made you wonder how anyone could ever hit him. There was a second part where he was affected by bone spurs in his elbow leaving your wondering if he could finish out the season. The final part was him returning to form.
Syndergaard made 30 starts and one relief appearance (thanks in part to Chase Utley) pitching 183.2 innings. Overall, Syndergaard was 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 218 strikeouts, 158 ERA+, 2.29 FIP, and a 5.2 WAR.
While Syndergaard did not lead in any of the more traditional statistics, he was the league leader in FIP. He was also the the league leader in HR/9 allowed (o.539). Coupling that with him ranking second in strikeout to walk ratio, Syndergaard was the pitching king of the three true outcomes this season.
In addition to the three true outcomes catergories, Syndergaard also ranks highly in WAR (sixth), ERA+ (third), adjusted pitching wins (seventh), and WPA (tenth). In the more traditional statistics, Syndergaard also rates highly. Syndergaard is third in ERA, eighth in walks per nine, fourth in strikeouts per nine, fourth in strikeouts, and second in strikeout to walk ratio.
Overall, you could justify Syndergaard being named the Cy Young for the 2016 season. However, with Cueto and Scherzer making more starts and throwing more innings, they were more valuable pitchers than Syndergaard was this season.
4th – Jon Lester
When people have addressed the Cubs rotation this season, many have focused on last year’s Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta, or Kyle Hendricks, who is the major league ERA leader. People have overlooked Lester, who has been the most valuable pitcher of the group.
In 31 starts, Lester has pitched 197.2 innings. Overall, Lester is 19-4 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.997 WHIP, 8.87 K/9, 191 strikeouts, 176 ERA+, 3.35 FIP, and a 5.6 WAR. This has been just an outstanding year for Lester, and it is quite deserving of Cy Young consideration.
Like the aforementioned starters, Lester is in the Top 10 in several pitching categories. Lester ranks third in pitcher WAR, second in ERA, first in wins, first in win-loss percentage (.826), third in WHIP, fourth in hits per nine (6.739), eighth in strikeouts per nine, sixth in innings pitched, seventh in strikeouts, fifth in complete games (2), seventh in strikeout to walk ratio (3.898), eighth in home runs per nine (0.911), second in ERA+, seventh in FIP, first in adjusted pitching runs (41), first in adjusted pitcher wins (4.4), and first in WPA (5.2).
With Lester ranking this highly in each of these categories, he could very easily have finished in the top spot in the Cy Young voting instead of fourth. The reason why he is ranked lower than Cueto and Scherzer is that while Lester has a better ERA and is a league leader in wins, he also has pitched fewer innings than those pitchers. While Lester has thrown more innings than Syndergaard, he doesn’t compare to Syndergaard when it comes to the run prevention categories. In reality, it’s splitting hairs, and the way those hairs split leads to Lester being ranked fourth on the ballot.
5th – Jose Fernandez
Honestly, this was a toss up between Fernandez and Hendricks. Both were deserving given there statistics. However, overall, Fernandez was more dominating that Hendricks was this season.
In 2016, Fernandez made 29 starts pitching 182.1 innings. Overall, he was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.119 WHIP, 12.5 K/9, 253 strikeouts, 137 ERA+, 2.30 FIP, and a 4.2 WAR.
The main case for Fernandez is him leading the majors in strikeouts per nine and having the second best FIP in the majors. In sum, what this means is he was about as dominating a pitcher in the National League this season. He was striking out batters at a higher rate than any other pitcher, and in the hypothetical neutral setting, he was the second best pitcher at keeping runs off the board. Like the aforementioned pitchers he ranked highly in several categories ranking seventh in ERA, fifth in wins, sixth in win-loss percentage (.667), tenth in WHIP, ninth in hits per nine (7.355), second in strikeouts, fourth in strikeout to walk ratio (4.600), third in home runs per nine (0.642), eighth in ERA+, ninth in adjusted pitching runs (23), ninth in adjusted pitching wins (2.4), and sixth in WPA (3.5).
For reasons we are all too familiar, Fernandez wasn’t able to catch up to Scherzer in strikeouts, nor was he able to pitch in more innings to bolster his case. As such the strength of his case was how dominating he was viewed through the prism of the advanced statistics. Looking through that prism, he feel short of putting up the type of season Syndergaard did. As such, he finished behind Syndergaard.