The 2019 NL Cy Young Voter Guide

Over in the American League, there’s a pretty clear top tier of Cy Young contenders in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, followed by a solid group of candidates likely to garner down-ballot support. In the National League, there looks to be a top tier of Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom followed by a cascading set of secondary candidates, but that first look doesn’t quite tell the entire story.

To provide some idea of the statistical disparities voters must contend with when making their decision, I looked at our FIP-based WAR as well as the RA9-WAR also available here at FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference’s WAR, and Baseball Prospectus’ WARP. I included for consideration any player in the top five of any of those lists. That search returned nine pitchers for the potential five slots on a Cy Young ballot. Those players are listed below, with a mix of traditional and advanced statistics:

NL Cy Young Candidates
Max Scherzer Jacob deGrom Stephen Strasburg Walker Buehler Patrick Corbin Hyun-Jin Ryu Sonny Gray Mike Soroka Jack Flaherty
IP 166.1 190 196 171.1 191.2 168.2 170.1 169.2 182.1
K% 34.8% 31.6% 29.6% 28.4% 28.4% 22.1% 28.9% 19.9% 29.5%
BB% 4.8% 5.7% 6.7% 4.4% 8.1% 3.6% 9.6% 5.7% 7.2%
HR/9 0.87 0.90 1.06 0.95 0.99 0.80 0.85 0.69 1.23
BABIP .323 .288 .277 .291 .290 .279 .258 .274 .250
ERA 2.81 2.61 3.49 3.15 3.10 2.35 2.80 2.60 2.96
ERA- 62 63 77 75 69 56 62 58 69
FIP 2.36 2.79 3.29 2.87 3.35 3.11 3.38 3.43 3.62
FIP- 52 64 72 65 74 71 74 78 83
WAR 6.5 6.2 5.3 5.0 4.9 4.4 4.3 4.0 4.1
Blue=1st, Orange=2nd, Red=3rd

We have Scherzer and deGrom in first and second by about a win over the next-best candidate, with deGrom pitching tonight. After those two, we have a lot of innings from Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, and fewer innings, but better peripherals, from Walker Buehler. After those three, we have four candidates who haven’t thrown a ton of innings, but all have much lower ERA’s than FIPs. As for how these candidates came to be considered, here are their WAR totals:

NL Cy Young Candidates’ WAR
Max Scherzer Jacob deGrom Stephen Strasburg Walker Buehler Patrick Corbin Hyun-Jin Ryu Sonny Gray Mike Soroka Jack Flaherty
WAR 6.5 6.2 5.3 5 4.9 4.4 4.3 4 4.1
RA/9 WAR 6 6.6 5.6 3.8 5.6 6.1 6 6.1 6.0
BRef 6 6.3 5.7 2.1 5.9 4.5 5.7 5.7 4.9
BPro* 6.0 7.2 7.8 5.4 5.6 5.0 5.2 4.7 6.2
wAVG 6.2 6.6 6.3 4.5 5.4 4.9 5.1 4.9 5.3
Blue=1st, Orange=2nd, Red=3rd
wAVG takes WAR plus the average of RA9-WAR and BRef WAR plus BPro and divides the total by three.
*Baseball Prospectus was updated late Friday to include Thursday starts for Flaherty and Soroka and those numbers have since been updated here.

While FanGraphs’ WAR has Scherzer out in front, the weighted average gives the advantage to deGrom, and due to Strasburg’s strong showing at Baseball Prospectus, he jumps up ahead of his teammate. In assessing the AL Cy Young race, I discussed how the way a voter assigns responsibility to certain results affects how that voter would choose the Cy Young:

If pure results are key, look to RA9-WAR. If you want those results adjusted, Baseball-Reference can help. If you want a more dialed down version of the WAR based on expected contributions, Baseball Prospectus is there to help. If you’re skeptical that we can reasonably isolate defense or contact quality as a skill in a single season, FanGraphs’ FIP-based WAR can help by using strikeouts, walks, and only the strongest and weakest contact in the form of homers and popups. When choosing between a set of very good pitchers all of whom are having very good years, you have to decide what you believe is most important in terms of results and deserved results, and how much control a pitcher has over individual aspects of the game. We try to be as objective as possible, but a little subjectivity is bound to creep in when making these kinds of decisions.

We can also drill down on some of the concerns we have regarding contact quality, and how defense and luck might be affecting some of the results, by using Statcast data. Below, you’ll find the candidates’ xwOBA as compared to their wOBA. Remember that xwOBA, like FIP, looks at strikeouts and walks, but unlike FIP-based WAR, which uses homers and walks, xwOBA assigns a value to every batted ball based on launch angle and exit velocity:

NL Cy Young Candidates’ xwOBA
Player xwOBA wOBA xwOBA-wOBA
Max Scherzer .251 .271 -.020
Jacob deGrom .257 .260 -.003
MLB .324 .319 -.005
Stephen Strasburg .263 .270 -.007
Walker Buehler .271 .269 .002
Jack Flaherty .279 .267 .012
Sonny Gray .284 .267 .017
Patrick Corbin .301 .283 .018
Hyun-Jin Ryu .285 .268 .018
Mike Soroka .304 .270 .034
Blue=1st, Orange=2nd, Red=3rd

Based on these numbers, Scherzer has been generally unlucky, deGrom and Strasburg have been neutral, while the other pitchers have received some sort of benefit based on park, defense, or just lucky bounces that have lowered their actual results compared to what would be expected by exit velocity and launch angle. Here, we still see Scherzer and deGrom as the top two, but Strasburg is not far behind. We can drill down on the differences further by removing strikeouts and walks and look only at batted balls:

NL Cy Young Candidates’ xwOBA on Contact
xwOBA wOBA xwOBA-wOBA
Max Scherzer .357 .390 -.033
Stephen Strasburg .338 .349 -.011
MLB .384 .376 -.008
Jacob deGrom .344 .349 -.005
Walker Buehler .359 .356 .003
Jack Flaherty .359 .339 .020
Hyun-Jin Ryu .350 .327 .023
Patrick Corbin .387 .358 .029
Sonny Gray .351 .321 .030
Mike Soroka .348 .304 .044
Blue=1st, Orange=2nd, Red=3rd

This chart shows a decently tight grouping of xwOBA with everybody but Corbin within about 20 points of Strasburg’s lead. The above doesn’t capture all of a pitcher’s performance given the importance of strikeouts and walks, but it does provide some idea of what has happened when the ball has hit the bat. We can separate home runs and get a better look at how defense and park might have played a factor as well:

NL Cy Young Candidates’ xwOBA on BIP
xwOBA wOBA xwOBA-wOBA
Max Scherzer .325 .323 .002
Stephen Strasburg .292 .269 .023
Jacob deGrom .303 .278 .025
MLB .321 .292 .029
Walker Buehler .326 .287 .039
Patrick Corbin .330 .285 .045
Hyun-Jin Ryu .322 .274 .048
Sonny Gray .305 .253 .052
Jack Flaherty .305 .242 .063
Mike Soroka .327 .260 .067
Blue=1st, Orange=2nd, Red=3rd

There are a few conclusions we can draw. The first is the difficulty of applying team-wide defense to particular pitchers as Corbin, Strasburg, and Scherzer all play for the same team, but have vastly different xwOBA-wOBA results. This is also true to a lesser extent for parks, as we can see with Sonny Gray, who gets his numbers park adjusted, but the defense more than makes up for that adjustment. Another thing to note is that Jack Flaherty is in the middle on contact, but all the way down the list on balls in play, getting a ton of help from his defense, but not much help from his park on homers.

If you wanted a WAR based on xwOBA, it might look something like this:

WAR Based on xwOBA
Name WAR IP xwoba xWAR
Jacob deGrom 6.2 190 .257 6.4
Stephen Strasburg 5.3 196 .263 6.2
Max Scherzer 6.5 166.1 .251 6.0
Noah Syndergaard 4.1 185.2 .279 5.0
Walker Buehler 5 171.1 .271 5.0
Luis Castillo 4 178.2 .277 4.9
Jack Flaherty 4.1 182.1 .279 4.8
Sonny Gray 4.3 170.1 .284 4.2
Kenta Maeda 2.3 148.2 .275 4.1
Hyun-Jin Ryu 4.4 168.2 .285 4.1
Zack Greinke 3.7 146 .279 3.8
Chris Paddack 2.5 140.2 .278 3.8
Patrick Corbin 4.9 191.2 .301 3.6
Aaron Nola 3.5 191.2 .302 3.6
Yu Darvish 2.3 170.1 .295 3.6
Kyle Hendricks 3.6 165.2 .294 3.5
Clayton Kershaw 3.3 165.1 .296 3.4
Zack Wheeler 4.3 180.1 .303 3.3
Anthony DeSclafani 2.1 155.2 .299 3.1
Mike Soroka 3.7 164.2 .304 3.0
Max Fried 2.7 156.2 .302 3.0
Joey Lucchesi 1.9 153.2 .303 2.8
Brandon Woodruff 3.2 119.2 .288 2.8
Madison Bumgarner 3.2 195.2 .316 2.7
Joe Musgrove 2.9 159.1 .309 2.6
Anibal Sanchez 2.4 154 .309 2.5
Adrian Houser 1.3 103.1 .286 2.5
Robbie Ray 2.4 163 .315 2.3
Zach Eflin 1.7 150.2 .312 2.3
Sandy Alcantara 2.1 184.1 .320 2.3
Jose Quintana 3.2 162.2 .317 2.2
Adam Wainwright 2.6 162.1 .318 2.1
Eric Lauer 2 139 .312 2.1
Julio Teheran 1.7 172.1 .321 2.1
Jordan Lyles 1.5 131.1 .312 2.0
Tyler Mahle 1.7 122.1 .309 2.0
Caleb Smith 1.3 144.1 .316 2.0
German Marquez 3.5 174 .323 2.0
Jason Vargas 1.7 138.2 .316 1.9
Jeff Samardzija 1.2 175.1 .325 1.9
Miles Mikolas 2.5 176.1 .327 1.8
Steven Matz 1.7 149.1 .322 1.8
Pablo Lopez 1.4 102 .310 1.6
Jon Gray 3 150 .325 1.6
Trevor Richards 1.1 112 .317 1.5
Chase Anderson 1 128 .324 1.4
Dakota Hudson 0.9 166.2 .336 1.1
Dallas Keuchel 0.9 101.2 .325 1.1
Cole Hamels 2.2 137.2 .333 1.1
Matt Strahm 1 109.2 .329 1.0
Mike Foltynewicz 0.6 105 .328 1.0
Vince Velasquez 0.5 108.2 .331 0.9
Jake Arrieta 1.1 135.2 .336 0.9
Zach Davies 1.4 150.2 .340 0.8
Merrill Kelly 1.7 170.1 .344 0.7
Tanner Roark 1.9 110.1 .338 0.6
Trevor Williams 1.2 133.2 .342 0.6
Jon Lester 2.5 165.2 .345 0.5
Chris Archer 0.7 119.2 .346 0.3
Steven Brault 0.7 103 .345 0.3
Tyler Beede 0.1 107.2 .348 0.2
Michael Wacha -0.3 121 .353 0.0
Antonio Senzatela 0.7 114.2 .352 0.0

We didn’t even discuss Luis Castillo or Noah Syndergaard, but they are having very good seasons based on xwOBA.  At the top, some of these players are close enough that it feels like splitting hairs. When ranking, a value judgment must be made, and how certain we are about who is assigned responsibility for the results, or the results that might have been, can help to dictate our choices.

We hoped you liked reading The 2019 NL Cy Young Voter Guide by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Cave Dameron
Member
Cave Dameron

It’s weird looking at lists of NL Cy Young candidates and not seeing Kershaw’s name.

stever20
Member
Member
stever20

he was right in the thick of things with a real legit chance until 4 straight starts where he gave up 14 er in 22 ip. That killed any hope for him.

stever20
Member
Member
stever20

and then after a decent start where he gave up 2 er in 6.1 innings, he’s throwing a real clunker tonight with 4 runs in 4 innings. So last 6 starts he’s given up 20 er in only 32.1 innings. With 13 homers given up in those 6 starts. I’m afraid the days of Kershaw being a contender for the Cy Young are past right now.

piddy
Member
piddy

It’s going to be 5 straight years without a Kershaw Cy Young, including a three year stretch where he had a 189 ERA+, 2.28 FIP and 0.860 WHIP.

Scherzer had a 153 ERA+, 2.97 FIP and 0.931 WHIP in that same stretch and picked up 2 CYAs.

stever20
Member
Member
stever20

yeah. Kershaw has made 23 fewer starts than Scherzer in those 5 years and 154.1 fewer innings including tonight now. To put him in perspective somewhat- he’s thrown in these last 5 years 3 more innings than Madbum.

Kershaw got so unlucky in 2015 to have not 1 but 2 historical type seasons going up against, and then in 2016 and really even in 2017- he missed so much time that he didn’t have a realistic shot vs Scherzer.

jamesdakrn
Member
jamesdakrn

2016 is the real turning point – he’s never fully recovered 100% from that back injury.

Before that back injury, he was having a historic season – in the month of May alone, he had more CGSOs than walks allowed.

Ended that season w/ 6.3 fWAR, 1.69 ERA 1.80 FIP 2.28 xFIP in 149 IP in 21 starts.

stever20
Member
Member
stever20

I remember that- he had just pitched on Sunday Night Baseball if memory serves me right. That was a bad start- 4 runs in 6 innings. Prior to that he had a 1.57 ERA in 115 innings. .450 OPS against. 15 Starts. 1.61 FIP.

and that’s when his hr really went down.
prior- 0.54 hr/9 innings
after- 1.16 hr/9 innings

I know some of that is ball, but still- he’s been hr prone before this year now for a few years.