The National League Cy Young Race Is Too Close To Call

Last night, Trevor Bauer made a rather emphatic statement not only on behalf of his team, which is in the playoff hunt, but also for himself in the National League Cy Young race. Bauer pitched eight innings, striking out 12 against one walk and just a single run as the Reds moved above .500 to move into the eighth and final playoff spot heading into today’s action. Meanwhile, though it’s not yet clear if Jacob deGrom or Yu Darvish will get another outing to stake their claims, but Corbin Burnes pitches tonight against the Cardinals. Below you will find the NL WAR leaders among pitchers through last night’s contests:

NL Pitching WAR Leaders
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP WAR
Yu Darvish 69 11.5 1.7 0.7 .311 2.22 2.23 2.7
Corbin Burnes 56 13.3 3.5 0.2 .268 1.77 1.79 2.6
Jacob deGrom 63 13.4 2.3 0.7 .282 2.14 1.99 2.6
Trevor Bauer 73 12.3 2.1 1.1 .215 1.73 2.87 2.5
Dinelson Lamet 65.1 12.3 2.6 0.7 .243 2.07 2.51 2.3
Luis Castillo 66 11.6 3.3 0.7 .321 2.86 2.73 2.2
Kyle Hendricks 81.1 7.1 0.9 1.1 .272 2.88 3.54 2.0
Germán Márquez 74.2 8.0 2.9 0.7 .306 4.10 3.42 2.0
Aaron Nola 67.2 12.0 2.7 1.2 .264 3.06 3.23 1.9
Zack Wheeler 64 6.3 1.7 0.4 .298 2.67 3.23 1.8
Max Scherzer 61.1 12.5 3.1 1.2 .364 3.67 3.18 1.8
Brandon Woodruff 65.2 11.1 2.3 1.2 .284 3.43 3.46 1.7
Rick Porcello 56 8.2 2.3 0.6 .363 5.46 3.15 1.7
Clayton Kershaw 54.1 9.8 1.3 1.0 .211 2.15 2.94 1.6
Max Fried 56 8.0 3.1 0.3 .268 2.25 3.09 1.6
Sonny Gray 50.2 12.1 3.9 0.7 .305 3.73 2.95 1.6
Tony Gonsolin 40.2 8.9 1.6 0.4 .225 1.77 2.44 1.5
Zach Eflin 56.1 11.2 2.2 1.3 .354 4.15 3.29 1.5
Through 9/23

Bauer pitched a great game, but his WAR still lags a bit behind that of Darvish, deGrom, and Burnes. While all the pitchers above, as well as reliever Devin Williams, have had very good seasons, to try to reduce this down to the players who might be placed on the ballot, we’ll work with the top 12 pitchers on the list above. Apologies to Clayton Kershaw and Max Fried, who haven’t quite pitched enough innings at a high enough level to be included below. When looking at those top 12 pitchers, here’s how they situate themselves in a few important stats:

NL Cy Young Candidates
Name IP K% BB% ERA ERA- FIP FIP- WAR
Yu Darvish 69 32% 5% 2.22 50 2.23 50 2.7
Corbin Burnes 56 38% 10% 1.77 39 1.79 40 2.6
Jacob deGrom 63 38% 7% 2.14 51 1.99 46 2.6
Trevor Bauer 73 36% 6% 1.73 38 2.87 63 2.5
Dinelson Lamet 65.1 35% 8% 2.07 47 2.51 57 2.3
Luis Castillo 66 31% 9% 2.86 62 2.73 60 2.2
Kyle Hendricks 81.1 20% 3% 2.88 64 3.54 79 2.0
Germán Márquez 74.2 21% 8% 4.10 80 3.42 72 2.0
Aaron Nola 67.2 34% 7% 3.06 68 3.23 71 1.9
Zack Wheeler 64 18% 5% 2.67 59 3.23 71 1.8
Max Scherzer 61.1 32% 8% 3.67 80 3.18 70 1.8
Brandon Woodruff 65.2 31% 6% 3.43 76 3.46 77 1.7
Through 9/23. Black=1st, Blue=2nd, Orange=3rd, Red=4th.

FanGraphs’ WAR is not the only WAR metric out there. As I’ve said before in reference to both this year and last year’s AL Cy Young race:

In many ways, the versions of WAR are all trying to do the same thing, which is to credit a pitcher for certain outcomes based on the pitcher’s work. This isn’t new. It’s why earned run average tries to strip away the unearned runs. ERA, Baseball-Reference’s WAR and RA/9 WAR both look at the number of runs and then work backwards to try to arrive at a deserved result. FIP-based WAR looks at the outcomes most controlled by the pitcher (walks and strikeouts) and then adds or subtracts credit for some batted balls via the home run and infield flies, and gives credit for all outs made. Baseball Prospectus looks at the most likely outcomes given the circumstances and assigns a value.

The table below shows how the candidates rank in the various metrics here, as well as at Baseball Prospectus and Baseball-Reference.

NL Cy Young Candidates: WARs
Name WAR RA9-WAR B-Ref BPro wAVG
Trevor Bauer 2.5 3.6 2.8 2.2 2.6
Jacob deGrom 2.6 2.4 2.5 2.2 2.4
Yu Darvish 2.7 3 2.3 1.8 2.4
Corbin Burnes 2.6 2.7 2.2 1.9 2.3
Dinelson Lamet 2.3 2.9 2.3 1.8 2.2
Aaron Nola 1.9 1.8 2.4 2.4 2.1
Kyle Hendricks 2.0 3 2.0 1.3 1.9
Zack Wheeler 1.8 2.2 2.9 1.4 1.9
Luis Castillo 2.2 1.8 1.1 1.8 1.8
Germán Márquez 2.0 1.7 1.4 1.5 1.7
Brandon Woodruff 1.7 1.9 1.5 1.5 1.6
Max Scherzer 1.8 1.5 2.1 1.3 1.6
Through 9/23, wAVG=(WAR+(RA9-WAR+BRef)/2+BPro)/3
Black=1st, Blue=2nd, Orange=3rd, Red=4th

When we average WAR, Bauer takes the lead over the rest of the group. It looks like RA9-WAR is doing a ton of the work for Bauer, and it’s fair to wonder what’s going on. There was a question in the comments of yesterday’s piece about the difference between RA9-WAR and B-Ref’s version, and Bauer provides a good opportunity to highlight those differences. The biggest factors at play are that B-Ref’s WAR considers overall team defense for individual pitchers as well as factoring in opponent, while RA9-WAR leaves those out. While in many years a team’s defense might be the more meaningful difference between the two, this unusually short season means that opponent is having a larger effect.

This year Bauer has faced the Brewers (who have a team wRC+ of 90) three times, the Tigers (91 wRC+), Pirates (68 wRC+), and Cubs (91 wRC+) twice apiece, as well as the Royals (92 wRC+) and White Sox (116 wRC+) once each. With the exception of a solid White Sox offense, every lineup Bauer faced was in the bottom third in offense this season, which drives the gap between his RA9-WAR and B-Ref. In most seasons there isn’t going to be a huge divide between most pitchers, but this year’s gap is pronounced, and it also affects Darvish, Burnes, Kyle Hendricks, and Dinelson Lamet somewhat. That, along with defense, helps explain why Zack Wheeler fares so well at Baseball-Reference. Bauer didn’t get to pick his opponents, but if you want to consider them in your analysis, Bauer is hurt somewhat.

We also have the advantage of looking at Statcast metrics like xwOBA, which functions similarly to FIP but uses expected results on contact based on launch angle and exit velocity instead of homers. And if we were to translate to WAR, FIP-based WAR adds in pop-ups in addition to factoring for ballparks, while xwOBA should be ballpark agnostic to begin with. Here’s the xwOBA leaders along with wOBA and the difference so far this season:

NL Cy Young Candidates: xwOBA
Name wOBA xwOBA wOBA-xWOBA
Trevor Bauer .223 .235 -.012
Jacob deGrom .232 .256 -.024
Luis Castillo .279 .280 -.001
Corbin Burnes .221 .281 -.060
Dinelson Lamet .226 .281 -.055
Yu Darvish .255 .285 -.030
Kyle Hendricks .265 .286 -.021
Brandon Woodruff .277 .286 -.009
Aaron Nola .260 .288 -.028
Zack Wheeler .284 .307 -.023
Max Scherzer .311 .311 .000
Germán Márquez .297 .334 -.037
Through 9/23

The average xwOBA this year is .333, so every pitcher here is pretty clearly above average except for Germán Márquez. Bauer paces the group by a healthy margin, with deGrom a clear second; there is then another gap before a big group in the .280-to-.290 range. One thing to keep in mind is that the average wOBA-xwOBA this season is about negative 20 points because the inputs are based on historical precedent, so something like a juiced ball could have bumped up the expected numbers quite a bit. Given that we are dealing with just one season, looking at the players relative to the average and each other can still provide useful context. Bauer, deGrom, Darvish, Hendricks, Woodruff, Nola, and Wheeler are all relatively close to average when it comes to expectations versus results. It looks like Luis Castillo and Max Scherzer have had a bit of bad fortune, which is likely a combination of park or defense and some luck. Burnes, Lamet, and Márquez have all done better to some degree than the expectations from their contact.

If were to turn the xwOBA figures into WAR and add them to the prior WAR table, it would look like this:

NL Cy Young Candidates: More WARs
Name WAR RA9-WAR B-Ref BPro xWAR wAVG
Trevor Bauer 2.5 3.6 2.8 2.2 3.4 2.8
Jacob deGrom 2.6 2.4 2.5 2.2 2.5 2.4
Yu Darvish 2.7 3.0 2.3 1.8 2.2 2.3
Dinelson Lamet 2.3 2.9 2.3 1.8 2.1 2.2
Corbin Burnes 2.6 2.7 2.2 1.9 1.8 2.2
Aaron Nola 1.9 1.8 2.4 2.4 2.0 2.1
Kyle Hendricks 2.0 3.0 2.0 1.3 2.5 2.1
Luis Castillo 2.2 1.8 1.1 1.8 2.2 1.9
Zack Wheeler 1.8 2.2 2.9 1.4 1.6 1.8
Brandon Woodruff 1.7 1.9 1.5 1.5 2.1 1.7
Max Scherzer 1.8 1.5 2.1 1.3 1.4 1.6
Germán Márquez 2.0 1.7 1.4 1.5 1.1 1.5
Through 9/23. wAVG=(WAR+(RA9-WAR+BRef)/2+BPro)/3
Black=1st, Blue=2nd, Orange=3rd, Red=4th

When combining all WAR, Bauer has a pretty cleat edge. deGrom is currently listed as the Mets’ Saturday starter, so he might not be done yet. While we might hesitate to overstate a single start, remember that Bauer’s outing last night represented 11% of his entire season in innings. One strong start in this shortened season is the equivalent of three in a normal year. Burnes doesn’t come out well in xwOBA because he is somewhat similar to his peers, but he also has an innings deficit, one he will try to close somewhat tonight.

Bauer raised his wAVG above by nearly 0.5 in one start. If things stay pretty much where they are and we don’t factor in opponent, he is the pretty clear favorite. If deGrom, Burnes, or Darvish put together one more great start, they are going to end up pretty close to Bauer.

The question then becomes how much a voter might discount Bauer’s numbers due to a weaker schedule. Darvish and Burnes have had only slightly tougher opponents, while deGrom’s four starts against the Marlins (97 wRC+) represented his weakest challenges this season. In most seasons, the schedule is going to even out or at least be close over 30-plus starts. That’s not the case this year, and it’s unclear precisely how much that should be a factor for Cy Young voters. It is tough to find separation, and the short schedule makes these choices even tougher.

As I did with the AL Cy Young candidates, here’s the xwOBA-based WAR for all NL pitchers with at least 150 plate appearances against this season:

National League xWAR Based on xwOBA
Name Team WAR woba xwoba xWAR
Trevor Bauer Reds 2.5 .223 .235 3.4
Jacob deGrom Mets 2.6 .232 .256 2.5
Kyle Hendricks Cubs 2.0 .265 .286 2.5
Luis Castillo Reds 2.2 .279 .280 2.2
Yu Darvish Cubs 2.7 .255 .285 2.2
Dinelson Lamet Padres 2.3 .226 .281 2.1
Brandon Woodruff Brewers 1.7 .277 .286 2.1
Aaron Nola Phillies 1.9 .260 .288 2.0
Max Fried Braves 1.6 .272 .273 2.0
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 1.6 .222 .271 1.9
Corbin Burnes Brewers 2.6 .221 .281 1.8
Zach Eflin Phillies 1.5 .323 .290 1.7
Zac Gallen D-backs 1.3 .273 .305 1.7
Zack Wheeler Phillies 1.8 .284 .307 1.6
Julio Urías Dodgers 1.2 .265 .296 1.5
Pablo López Marlins 1.4 .281 .295 1.5
Max Scherzer Nationals 1.8 .311 .311 1.4
Tyler Mahle Reds 1.0 .281 .286 1.4
Sixto Sánchez Marlins 0.9 .280 .283 1.3
Kevin Gausman Giants 1.2 .280 .309 1.2
Sonny Gray Reds 1.6 .275 .309 1.2
Tony Gonsolin Dodgers 1.5 .211 .292 1.1
Germán Márquez Rockies 2.0 .297 .334 1.1
Adam Wainwright Cardinals 1.2 .261 .322 1.1
Josh Lindblom Brewers 0.8 .306 .304 1.1
Antonio Senzatela Rockies 1.2 .289 .340 0.9
Dakota Hudson Cardinals 0.4 .253 .317 0.8
Tyler Anderson Giants 0.7 .319 .336 0.8
JT Brubaker Pirates 0.9 .303 .328 0.7
Kyle Freeland Rockies 1.1 .313 .348 0.7
Steven Brault Pirates 0.8 .268 .331 0.7
Johnny Cueto Giants 0.5 .326 .343 0.7
Adrian Houser Brewers 0.5 .349 .342 0.7
Dustin May Dodgers 0.3 .281 .344 0.6
Alec Mills Cubs 0.5 .289 .348 0.6
Luke Weaver D-backs 0.4 .361 .340 0.6
David Peterson Mets 0.3 .298 .340 0.6
Garrett Richards Padres 0.7 .313 .346 0.6
Trevor Williams Pirates -0.4 .376 .349 0.5
Brett Anderson Brewers 0.6 .322 .347 0.5
Chris Paddack Padres 0.7 .313 .354 0.5
Taylor Clarke D-backs -0.1 .295 .344 0.5
Zach Davies Padres 1.2 .272 .361 0.4
Michael Wacha Mets 0.1 .391 .344 0.4
Josh Tomlin Braves 0.6 .306 .350 0.4
Rick Porcello Mets 1.7 .324 .361 0.3
Patrick Corbin Nationals 1.1 .348 .362 0.3
Logan Webb Giants 0.7 .344 .366 0.2
Austin Voth Nationals -0.2 .367 .365 0.2
Aníbal Sánchez Nationals 0.1 .388 .367 0.1
Erick Fedde Nationals -0.3 .323 .371 0.1
Jake Arrieta Phillies 0.6 .346 .378 0.0
Jon Lester Cubs 0.4 .320 .379 0.0
Alex Young D-backs -0.1 .355 .383 -0.1
Jon Gray Rockies 0.4 .341 .386 -0.1
Derek Holland Pirates -0.3 .363 .394 -0.3
Chad Kuhl Pirates -0.1 .335 .398 -0.3
Robbie Ray D-backs -0.5 .400 .397 -0.3
Ryan Castellani Rockies -0.6 .368 .409 -0.5
Ross Stripling Dodgers -0.5 .382 .423 -0.6
Madison Bumgarner D-backs -0.7 .403 .436 -0.9
Through 9/23





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Cave Dameron
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Cave Dameron

Trevor Bauer will win it easily.

estone2005
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estone2005

Jacob deGrom says hi.

dl80
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dl80

Whether he deserves it or not, there is no way DeGrom wins this year. The voters (in all sports) like variety in their award winners. It’s why Trout doesn’t have 5 MVPs and why LeBron doesn’t have 8.

The only way DeGrom wins a third in a row is if he is far and away the best pitcher this year, which he isn’t. If he’s the best, it’s by a hair.

estone2005
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estone2005

He will give Bauer a run for his money is all I meant. He’s not the clear candidate. No one is.

Dooduh
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Dooduh

Talk about a hot take…

DatabasesLoaded
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DatabasesLoaded

Sadly, I agree even though I’m a Mets fan. Individually, deGrom is always in the conversation about best pitcher in MLB period. When he has been on this year, it’s crazy – 12 Ks in one game and 14 Ks each in two other games. I mean, come on.

But he has been harmed by the Mets’ poor run support and general game-losing performance behind him. Also, deGrom had a couple of uncharacteristic rough spots of his own this season, which may cost him the Cy Young this year.

Jason B
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Jason B

“The only way DeGrom wins a third in a row is if he is far and away the best pitcher this year, which he isn’t. If he’s the best, it’s by a hair.”

By a hair! I miss shaggy deGrom. That had to cost him a couple of WAR tenths, a la Sampson in biblical times…

bosoxforlife
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bosoxforlife

Jake is the man I would want to pitch the game if my life depended on it but he is a gnat’s eyelash short of Bauer this year.

stever20
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stever20

That’s not the award. The award is who is the top pitcher for 2020 only.

carter
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carter

Being that his last start was on 3 days rest, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think he gets one more start Sunday. He has been pushing for 3 days rest all season, and not only did he go 8ip his stuff actually was slightly better than it had been previously according to most metrics. I bet he wins it, and could be essentially lock it up if he goes in 3 days rest again and throws well in a crucial game.

Cave Dameron
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Cave Dameron

The Reds have already stated that he’s scheduled to start again Sunday.

carter
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carter

Did not know it was confirmed. But I’m glad to hear it. I think it’s possible he gets bumped if spot is secure, but it’s looking likely it comes down to last day.

stever20
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stever20

Cincy could clinch tomorrow-
They win
Milwaukee loses tonight(losing 4-1 in 7th) and then 1 of 2 tomorrow, and SF gets swept by SD.

Very possibly they don’t need Bauer on Sunday.

Dooduh
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Dooduh

And if he gets blown up in a final start on Sunday..?

carter
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carter

Then he probably doesn’t win.

Max Power
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Max Power

Reds also have Sonny Gray on normal rest Sunday