Who Should Finish Second for AL Cy Young?

Even though he’s still got one start to go and several other pitchers will also see playing time over the next few days, the American League Cy Young race is all but over. Last year, it was a two-horse race between Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. This year, Shane Bieber has been so dominant that no other AL pitcher can come close to his accomplishments with less than a week remaining. He leads the league in strikeouts by 25 through Monday’s games, with the distance between first and second the same as the distance between second and 18th. His 41% strikeout rate is the best in baseball, and his 2.13 FIP and 1.74 ERA pace the league as well. There isn’t a credible argument against Bieber winning the award and he should even garner support for MVP. As for second place, there are a ton of candidates.

To try to wade through the potential two-through-five slots on voters’ ballots, let’s take a quick look at pitcher WAR through Tuesday night’s games:

AL Pitching WAR Leaders
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP WAR
Shane Bieber 72.1 13.9 2.2 0.9 .268 1.74 2.13 2.9
Dylan Bundy 65.2 9.9 2.3 0.7 .272 3.29 2.93 2.0
Framber Valdez 70.2 9.7 2.0 0.6 .312 3.57 2.84 2.0
Zack Greinke 62.1 9.0 1.2 0.9 .306 3.90 2.87 1.9
Kenta Maeda 60.2 10.5 1.5 1.2 .206 2.52 3.04 1.9
Lucas Giolito 66.1 11.7 3.4 1.0 .250 3.53 3.18 1.9
Lance Lynn 78.1 9.7 2.6 1.2 .221 2.53 3.80 1.8
Andrew Heaney 62.2 9.6 2.4 0.9 .297 4.02 3.19 1.7
Marco Gonzales 64.2 8.2 0.8 1.1 .253 3.06 3.42 1.7
Hyun Jin Ryu 60.0 10.2 2.3 0.9 .312 3.00 3.01 1.7
Dallas Keuchel 57.1 6.1 2.4 0.3 .258 2.04 3.05 1.6
Gerrit Cole 73.0 11.6 2.1 1.7 .242 2.84 3.87 1.5
Through 9/22

There are 11 players with between 1.5 and two wins on the season. Any of them would make a fine choice for inclusion on a Cy Young ballot, but we should probably dig a bit deeper. We have to set a cutoff somewhere, so we’ll consider the players on the list above. Here’s where those candidates stand against each other in a few key categories:

AL Pitching Leaders
Name IP K% BB% ERA ERA- FIP FIP- WAR
Shane Bieber 72.1 41% 7% 1.74 38 2.13 48 2.9
Dylan Bundy 65.2 27% 6% 3.29 76 2.94 66 2.0
Framber Valdez 70.2 26% 6% 3.57 84 2.84 65 2.0
Zack Greinke 62.1 25% 3% 3.90 91 2.88 65 1.9
Kenta Maeda 60.2 32% 4% 2.52 56 3.05 68 1.9
Lucas Giolito 66.1 33% 10% 3.53 81 3.19 70 1.9
Lance Lynn 78.1 27% 7% 2.53 52 3.81 82 1.8
Andrew Heaney 62.2 26% 7% 4.02 93 3.20 72 1.7
Hyun Jin Ryu 60 28% 6% 3.00 68 3.02 67 1.7
Marco Gonzales 64.2 23% 2% 3.06 72 3.43 79 1.7
Dallas Keuchel 57.1 17% 6% 2.04 47 3.06 68 1.6
Gerrit Cole 73 33% 6% 2.84 64 3.88 85 1.5
Through 9/22; 1st=Black, 2nd=Blue, 3rd=Orange, 4th=Red

Bieber’s dominance is still clear. After Bieber, though, things get murky. Nearly every pitcher on the list above is among the leaders in one or more important statistical categories. Dylan Bundy shows up high in WAR thanks to solid innings totals to go along with his good FIP. Zack Greinke and Marco Gonzales have great walk numbers. Lance Lynn has pitched a ton of innings without allowing many runs. Lucas Giolito and Gerrit Cole have a ton of strikeouts. Dallas Kuechel, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun Jin Ryu are a bit behind in innings, but other aspects of their games stick out.

Here at FanGraphs, we use a FIP-based WAR, but it is not the only version out there. When I looked at this award last season, I discussed why voters might choose different versions of WAR based on their own preferences:

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.

To provide additional context to this year’s race, the table below shows how various sites have calculated WAR for the pitchers above, along with a weighted average (with Baseball-Reference and RA/9 WAR averaged along with WAR here and Baseball Prospectus’s WARP):

AL Cy Young Candidates’ WAR
Name WAR RA9-WAR B-Ref BPro wAVG
Shane Bieber 2.9 3.8 3 2.5 2.9
Lance Lynn 1.8 3.1 2.9 1.6 2.1
Kenta Maeda 1.9 2.4 1.7 1.6 1.9
Dylan Bundy 2.0 1.5 1.7 1.6 1.7
Gerrit Cole* 1.5 2.1 1.6 1.8 1.7
Hyun Jin Ryu 1.7 1.7 2.3 1.4 1.7
Framber Valdez* 2.0 1.2 0.9 1.7 1.6
Zack Greinke 1.9 1.3 1.1 1.5 1.5
Dallas Keuchel 1.6 2.5 1.9 0.8 1.5
Lucas Giolito 1.9 1.3 0.7 1.6 1.5
Marco Gonzales 1.7 1.6 1.3 1.2 1.5
Andrew Heaney 1.7 1 1.4 1.1 1.3
wAVG= (WAR+(RA9-WAR/2+B-Ref/2)+BPro)/3
*B-Ref WAR does not include 9/22 start; all other stats through 9/22. 1st=Black, 2nd=Blue, 3rd=Orange, 4th=Red

When we take a higher-level view based on WAR, Lynn’s strength in run-prevention combined with good numbers here and at Baseball Prospectus put him into the second spot. Maeda’s solid numbers across the board put him in third, with Bundy, Ryu, and Cole in a virtual tie for fourth. We haven’t incorporated any Statcast numbers into the analysis thus far, so let’s take a look at the candidates via xwOBA, which includes strikeouts, walks and expected wOBA from batted balls:

AL Cy Young Candidates’ xwOBA
Player wOBA xwOBA Difference
Shane Bieber .220 .258 -.038
Kenta Maeda .217 .263 -.046
Lucas Giolito .250 .277 -.027
Lance Lynn .258 .280 -.022
Dylan Bundy .263 .282 -.019
Hyun Jin Ryu .281 .287 -.006
Gerrit Cole .275 .290 -.015
Zack Greinke .282 .310 -.028
Marco Gonzales .257 .313 -.056
Framber Valdez .275 .320 -.045
Andrew Heaney .281 .322 -.041
Dallas Keuchel .244 .330 -.086
Through 9/22

Bieber leads, as expected, with Maeda a close behind. There’s a pretty close group from Giolito to Cole, with another tier from Greinke to Heaney, and Keuchel taking up the last spot. All players are above the league average of .333, though Keuchel is pretty close. Keuchel’s extreme groundball tendencies and a solid defense mean that his actual results are much better than expected. While every player has an xwOBA higher than their wOBA, the average difference for all pitchers is about 20 points, so Giolito, Lynn, Bundy, Cole and Greinke have all received pretty close to what might be expected based on xwOBA. Bieber, Maeda, Gonzales, and Framber Valdez have been somewhat fortunate, with Keuchel the extreme outlier. Ryu is the only pitcher who looks like he might have been on the receiving end of some bad luck.

We can actually take the xwOBA from above and create a rough version of WAR based on those numbers. Below you’ll find that version of WAR added to the previous table of WAR above:

AL Cy Young Candidates’ WAR Averages (xwOBA edition)
Name WAR RA9-WAR B-Ref BPro xWAR wAVG
Shane Bieber 2.9 3.8 3.0 2.5 2.7 2.9
Lance Lynn 1.8 3.1 2.9 1.6 2.5 2.2
Kenta Maeda 1.9 2.4 1.7 1.6 2.1 1.9
Dylan Bundy 2.0 1.5 1.7 1.6 2.0 1.8
Gerrit Cole 1.5 2.1 1.6 1.8 2.0 1.8
Hyun Jin Ryu 1.7 1.7 2.3 1.4 1.8 1.7
Lucas Giolito 1.9 1.3 0.7 1.6 2.1 1.7
Framber Valdez 2.0 1.2 0.9 1.7 1.3 1.5
Zack Greinke 1.9 1.3 1.1 1.5 1.3 1.5
Marco Gonzales 1.7 1.6 1.3 1.2 1.3 1.4
Dallas Keuchel 1.6 2.5 1.9 0.8 0.9 1.4
Andrew Heaney 1.7 1.0 1.4 1.1 1.1 1.3
wAVG= (WAR+(RA9-WAR/2+B-Ref/2)+BPro+xWAR)/4
Through 9/22, except for BRef, whose starts for Cole and Valdez were not included. 1st=Black, 2nd=Blue, 3rd=Orange, 4th=Red

Voters have different options when relying on WAR. They can choose the metric that best fits their preference for how to value pitchers and provide credit for different outcomes. If voters want to take the easy way out and average them, Bieber is still obviously first, followed by Lynn and Maeda, with Bundy and Cole rounding out the top five. Ryu and Giolito are close enough to make very solid claims as well. The rest of the group all have significant drawbacks in one metric or another, or simply are a cut below in nearly all of them. The bottom five have had good seasons, just not quite good enough to make most Cy Young ballots.

Because I already went through the effort of determining an xWAR this season, and you might find it interesting, here’s a rough xWAR based on xwOBA for all AL pitchers who have faced at least 150 batters this season:

American League xWAR based on xwOBA
Name Team IP WAR woba xwoba xWAR
Shane Bieber Indians 72.1 2.9 .220 .258 2.7
Lance Lynn Rangers 78.1 1.8 .258 .280 2.5
Lucas Giolito White Sox 66.1 1.9 .250 .277 2.1
Kenta Maeda Twins 60.2 1.9 .217 .263 2.1
Gerrit Cole Yankees 73 1.5 .275 .290 2.0
Dylan Bundy Angels 65.2 2.0 .263 .282 2.0
Hyun Jin Ryu Blue Jays 60 1.7 .281 .287 1.8
Tyler Glasnow Rays 51.1 1.2 .289 .276 1.7
Cristian Javier Astros 48.2 0.4 .273 .287 1.4
Zack Greinke Astros 62.1 1.9 .282 .310 1.3
Marco Gonzales Mariners 64.2 1.7 .257 .313 1.3
Zach Plesac Indians 48.2 1.4 .232 .290 1.3
Framber Valdez Astros 70.2 2.0 .275 .320 1.3
Aaron Civale Indians 70 1.4 .316 .321 1.3
Carlos Carrasco Indians 62 1.4 .291 .318 1.2
Andrew Heaney Angels 62.2 1.7 .281 .322 1.1
J.A. Happ Yankees 44.1 0.7 .279 .300 1.1
Yusei Kikuchi Mariners 41 0.9 .296 .297 1.1
Blake Snell Rays 50 0.6 .292 .313 1.0
Jesus Luzardo Athletics 56 0.8 .312 .321 1.0
Sean Manaea Athletics 48 1.2 .302 .313 1.0
John Means Orioles 37.2 0.0 .320 .296 1.0
Jose Berrios Twins 58 1.1 .296 .325 1.0
Brady Singer Royals 57.1 0.7 .295 .325 1.0
Jordan Montgomery Yankees 38.2 0.7 .316 .305 0.9
Chris Bassitt Athletics 56 1.0 .294 .326 0.9
Griffin Canning Angels 56.1 0.8 .325 .327 0.9
Justus Sheffield Mariners 50.1 1.4 .277 .324 0.9
Dallas Keuchel White Sox 57.1 1.6 .244 .330 0.9
Masahiro Tanaka Yankees 44 0.8 .293 .319 0.8
Martin Perez Red Sox 58 0.5 .301 .334 0.8
Ryan Yarbrough Rays 52.1 0.8 .299 .332 0.8
Randy Dobnak Twins 46.2 0.8 .308 .334 0.6
Danny Duffy Royals 50.1 0.3 .319 .338 0.6
Nathan Eovaldi Red Sox 42.1 0.6 .335 .334 0.6
Mike Minor – – – 51.2 0.6 .311 .341 0.6
Brad Keller Royals 48.2 1.0 .239 .341 0.6
Mike Fiers Athletics 54 0.7 .326 .344 0.5
Lance McCullers Jr. Astros 51 0.9 .310 .348 0.5
Taijuan Walker – – – 50.1 0.4 .298 .352 0.4
Matthew Boyd Tigers 54.1 0.0 .379 .356 0.3
Frankie Montas Athletics 47 0.1 .358 .354 0.3
Kris Bubic Royals 45.1 0.6 .315 .354 0.3
Trevor Richards Rays 32 0.1 .370 .347 0.3
Spencer Turnbull Tigers 51.2 1.2 .287 .368 0.1
Ryan Weber Red Sox 40 -0.1 .342 .371 0.0
Asher Wojciechowski Orioles 37 -0.2 .392 .370 0.0
Jordan Lyles Rangers 54.2 -0.1 .348 .370 0.0
Jorge Lopez – – – 37 0.4 .312 .376 0.0
Dylan Cease White Sox 53.2 -0.1 .339 .375 -0.1
Justin Dunn Mariners 40.2 -0.2 .302 .381 -0.1
Kyle Gibson Rangers 61.1 0.1 .359 .384 -0.3
Alex Cobb Orioles 45.1 0.4 .319 .396 -0.4
Tanner Roark Blue Jays 43.2 -0.5 .418 .399 -0.5
Through 9/22





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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QuinoaAchebe
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QuinoaAchebe

Liam Hendriks

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

This actually seems like the year for a reliever, right? The top relievers have between 22 and 29 innings. The top starters have been 60 and 75 innings.

In the NL, he wouldn’t have a chance, but Devin Williams currently has 1.4 wins in 25 innings. How crazy is that?

TKDC
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TKDC

I’d say it’s even worse to pick a reliever this year. You want to give a pitcher an award for what amounts to 4 good starts worth of innings? No effing thank you. Made worse because, you know, Bieber exists.