Cy Youngs? Take your pick.
I’m glad they don’t let me vote for Cy Young Awards.
This year, anyway.
Because while perhaps it’s comforting to National League voters that there’s no wrong answer, it must also be frustrating that there’s no right answer.
When evaluating a Cy Young candidate, you want to know how well he pitched and how often he pitched.
The how often is easy. It’s the how well that’s tricky, now that we’ve gone beyond wins and losses and earned-run averages.
In the National League, Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw have all pitched about as often as each other. So that’s no help.
But they’re very, very close in the "how well" area, too. According to Baseball Prospectus, they’re essentially the same in both "deserved" run average and Wins Above Replacement. Now, FanGraphs does give Kershaw big edges over Arrieta and especially Greinke in Wins Above Replacement, largely due to Kershaw’s superior strikeout rate (their walk rates are all about the same).
So how is Greinke’s ERA half a run better than Kershaw? He gave up a .229 batting average on balls in play, which of course is largely a matter of luck, while Kershaw’s is a perfectly normal .281 (and Arrieta’s is also abnormal, at .246).
Now, there are people who will try to convince you that Greinke has somehow figured out BABiP.
He has not. He’s allowed a .298 batting average on balls in play in his career, and next year it’ll probably be in that range again. He got lucky this year. It happens. So then the question becomes, do we give him a great deal of credit for this luck? Do we give Jake Arrieta a great deal of credit for his luck? Or do we instead do everything we can to remove luck from the conversation, and look instead at the batted balls the pitcher actually gave up, and those he didn’t…
Personally, I’m inclined to go with Clayton Kershaw as still the best, most effective pitcher in the National League. But I can see it the other way, too.
In the American League, things might be even trickier. The top candidates aren’t as good, but there are at least as many of them, most notably David Price, Dallas Keuchel, and Chris Sale.
Like Kershaw, Sale racked up huge strikeouts but was frowned upon by the BABiP gods (damn them). Like Arrieta, Keuchel won 20 games for a wild-card team. And like Greinke, Price was outstanding all season and finished with a first-place team.
According to my National League logic, Sale was the best pitcher in the American League. However, he doesn’t fare particularly well in BP’s Deserved Runs Average, ranking just sixth among A.L. qualifiers. Sonny Gray actually tops that list!
But the one American Leaguer who seems to fare well in virtually every comprehensive metric is Keuchel, so I would be happy to vote for him.
If I could vote. Which I can’t. For which I’m glad. Because there are so many more things to think about.