Neck-and-Neck Race For NL Cy Young

When looking at the National League leaderboard for Pitcher WAR on Baseball Reference, there are several guys you can argue should win the Cy Young. Max Scherzer, in fourth place with 5.6 WAR, has had such a disappointing second half that he is out of the discussion. Clayton Kershaw slots in third with 6.5 WAR and for the sake of this article, I am leaving him out. Dodger fans and Kershaw worshippers will surely be knocking down my front door, calling for my head any minute now.

What can I say? I like to live life on the edge.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Kershaw is awesome. And this isn’t an arbitrary omission. As things stand right now, I think this is a two-man race, with Kershaw just on the outside in third place. That could change, however, with about three weeks’ worth of games left.

Imagine that I had a vote; that I mattered. Essentially, I’m divulging my vote. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who will be hatin’. That’s fine; I’m not seeking your approval.

That leaves Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta, who are in first and second, respectively. Greinke has an astounding 8.5 WAR; Arrieta has a completely respectable 7.3. If WAR alone were the deciding factor for voters, then it would logically dictate that Greinke win his second career award. I would like to take a comparative look at a bunch of their numbers (see the table below).

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* denotes league-leader

Just sit back for a second and admire all those categories Greinke leads the league in. That certainly points towards dominance; he’s excelling at his job in numerous facets. He doesn’t allow many hits and, even when he does, he strands an insane amount of runners. Now, Arrieta isn’t chopped liver, but in comparison, it would appear that Greinke has a significant upper hand. It deserves noting that Arrieta’s league-leading two shutouts include his no-hitter against the Dodgers on August 30. But, a no-no does not a Cy Young make.

Remember that scoreless-innings streak (45.2 scoreless consecutive IP) Greinke had? It blows Arrieta’s more recent streak out of the water. Arrieta had a seemingly pedestrian 30.1 inning scoreless streak. Again, this doesn’t knock Arrieta out of being a top-tier pitcher, he’s clearly developed into an ace, but he’s finishing second to Greinke on my imaginary ballot.

The fact that both guys are pretty safe bets to make the postseason, their position on Cy Young ballots shouldn’t be hurt. Favoring guys going to the postseason is often criticized as a “traditionalist” or old school bent on voting, but I can get down with it as a factor. That might give Arrieta an advantage when you consider that the Cubs haven’t gone to the postseason since 2008. However, Greinke is on a division-leading team, whereas Arrieta is getting in via the Wild Card. It still seems that the advantage goes to Greinke.

So, my imaginary ballot would be Greinke first, Arrieta second. Then again, we’ll see what Arrieta does in his start tonight.

By the way, the last time there was a co-Cy Young was 1969 in the American League, when Denny McLain and Mike Cuellar shared the hardware. At quick glance, I think Greinke and Arrieta are closer than those two were. Will the 45-year drought end?

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