Which Dodger Pitcher Is Leading The Cy Young Race?

Jackie Robinson‘s debut came way back in 1947, and that seems like as good a line as any to draw between “then” and “now.” Since then, there have been 5,362 qualified pitcher-seasons. Let’s rank the top 15 by ERA:

  1. 1.12Bob Gibson, 1968
  2. 1.53Dwight Gooden, 1985
  3. 1.56Greg Maddux, 1994
  4. 1.60Luis Tiant, 1968
  5. 1.61Zack Greinke, 2015
  6. 1.63 — Maddux, 1995
  7. 1.65Dean Chance, 1964
  8. 1.69Nolan Ryan, 1981
  9. 1.73Sandy Koufax, 1966
  10. 1.74 — Koufax, 1964
  11. 1.74Pedro Martinez, 2000
  12. 1.74Ron Guidry, 1978
  13. 1.76Tom Seaver, 1971
  14. 1.77Clayton Kershaw, 2014
  15. 1.81Sam McDowell, 1968

This is imperfect as it’s just raw ERA without accounting for era or ballpark, but the goal here isn’t to identify which season was “better.” (It’s indisputably Martinez, given the time period.) It’s to share this fact: Of the 14 seasons that occurred prior to 2015, 10 ended with Cy Young awards, and the four that didn’t had some pretty obvious reasons. McDowell & Tiant had no chance against the voter bait of 31 (!) wins for Denny McLain in 1968. Seaver’s 1971 was arguably the best of his career, but in an era when pitcher wins still mattered, Fergie Jenkins‘ 24 topped Seaver’s 20, and Ryan’s 11-5 in a strike-shortened season couldn’t compare to Fernando Valenzuela and “Fernando-mania.”

This isn’t just a fun trip down memory lane, though. The point is that if you get an ERA under 2.00, it’s really, really hard to not win the Cy, especially these days as pitcher wins have finally fallen out of favor. Not shown here is that Kershaw won it in 2013 with a 1.83; Roger Clemens‘ 2005 (1.87) is the only time in the last two decades that a sub-2.00 ERA hasn’t ended in the Cy.

Yesterday, Dustin said the award was “Kershaw’s to lose,” but I’m not sure I agree. It’s certainly not that Kershaw doesn’t deserve it, because he’s having arguably the best season of his career. I mean, look at this comparison of eight of the best NL starting pitchers:

Name W L GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Clayton Kershaw 11 6 26 185 11.48 1.61 .63 .284 2.24 2.10 2.09 6.6
Jake Arrieta 17 6 27 183 9.34 2.16 .44 .258 2.11 2.49 2.73 5.4
Zack Greinke 14 3 26 179.1 8.23 1.56 .50 .236 1.61 2.62 3.16 5.1
Max Scherzer 11 11 26 178 10.57 1.31 1.01 .269 2.88 2.76 2.97 5.0
Madison Bumgarner 16 6 26 175.2 9.84 1.54 .82 .294 2.97 2.76 2.91 4.4
Gerrit Cole 15 7 26 169.2 8.81 2.02 .48 .307 2.44 2.69 3.08 4.3
Jacob deGrom 12 7 25 163 9.44 1.88 .83 .252 2.32 2.89 2.98 4.1
Michael Wacha 15 4 25 157.1 7.67 2.29 .69 .272 2.69 3.25 3.67 3.2

Kershaw has pitched the most innings. He has the lowest FIP, the lowest xFIP, the most strikeouts, the highest WAR. He’s got the name and the pedigree and man, don’t all those “what’s wrong with Kershaw” articles from May look hilariously stupid right now?

But you’ll notice that I’ve included some of the more traditional categories, and that’s sort of the point. We’re mostly away from pitcher wins, but not 100%. The voting is smarter, in some cases much so, and yet there’s nothing that stands out on that chart like 1.61.

Now, Arrieta isn’t that far away from an ERA below 2.00 himself. Kershaw could toss a few shutouts and claim that he has an ERA below 2.00 and 300 strikeouts. Greinke could go give up some dingers to Bumgarner tonight. But he’s got that historic ERA, and he’s got that scoreless inning streak. If things stay the way they are, it’s Greinke and then everyone else. It just has to be.

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello
Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.