2021 Down Ballot Battles: NL Cy Young

AL MVPAL Cy YoungAL Rookie of the Year
NL MVPNL Cy YoungNL Rookie of the Year


When people talk about award races at the end of every MLB season, they tend to focus on the top few candidates, specifically who should win. That’s more than understandable, as that [the winner] is the most important thing in a race. Yet ballots aren’t cast with just the top name listed. No, instead awards are decided on a points system where up to ten candidates are ranked, and more points are given for a higher place vote. With this being the case, more than the top candidates should be debated. That’s why I’m here.

I have, in my many spreadsheets, award races. Using an amalgam of stats from different sources, I then calculated my personalized version of WAR (hsWAR) for far too many candidates for each award. When voting for today’s award, NL Cy Young, the BBWAA voters place 5 names on their ballot. To that end, I will list the top five candidates by hsWAR, as well as every subsequent candidate within the margin of error (1.00 hsWAR) of the 5th place finisher. I’ll enumerate my final ballot decisions at the end of this article, but not before discussion of the down ballot names.

The Candidates

1Corbin Burnes7.05
2Zack Wheeler6.87
3Walker Buehler6.27
4Max Scherzer5.94
5Brandon Woodruff5.72
6Kevin Gausman5.55
7Julio Urías5.09
8Charlie Morton4.97
9Jacob deGrom4.87
10Sandy Alcantara4.74

The Favorite

This one isn’t close. I already talked about this in my NL MVP article, but I’ll say it again. Burnes’s season was historically significant. It was one of the greatest pitching seasons, on a rate basis, of all-time. He’s the NL Cy Young.

The Contenders

Buehler, Scherzer, and Wheeler would all win the AL Cy Young. None of them, in my reckoning, have a shot at the NL award. They all had great, and similar, seasons, however. Observe:


These are three stellar, Cy Young caliber seasons. I already ranked them on my MVP ballot, so I won’t get into that in this article. What I will say, as a reminder, is that I prefer pitching seasons when the ERA and ERA estimates are fairly consistent with each other, instead of varying wildly.


My fifth slot goes to deGrom. If deGrom had put up a dozen or so more innings, he might’ve had the greatest pitching season of all-time. I know the innings were low. I know he didn’t pitch after July. I don’t care. He had a 1.08 ERA and 1.23 FIP. He’s my fifth-place vote.

The Rest

Even with my five votes determined, I want to briefly lay out the candidacies of the other five names. This may be useful to those who believe deGrom didn’t pitch enough innings to merit consideration. Leaders among the group are boldfaced and in green.


Of the five, it’s clear that Woodruff was inning for inning the best performer. However, if a voter is leery of including deGrom due to lack of innings, they may also hesitate to include Woodruff too. In that case, it’s a toss-up between Gausman and Urías in my reckoning.

The Decision

It’s really a shame that the Cy Young ballot only gets 5 names. Likely all of these 10 candidates would’ve been on the AL ballot. Sadly, I can only have half here.

  1. Corbin Burnes, Brewers
  2. Zack Wheeler, Phillies
  3. Max Scherzer, Nationals/Dodgers
  4. Walker Buehler, Dodgers
  5. Jacob deGrom, Mets

Sean Huff

Sean is an applied psychology graduate student in his third semester at Fordham College of Arts and Sciences. He is a lifelong baseball fan with a nominal affinity for the Phillies. You can follow him on Twitter at @srhkthew2 for occasional comments on baseball and assorted esoterica.

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