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2021 Down Ballot Battles: AL Cy Young

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

Introduction

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, AL 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

RankNamehsWAR
1Gerrit Cole5.46
2Robbie Ray5.25
3Nathan Eovaldi4.82
4Carlos Rodón4.68
5José Berríos4.42
6Lance Lynn4.31
7Frankie Montas4.30
8Lance McCullers Jr.4.18
9Lucas Giolito4.10
10Chris Bassitt3.76
11Dylan Cease3.67
12Luis Garcia3.52

The Favorites

Most people consider this to be a two-horse race. For once, I agree with most people: Cole and Ray are head and shoulders above the field. Allow me to just give a quick overview comparing the two:

NameIPERA-FIP-xERACSW%
Cole181.175673.1532.1%
Ray193.163873.5529.6%

No matter the metric, Cole comes out ahead, with the exception of pure ERA. Using simple runs allowed and innings, a more than defensible approach to the Cy Young, Ray is the winner. Using ERA estimates at all, also a valid way of looking, Cole wins.

Mid-Range

As much as Cole and Ray, in some order, are first and second in this race, Eovaldi and Rodón are third and fourth, in some order. Among qualifiers, Eovaldi was the AL leader in fWAR, FIP, and FIP-. Rodón, on the other hand, pitched just 132.2 innings. Among those with 120 IP, he topped the circuit in ERA, FIP, and K-BB%. Eovaldi was a volume pitcher with good rates, and Rodón was the best pitcher inning per inning in the league, though without much bulk. Their overall value was about the same, but they reached it in very different ways.

The Mess

This leaves 8 candidates within 0.90 hsWAR of each other for a singular fifth place vote. I’ll take the candidates in the Rodón mold first. This means the 3 who didn’t qualify for the ERA title. They’re all within 2 IP of each other, so that isn’t a factor. It’s all up to the runs allowed:

NameERA-FIP-xFIP-xERA
Bassitt7680923.49
Garcia7886923.98
Lynn6376892.59

The five candidates who did qualify for the ERA title have some more separation in volume, and they compare as follows:

NameIPERA-FIP-xFIP-xERA
Berríos192.08081844.09
Cease165.29178873.60
Giolito178.28286883.29
McCullers162.17583863.39
Montas187.08181853.95

How to choose between all of these options? My suggestion is to pick a favorite candidate from each table then compare them. Winner gets the fifth-place vote.

The Decision

I agonized over this one for quite a while. Not the winner, no, I decided pretty quickly there. The top four, and their order, in fact, was pretty easy. Fifth place was really tough. I could understand choosing five different pitchers for this one opening. In the end, I made my choice between Lynn and McCullers:

  1. Gerrit Cole, Yankees
  2. Robbie Ray, Blue Jays
  3. Carlos Rodón, White Sox
  4. Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox
  5. Lance Lynn, White Sox

Sean Huff

Sean is a psychology major and mathematics minor in his senior year at Fordham College at Rose Hill. 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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