NL Cy Young Award: SN MLB Writer Explains Why He Voted Corbin Burnes # 1
The 2021 National League’s Cy Young run was a fascinating study.
A case could easily be made for four different pitchers to receive votes for the first place. My ballot, at various stages of the research process, had a number of different combinations among the top four pitchers, and the fifth place in the ballot had several different names. Rounds matter, but dominance matters too. How to mix and match to determine a ballot?
We will get to that in a moment.
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This is my third NL Cy Young vote. The first was 2015, the year Jake Arrieta won, and the top of my ballot looked like this:
1. Zack Greinke, Dodgers
2. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Here is the column of explanations I wrote, if you are interested. I’ve re-read this article (and my 2017 explainer column) a few times because I try to stay consistent with how I vote for the Awards and the Hall of Fame. The problem is, there wasn’t much comparison between the Cy Young class of 2015 and the Cy Young class of 2021. Greinke, Arrieta, and Kershaw – in whatever order you want – all had much better seasons. than anyone in this year’s class. Here’s the most striking difference: All three pitched at least 55 2/3 more innings than the pitcher who got first place in my 2021 ballot. Yes.
Greinke has made 32 starts, allowed more than three runs only twice, and his ERA never exceeded 2.00 (his PIF never exceeded 1.66 after his second start). In his last 20 starts, Arrieta had an ERA of 0.86 and kept opposing hitters at an OPS of 0.410. Kershaw hit the 300 strikeout mark (301) and had a 2.13 ERA in 232 2/3 innings.
But, as Mark McGwire once told Congress, we’re not here to talk about the past.
Here is my ballot, with thoughts on each pitcher.
1. Corbin Burnes, brewers
Here’s the thing: I believe innings matter in this debate. The longer the starting pitchers are on the mound providing quality innings, the greater their value. It’s a cascading effect; mainly the handles of an ace type starter allowing a lighter workload for the lifters every five days. So Burnes, with just 167 innings in 28 starts, had a lot of ground to catch up against compatriots Cy Young Zack Wheeler (213 1/3 in 32) and Walker Buehler (207 2/3 in 33). Max Scherzer had 179 1/3 innings, which is not a big difference.
In my opinion, Burnes wouldn’t have closed the gap against recent Cy Young winners – Jacob deGrom in 2018 or 2019, Scherzer in 2016 or 2017 – or, as I mentioned, one of the top three pitchers. from the NL in 2015. But he was not competing with those pitchers. With that, I’ll stop talking about the past now, I promise.
Instead, let’s talk about how brilliant Burnes was in his 167 innings on the mound in 2021 – because, as you now know that I told you that I voted for him first, I think ‘he closed that gap on pitchers in 200 innings. . Burnes has allowed just seven home runs throughout the season. His FIP of 1.63 was downright historic. Both figures blew Wheeler and Buehler away. His BB / 9 (1.8) and K / 9 (12.6) beat both righties, as did his K / BB (6.88), obviously. In addition to leading the league in ERA (2.43) and FIP (1.63), Burnes also led the DRA (2.63). He kept the opposing hitters at a .521 OPS; for context, there were 133 batters in 2021 who had enough PA to qualify for the batting title and the group’s worst OPS was Kevin Newman, at 0.574. Burnes basically made everyone hit a lot worse than the worst-hit regular player in baseball.
In April, Burnes struck out 49 batters and allowed no walks. He had a nine-start streak from late June to mid-August in which he allowed more than one end just once. He’s had seven starts this year in which he pitched at least six full innings and allowed two or fewer hits, including his eight-innings hitting gem in September, when he struck out 14 Cleveland batters on taken (and Josh Hader finished the game without a hit).
2. Zack Wheeler, Philly
Wheeler has been everything the Phillies could have hoped for since signing the right-hander to his five-year, $ 118 million free agent contract after the 2017 season. Wheeler led the MLB with his 213 1/3 innings and finished one strikeout behind MLB leader Robbie Ray, with 247 strikeouts. He posted career records in K / 9 (10.4) and BB / 9 (1.9) and, of course, in K / BB (5.37).
Wheeler had 17 starts with at least seven full innings; only two other pitchers had over 13. Of those 17 with at least seven innings, Wheeler allowed one or no earned run 10 times. In a five-start streak in June and July, he left the game without allowing a single point on four occasions.
Wheeler had a few issues along the way, however. He’s allowed at least four earned runs nine times in his 32 starts. His August ERA was 4.81 – and that includes his two-hit shutout against the Mets on August 8. Of course, he followed that up with a 1.47 ERA in September. I can absolutely understand voters who put Wheeler at the top of their ballot.
MORE: The 2021 Sporting News MLB Awards, as voted on by players, managers and executives
3. Max Scherzer, Dodgers / Nationals
Mad Max was really great when he came to Los Angeles. That 0.78 ERA in his first nine starts with the Dodgers brought up memories of Arrieta’s last push against Cy Young in 2015, when he had a 0.41 ERA in his last twelve starts of the season. Shit. I spoke of the past again. OK, not that from now onâ¦ now. The Dodgers needed each of those brilliant outings, chasing a Giants team in the NL West that had no dropouts; LA won Scherzer’s nine starts. His last two starts – five earned runs in each – weren’t great, and that followed suit with a weird season.
Scherzer was, it seems, either very good or pretty poor all season, with very little middle ground. He’s made 30 starts during the year and hasn’t allowed any, one or two earned runs 24 times. He has allowed four or more earned runs (a maximum of seven) on six occasions. He allowed exactly three zero earned runs. Either shiny or “meh” each time, with the shiny side of the ledger filled in. The most impressive statistic, perhaps, for Scherzer this year: When runners were in scoring position (second or / and third base), opponents only had .454 OPS against Scherzer. This is crazy, and it is much better than Burnes (.690) or Wheeler (.707), and that is why I can absolutely understand voters who put Scherzer at the top of their ballot.
4. Walker Buehler, Dodgers
Buehler was Mr. Quality Start for the Dodgers in 2021. The right-hander had 27 quality starts – defined as at least six innings pitched, three earned runs or fewer allowed – and no one else in baseball had more than 23. He could have been 28 too, but he was pulled out after 79 pitches and five innings of work in Game 162, with the Dodgers up, 6-1. He had allowed just three hits and put out 11 Brewers on strikes. In a 20-start streak from mid-May to the end of August, Buehler recorded 19 quality starts and allowed no more than three earned runs.
Now, of course, QS is not a flawless statistic. Of course not. But it’s kind of like Wikipedia – a great place to start and help you figure out where to dig deeper. In that 20-starter streak with 19 QS, Buehler’s ERA was 1.57 and the Dodgers won 15 times. Like his eventual teammate Scherzer, Buehler was at his best with runners on base; he allowed a total of 0.583 to OPS opponents, and that number fell to 0.522 with runners in scoring position. Unsurprisingly, his 80.9 percentage remaining on base was higher than Burnes (75.7) and Wheeler (75.3). Undoubtedly understand the consideration of putting Buehler at the top of the poll.
5. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
The top four pitchers on my ballot were clearly the top four pitchers in the National League, in my opinion. The question was: who gets this fifth vote? So many candidates for this spot, a list that also includes, in no particular order: Adam Wainwright, Julio Urias, Brandon Woodruff, Kevin Gausman, Charlie Morton, Sandy Alcantara and Marcus Stroman. I wouldn’t have had a problem voting for one of these exceptional fifth place pitchers.
The nod went to Wainwright. It is true that its numbers in some statistics that we consider key – like FIP and WAR, and many others – do not measure up to the others. But these measure a way of throwing efficiently, based largely on throws that miss bats. That’s not the only way to be an effective pitcher, however, and that’s not Wainwright’s approach. His goal is to throw strikes, induce weak contact and speed up innings, and no one has done it better than Wainwright. Because, again, innings always count. The days of the 250 innings pitchers may be over, but there is still a lot of value in a guy who will be among the league leaders in innings, especially if it comes to quality innings.
Wainwright pitched at least eight full innings seven times in 2021, tied with Alcantara for most in baseball. He played nine games from mid-July to early September – when the Cardinals threatened to collapse – when he pitched at least seven innings seven times. The stretch included a full-game shutout and an eight-innings white effort; his ERA in this stretch was 1.54. Wainwright has completed at least seven innings 16 times, more than anyone in baseball other than Wheeler (17). Add a running component in there – two ERs or less – and Wainwright is tied with Buehler and Alcantara for the MLB lead, with 13. Set the parameters to seven innings and zero or one earned run, and Wainwright is alone. at the top, with 11.
He is also alone in fifth place in this Cy Young poll.