The NL Cy Young race this year comes down to 4 starters: Jacob Degrom, Dinelson Lamet, Weirdo Trevor Bauer, and Yu Darvish. There may be a few others who’ll get votes: Clatyon Kershaw, Max Fried, Luis Catsillo, German Marquez, and Corbin Burnes will all get some attention and some votes.
From a purely statistics perspective, it’s really Yu Darvish’s award. And, it’s not particularly close.
Yu Darvish threw 76 innings this year, third in the NL (Marquez led the league but started an extra game. Kyle Hendricks was second). His 2.01 ERA was 4th inthe NL among pitchers who threw at least 40 innings. He was out of the top 10 in K/9 but was 4th in BB/9. His K/BB ratio was also 4th in the NL, the difference between him and 5th place Bauer was fairly significant.
So, let’s dive a bit more in the ERA race. Like I mentioned, Darvish finished 4th in ERA. Burnes led the league but threw about 62% of the innings that Darvish tossed. Tony Gonsolin also had a better ERA that Darvish but also threw just north of 40 innings. Bauer is the other starter to have a better ERA and we’ll dive into that below.
Here, we’ll tackle the 3 ERA leaders who deserve the most consideration for Cy Young and we’ll add in Degrom, too.
Bauer finished the year with a 1.73 ERA, which is damn impressive. However, how he got to that mark needs a bit of a deep dive. First of all, his 1.73 ERA was backed up by a 2.88 FIP, which is outstanding but that run difference indicates a bit of luck. That’s backed up by a 3.25 xFIP and a paltry .215 BABiP. He also gave up more HR/9 than Darvish. Adding in that he was really helped by a 91% LOB%, well, that ERA is a bit of smoke and mirrors.
Although Lamet had an exceptional season, his bottom line numbers were also held up by a bit of luck. His 2.09 ERA is certainly impressive but his 2.61 BB/9 rate was the worst among the top-4. His 2.48 FIP was third, only better than Bauer’s. His 3.30 xFIP was also a full run+ worse than his ERA. His luck was also evident by his .234 BABiP. He had a very fine season but in a race this close, those numbers just don’t hold up.
Jake Degrom, as expected, was absolutely outstanding this year. His 2.38 ERA was right in line with his 2.26 FIP and his 2.46 xFIP. His ERA was very much earned as his .288 BABiP and home run rates weren’t particularly out of line. If he ends up winning his 3rd Cy Young in a row, I wouldn’t be too mad about it.
However, when push comes to shove, Darvish has the superior resume, even if we allow for some stats that are still too close to call.
First of all, Darvish threw 8 more innings than Degrom. That wouldn’t be an issue over 32 starts but in an abbreviated season, that’s not insignificant. Darvish’s FIP was also in line with Degrom’s (2.23 vs 2.26). Darvish’s xFIP was a bit worse than Degrom’s but still good for 4th in the NL. Darvish only gave up 5 HRs all year but, because of his 43% ground ball rate, that still was good for 8.8% HR/FB, which equates to a paltry .59HR/9IP. Darvish’s .295 BABiP is in line with ML average. His 6.64 K/BB was also better than Degrom in 2020.
At the end of the day, Darvish accumulated 3 fWAR for the year. That was .4 wins better than second place, which doesn’t seem like a lot. Except it is. I know this isn’t exactly how it works but if we extrapolate this over a full season, Darvish would end up leading the league by a full win.
Based on all this, I just simply think Darvish is your NL Cy Young award winner. Although I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Degrom win it, if it ends up being Bauer based on ERA alone, it would be pretty undeserved.