2018 National Cy Young Race: An In-Depth Analysis

2018 National Cy Young Race: An In-Depth Analysis

By: Michael Bernardo

August 19th 2018


In what has been an otherwise uneventful and certainly disappointing season for both the New York Mets and Washington Nationals, there’s at least one glimmering beacon of hope that gives reason to watch these two teams at least once every fifth day; and that is their two aces, Jacob deGrom of the Mets and Max Scherzer of the Nationals. And so as the disappointing season begins to dwindle down with roughly six and a half weeks remaining in the Major League season, the debate begins to turn to the coveted award for the best pitcher in the league, the National Cy Young Award. There’s reason to name either one of these players based on the seasons they are having. While both have been dominating since the start of the season, the two have made it to this point taking rather different paths.

Let’s start with some background information pertaining to how the two respective teams have performed thus far this season. One term comes to mind right away, failure. You may be thinking “the Nationals have been hovering at .500 and that’s not too bad of a season.” However, you can’t quite say the same about the Mets. But let’s take this one team at a time here. While the Nats are around .500 for the season, there were enormous expectations that this was the year where they finally overcome their postseason struggles and perhaps win a series for the first time in their 14 years of existence (we’re talking strictly Washington.) In the past six seasons the Nationals have won more than 95 games along with the National League East title four times, but have yet to reach even the Championship Series. In what has been quietly looked at as perhaps one of the final opportunities for the Nationals to win a postseason series, with the impending free agency of superstar Bryce Harper and an aging roster, the Nats have managed to stay at the middle of the pack. That is due, in large part, to Bryce Harper having a subpar season at the plate with his average staying around a dismal .200 for a good part of the season, although that has gone up in recent weeks. The two surprise teams of the Majors, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, have been battling atop of the leaderboard. While the

Max Scherzer mid wind up during the 2017 season against the Marlins- Photo credit to Michael Bernardo

Mets and Miami Marlins have done the same…except for the cellar…leaving the Nationals, well, hovering in the middle just as their record would show.

Perfect segue to lead us to the Mets. While the Mets have not had the same success at the Nationals over the past six seasons, they are only three seasons removed from a World Series appearance. However, as we are all used to hearing by now season after season, injuries and poor money management have plagued this team for its potential ceiling. But that’s another story for another time. While the Mets weren’t exactly on anyone’s radar for the World Series, or even the National League East, there was some noise about maybe squeaking into that second Wild Card spot, and as we all know, anything can happen once the playoffs roll around. That was at least doable with the return of a now, for the first time ever, fully healthy 5 man rotation of Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Granted, there were some question marks surrounding everyone but deGrom due to the enormous amount of injuries that the other four had endured throughout the previous season. But under new manager Mickey Callaway, a former pitching coach of the brilliant staff over in Cleveland with the Indians, and new pitching coach Dave Eiland, there was at least a bit of optimism and hope that maybe things can turn around. However, in usual Mets fashion, that has not been the case. Matt Harvey has been exiled to Cincinnati, Noah Syndergaard had some time on the familiar disabled list, and Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz have not been performing as once expected. However, Jacob deGrom has been having a stellar season that could maybe end in him hoisting the National League Cy Young Award…just maybe…

Let’s start with the basic comparisons of the two pitchers: All stats attributed to ESPN and Baseball Reference*

Jacob deGrom: 168 Innings,  8-7, 1.71 ERA, 206K, .958 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched)

Max Scherzer: 174.2 Innings, 16-5, 2.11 ERA, 234K, .887 WHIP

These numbers give the advantage to Scherzer in all but one category, with the biggest glaring difference is the win-loss record, but we’ll get into that later. As I spent an unnecessary amount of time researching and jotting the most miniscule of stats, with little difference among the two, I stumbled upon simple, yet seemingly overlooked stats that may give a better insight to just how effective a pitcher is when he’s on the mound.

deGrom: Avg .205, .255 OBP, .294 Slug, .549 OPS

Scherzer: Avg .182, .242 OBP, .323 Slug, .565 OPS

It’s simple when you think about it. While these are hitting statistics, it gives a bit of a deeper insight of what kind of hits the pitcher gives up. It’s worth noting that while Scherzer has the advantage in both average and on base percentage, deGrom has a lower slugging and on base plus slugging. What does it mean? Well, while Scherzer gives up less hits, deGrom gives up less significant hits such as doubles, triples, and home runs.

However, as the baseball world has turned to in-depth analytics and sabermetrics that many respected analysts claim truly determine the value of a pitcher, especially when it comes to awards season.

deGrom: 217 ERA+, 6.6 WAR, 2.09 FIP, WAA W/L% .752

Scherzer: 201 ERA+, 5.9 WAR, 2.59 FIP, WAA W/L% .741

So, I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing I’ve thought before actually looking up these statistics “What the hell do these mean?” Well, let’s start with ERA+. Essentially, ERA +, or Adjusted ERA, takes into consideration the different dimensions of each ballparks that factors into runs being scored. Having a 100 ERA + is considered average; so as the numbers show, both deGrom and Scherzer have an Adjusted ERA well over 100, with deGrom having the advantage. Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, simply determines how many more wins this player attributes over an average replacement player. Take it like this, both deGrom and Scherzer would attribute about 6 more wins for their team than an average player if they were to replace them on the team. Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP was something I found to be interesting and really determines a true value of a pitcher. FIP takes into consideration the actions that a pitcher takes without assistance of fielding. Examples include home runs allowed, walks, strikeouts, basically things that are solely accountable to the pitcher, without needing the fielder to make a play. Here’s the best way to explain how to determine FIP, credit attributed to Tom Tango:

FIP={\frac {13HR+3BB-2K}{IP}}

Since I’m sure not too many of us enjoy math, I’ll save you the trouble: deGrom’s 2.09 FIP is better than Scherzer’s 2.59. The final, and most interesting stat that I’ve come across thus far, is the Win/Loss With an Average Team, or WAA W/L%. Basically, you take these guys and place them on an average team in the MLB and this is what their winning percentage would be. For a pitcher, the winning percentage only pertains to the games that the pitcher pitches in. Therefore, deGrom would have a .752 winning percentage, compared to his currently at .533 or .320, factoring no decisions. Depending on how you look at winning percentage, Scherzer would either raise or lower his winning percentage, currently at .800 factoring decisions or .615 with the no decisions to the new winning percentage of .741. Really spins your head trying to understand it, trust me. My head is spinning typing all of this out.

Jacob deGrom looks down towards the plate during the 2017 season against the Milwaukee Brewers- Photo credit to Michael Bernardo

And we lead to the final, and most mind boggling statistic that I’ve attempted to convert on my own: these pitcher’s records if they replaced one another on the other’s team in their spot in the rotation. Again, “What the hell does this mean?” you may be asking. You take deGrom and put him on the Nationals and he starts every game that Scherzer has started this season with the same amount of run support. Basically switching players when it’s all said and done. It all boils down to these numbers which I will not bore you with by explaining how I came to this conclusion; I could show you my head spinning chart that I made but that’s for another day.

deGrom with the Nationals replacing Scherzer in the rotation: 16-4

Scherzer with the Mets replacing deGrom in the rotation: 12-8

You’re probably thinking, “Scherzer would put up better numbers on the Mets than deGrom currently.” One can look at it that way, but the same could be said for deGrom, with a much bigger improvement. I’ll leave all of these head spinning miniscule statistics on this one last final note, deGrom has been given 3.76 runs per game of support compared to Scherzer with 5.27. That’s just about 1.5 more runs per start.

Based on these numbers, it’s a very, very close call. As you can tell, there’s a very valid argument for either player to win this award. Personally speaking, you cannot overlook Max Scherzer’s numbers. He’s more than likely going to surpass the 20 win mark, eclipse 250 strikeouts, and could very well possibly lower his ERA to sub 2.00. With that being said, Jacob deGrom has proven every 5th day that he can single handedly carry a team. Though, sports are very simple with one purpose: score more runs than the other team. That’s the only reason why he has a record of 8-7. You can’t knock deGrom’s stellar 1.71 ERA and he too has eclipsed the 200 strikeout mark with at least 4 starts to go. Finishing the season with those kind of numbers would almost guarantee the Cy Young Award. Granted the Met fan in me would obviously prefer Jacob deGrom to win. After all that’s said and done, there’s only one plaque to give to one player.  Both players have shown they are very deserving of this award. Hell, Scherzer has won the past two in the National League and has won another in the American League in 2013; with deGrom currently having one of the best performances in the history of the New York Mets. Even someone who receives the most first place votes may not even be granted the winner; ie. Justin Verlander in 2016. So if you’ve made it to this point, I simply ask you this question: Who ya got?

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