3 Chicago Cubs pitchers battling for NL Cy Young honor
By the looks of things, the Chicago Cubs ought to be expanding their trophy cases as part of the Wrigley Field renovation.
Most of the talk of late has been that the Most Valuable Player Award is a 1 and 1A race between Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, with Addison Russell making a charge to get his name on the MVP ballot, which features 10 players.
But how about the Cy Young Award?
Five pitchers may be named on each Cy Young ballot by voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and three Cubs figure to be among the vote-getters: reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.
I have the Cy Young ballot this year, and it must be turned in before the postseason begins. Voters are not supposed to reveal their selections before the results are announced in November, but I haven't formed an opinion yet.
Whether it's with the Cy Young or MVP, for which I voted last year, I try to create a "matrix" of categories to see how players stack up.
Here are a few of the categories I use and how Cubs pitchers figure into each.
Earned run average:
Hendricks entered Thursday's action leading the National League in ERA, at 2.19. He has allowed 3 or fewer earned runs in each of his last 17 starts dating to May 22, the longest streak by any big-league pitcher this season. He has posted a 1.70 ERA during the streak. Over his last 13 starts since June 19, Hendricks has an 8-1 record with a 1.38 ERA.
The Giants' Madison Bumgarner was second in the NL in ERA (2.44), followed by the Mets' Noah Syndergaard (2.61), Arrieta (2.62) and Lester (2.81).
Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has a 1.79 ERA and an 11-2 record, but he has not pitched since late June because of injury, and he has fallen out of qualification on the leader boards.
Wins and losses by pitchers have fallen out of favor in recent years, as stats people point out that wins and losses are often dependent on things out of a pitcher's control, such as run support and the bullpen either preserving or blowing a lead.
Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners scored a major breakthrough in this regard in 2010 when he won the American League Cy Young with a record of 13-12. But Hernandez also had an ERA of 2.27, and he tossed 249 ⅔ innings, a huge workload by today's standards.
Even so, there were some, including managers and pitching coaches, who felt Hernandez didn't have enough wins to get the Cy Young. Beliefs die hard.
The 20-win plateau still holds some mystique, and the Cubs' Arrieta is making a charge at his second straight 20-victory season with a record of 16-5.
ERA leader Hendricks sits at 12-7, and Lester is at 14-4.
The stat WHIP is walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched. Simply, it measures how many baserunners a pitcher allows per inning.
The WHIP leader in the NL entering Thursday was Washington's Max Scherzer, at 0.96. Hendricks was second at an even 1.00, followed by the Braves' Julio Teheran (1.03) and Arrieta, who is tied with teammate John Lackey, at 1.04. During his Cy Young season last year, Arrieta had a WHIP of 0.86.
Arrieta and Lackey are followed by Bumgarner (1.05) and Lester, who is tied with the Giants' Johnny Cueto at 1.08.
Fielding independent pitching:
One of the more newfangled stats in fashion now is FIP, or fielding-independent pitching. Scaled to ERA, FIP takes into account the outcomes not affected by fielders. In other words, FIP is based on walks, strikeouts, hit batters and home runs.
Although FIP has gained widespread acceptance, critics say certain pitchers can have an affect on preventing hits on balls put into play.
Heading into Thursday, the Marlins' Jose Fernandez and the Mets' Syndergaard were tied for the FIP lead at 2.24.
Among those talked about as serious Cy Young candidates, Bumgarner was fifth (3.22), followed in sixth by Arrieta (3.30). Hendricks checked in ninth at 3.37, with Lester 14th at 3.67.
Wins above replacement:
Wins above replacement, or WAR, is another new stat that can cause conflict, if not outright war, between old-school and new-school groups.
In this category, Syndergaard tops the list at 5.3, followed closely by Fernandez at 5.2.
The top Cub in WAR is Arrieta in seventh place at 3.5, followed by Hendricks in eighth (3.4) and Lester in 10th (2.9).
• Follow Bruce's reports on Twitter@BruceMiles2112.