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2015 Fantasy Baseball: NL Cy Young Preview

As we did last week with the MVP awards, we are trying to handicap the Cy Young awards in both leagues. Today, we are looking at the senior circuit. The race may seem to be a foregone conclusion, but anything can happen over the course of three weeks. Like we did with the MVP races, we will try to handicap the top four candidates in each league and what they need to do to win the award.

Jake Arrieta— Chicago Cubs

Key Stats: 19-6, 199.0 INN, 1.99 ERA, 0.925 WHIP, 204 K

In a normal season, Arrieta would be the run away favorite. He leads the league in wins and is second in ERA. He has a sub-1.00 WHIP and more than 200 strikeouts with a few starts left to go. The fact that he is somewhat of a darkhorse tells you how deep the league really is. It also shows that fans and sportswriters are beginning to become more sophisticated in how they look at pitchers. His 2.51 FIP demonstrates that while he has been brilliant, he is not quite as brilliant as his numbers may suggest. A 7.1 WAR campaign (to this point) is still very strong.

What does he need to do to win?

Obviously, he has an uphill battle and his fate is not completely in his hands. Even if he finishes out the season with four consecutive shutouts, he will still be looking up at Zack Greinke and maybe Clayton Kershaw. He will still get some votes as long as he gets to 20 wins and leads the league in that category. If he can do that and keep his ERA under 2.00 then he has a fighting chance.

Where does he really rank?

I had a nice twitter conversation last week about the MVP chances for Andrew McCutchen. The reader correctly pointed out that McCutchen may get some support because he is on a playoff team. The BBWAA cares less about team performance where the Cy Young is concerned. That being said, this space is about where players should finish and not how they will finish. Arrieta has a very compelling case for being the runner up, but I think that honor should go to Kershaw. Arrieta looks good for third.

Madison Bumgarner— San Francisco Giants

Key Stats: 18-7, 197.2 INN, 2.91 ERA, 1.012 WHIP, 212 K

In three postseasons, Bumgarner is 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA and 88 innings pitched. He has the reputation for being the best big game pitcher in the game today. The year began with promise for both Bumgarner and the Giants, but injuries have derailed their chances and Bumgarner just has not been as good as the regular season as he has in the playoffs. Still, he came within one out of perfection on Saturday night and that outing made me feel a little better about picking him in the top four.

What does he need to do to win

Honestly, he is here because we need four guys. This is really a three pitcher race and it has been that way since the all-star break. Bumgarner’s peripherals are better than his overall performance (2.71 FIP), but even his offensive exploits can’t rescue his overall value. He can’t make it up in four starts, but he can finish strong and maybe get to 20 wins.

Where does he really rank?

I’m ranking him fourth here, but there are a number of pitchers that could just as easily squeeze in here. For most of the season, this would be Max Scherzer’s slot, but he has faded miserably down the stretch. Shelby Miller has been very good in Atlanta and Jacob DeGrom has been solid in New York as well. If anyone wants to send in hate mail on their behalf be my guest.

Zack Greinke— Los Angeles Dodgers

Key Stats: 16-3, 192.2 INN, 1.68 ERA, 0.856 WHIP, 174 K

That ERA is really sexy and it will be hard for anyone to look past it when it is time to vote for him. Greinke can be a free agent after the season, and if he adds a second Cy Young award, he could be the most intriguing name on the board. I’m somewhat bearish on Greinke in these circles because his 2.72 FIP shows that some of the dominance is a bit of a mirage. He leads the pitching world with an 8.0 WAR score, but I have a feeling that either Arrieta or Kershaw may catch him before the end of the season.

What does he need to do to win?

Most of the voters are sophisticated enough to see past win-loss records, so he doesn’t have a problem there. His best chance to secure a victory is for him to keep his sizable ERA lead. He needs that ERA lead because he does not have the numbers across the board. He has fewer innings than Arrieta and Kershaw and he has fewer wins than Arrieta. He has fewer strikeouts (and a lower K rate) than both Kershaw and Arrieta. He may seem like a lock, but you heard it here first. He’s not.

Where does he really rank?

Personally, I’d pull the lever for him if the season ended today. Unfortunately for him, the season isn’t ending today. There is still a chance he gets caught from behind and that person may in fact be his teammate Clayton Kershaw. That being said, I would say Jake Arrieta has the best chance to catch him at this point. Each probably has four more starts left and it will be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Clayton Kershaw— Los Angeles Dodgers

Key Stats: 13-6, 201.0 INN, 2.15 ERA, 0.896 WHIP, 259 K

The parallels between Kershaw and Sandy Koufax are striking. They are both Jewish, left-handed, Dodger greats, and multiple Cy Young award winners. With three Cy Young awards, one MVP, and one Cy Young runner up already, it is debatable that he could be a Hall of Famer already. He leads the league in innings, strikeouts, and FIP. That last one might be the most important of all. While he is third in ERA, he could argue that he is still the best pitcher in the league. What is most remarkable is that Kershaw seemingly has not been quite on his game for most of the year and he still might be the best pitcher in the league.

What does he need to do to win?

Since the first of July, Kershaw is a robust 8-0 in 12 starts (94.0 INN) and a 0.86 ERA. Those numbers are just stupid. His 119 strikeouts in that same time span show his dominance. If he can continue to do that for four more starts he just might get to 300 strikeouts on the season and see his ERA drop below 2.00. If those things happen he could get enough support for the award. The problem will be Kershaw fatigue.

Where does he really rank?

Like I said before, if I had to vote today I would be inclined to vote for Greinke. However, Kershaw’s finish is something to behold. We have to remember that a scant few weeks ago, the Giants were very much in the NL West race. The Dodgers buried them. A part of that can be attributed to the Giants falling apart, but a part can be attributed to Kershaw’s absolute dominance. Playing your best ball at the right time matters. How you finish matters. If he finishes like he has the past few months, he will win my vote (not that I have one).

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