2019 Fantasy Baseball: Handicapping the AL Cy Young Award Race
We like to use WAR and win shares around here, but as we will see there are some issues when we use those statistics to judge pitchers on individual seasons. For instance, Mike Minor leads the league in WAR, but likely won’t even finish in the top five in the Cy Young voting. You would be hard pressed to find any expert that would rank him there either.
So, when ranking the top five guys we probably want to use some other numbers to judge each pitcher. In this case, we will stick to the traditional numbers and go from there. In this case, we are focused on the fantasy baseball standards (wins, ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP) in addition to quality starts and innings.
Favorite: Justin Verlander– Houston Astros
Quality Starts: 21
It hardly seems fair, but he was ejected before he could earn a quality start last night. He could get passed in that category by his own teammate. He also technically leads the league in ERA and could vault by his teammate again in strikeouts before the next start. He leads the league in WHIP and is ahead of all contenders in wins (although he doesn’t lead the league).
Clearly, he is the leader in the clubhouse, but we have seen some wild things happen in September. He is probably good for five starts in September, so he could theoretically get to 20 wins. It’s hard to call anyone an automatic Hall of Famer, but he certainly feels like one. A second Cy Young award (to go along with an MVP) would definitely throw him over the top.
Primary Challenger: Gerrit Cole– Houston Astros
Quality Starts: 21
Games like Cole’s last outing tell a multi-layered story. He had 14 strikeouts on his way to regaining the AL lead in that category. He went six and two thirds innings in a game where he didn’t necessarily have full command of his stuff. Still, it’s hard to imagine how he gives up four runs on the same night that he strikes out 14. In a rece this close it is often the little things that make the big difference.
Kate Upton notwithstanding, there might not be anyone that cares as deeply about this award as Cole. He will never say it publicly (unlike Upton) but this award would cement his winter salary bonanza. At this point, Zack Greinke’s contract appears to be the floor, but if he can finish strong and have a strong postseason he could fly right past those numbers into a new stratosphere.
Other Challengers: Charlie Morton–Tampa Bay Rays
Quality Starts: 15
It’s always interesting how we can lose perspective. His last start was supposed to be a pitcher’s duel between Verlander and Morton. Instead it was a blowout. However, in the grand scheme of things the numbers haven’t changed much. Morton is still comfortably in third even if some might perceive other pitchers passing him up. Normally, we talk about value when it comes to the MVP, but some voters will look at value when choosing between two pitchers that are neck and neck.
Lucas Giolito has been good, but the White Sox aren’t going anywhere this year. That probably isn’t fair, but Morton might easily be the difference between the Rays getting a wild card bid and them fishing in October. Whether he finishes third, fourth, or fifth could come down to what he does in September to help or hurt the Rays’ cause.
Lucas Giolito–Chicago White Sox
Quality Starts: 15
Quality starts is a Scott Boras statistic. It was designed to make Kevin Brown look good one season when he got horrible run support. While the notion of giving into Boras might be detestable, the statistic actually has some value. If you can pitch six or more innings and keep your team in the game you have value whether you win, lose, or get a no decision. As a younger pitcher, the White Sox aren’t letting Giolito go as deep into games as some of the other veteran hurlers.
One can hardly blame Giolito for the White Sox and their current stage of development. He took a huge step forward this year and deserves all the credit. One can’t help but notice that he pitches for the only team that isn’t playing for something in September. Right or wrong, leverage does matter and the four other contenders have more leverage than Giolito.
Shane Bieber–Cleveland Indians
Quality Starts: 20
I might be inclined to put Bieber in third place because of all of the numbers. He has more strikeouts and a better WHIP than Morton. He also has more quality starts and innings. The only thing he doesn’t have is the sparkling win total. A pitcher’s job is to keep the other team from scoring runs. Let’s not get confused with some kind Jack Morris’ type argument about “knowing how to win games.”
Cy Young voters have shown more sophistication in recent seasons, so Bieber has a chance. It used to be that you had to lead the league in wins to win the Cy Young award. Bieber has a similar resume as Morton in that he will need to pitch well in September for his team to make the playoffs. Whichever team makes it will likely have the guy that finishes third in the voting.