The debate has been raging on for weeks. Really for months. Who deserves the National League Cy Young most? Is it Zack Greinke? How about 3 time winner Clayton Kershaw? What about the dark horse in this discussion, Jake Arrieta? Here we sit on October 1st and the answer is no more clear (and perhaps even less clear) than it was a week ago, or two weeks ago or even a month ago. The race is truly wide open, and at this point really any one of the three could be taking home the prize come November. If I had a Cy Young vote, which I sadly do not, and had to make my selection today, Jake Arrieta would be the pitcher most deserving.
With such a close race, its hard to find a place to start with regards to comparing the numbers of the three players involved. Despite the fact that more simplified statistics such as win-loss record and ERA have fallen out of favor, they still provide a good starting point for an evaluation of who is the best pitcher.
In terms of wins and losses, Arrieta has the most wins of the three candidates with 21 while Greinke has the fewest losses with only 3. Now Cy Young winners of the past have proven that win-loss record hardly matters so let’s move on to ERA for each of the candidates. In terms of ERA, Greinke leads with an ERA of 1.68 while Arrieta follows with an ERA of 1.82 followed by Clayton Kershaw with an ERA of 2.16. Greinke has the clear lead in earned run average but for many reasons ERA is too oversimplified of a measurement for this discussion.
Moving on to FIP, which measures fielding independent pitching, or pitching free from the influence of plays in the field, the field is completely reversed. Kershaw leads the three with a FIP of 2.04, followed by Arrieta at 2.40 and Greinke at 2.75. Taking it one step further, xFIP, which measures a pitcher’s expected run prevention independent of the defense, has Kershaw on top with an even bigger margin between himself and both Arrieta in second place and Greinke in third. Therefore both these advanced measures, favor Kershaw over either Arrieta or Greinke.
Taking it even further, both FIP- and ERA-, which are both park and league adjusted measures of ERA/FIP, tell the same story as both FIP and ERA, with Greinke leading in ERA, Kershaw leading in FIP and Arrieta sandwiched directly in between both players in both regards. In terms of WPA, which is win probability added, Greinke leads the three followed by Arrieta and Kershaw. If we include Fangraphs WAR measurement, Kershaw leads the three followed by Arrieta and Greinke. What these numbers all tell us is that it is a real crap shoot as to who is “most deserving” of winning the Cy Young.
In order to narrow down the numbers a bit, and perhaps get a more decent approximation of who is the best of the three, it helps to narrow down these numbers to performance since the All Star Break. With these narrowed down numbers, Kershaw still leads the three in both FIP and WAR, but Arrieta surges ahead in ERA with an infinitesimal ERA of only 0.80. To put this in better context, Arrieta has given up only twelve runs in fourteen starts since the All Star Break, with only nine of those runs being earned runs. By comparison, Kershaw has given up sixteen earned runs since the All Star Break with Greinke giving up twenty-one runs over the same time span and in one fewer start.
Compared to both Kershaw and Greinke, who have given up five earned runs on more than one occasion, Arrieta has given up no more than four earned runs in a start and has only done so three times. Every other start for Arrieta was three earned runs or less. Of all the statistics comparing the three pitchers vying for the Cy Young, the most telling of all is performance against teams .500 or better. Arrieta leads all three with a 12-2 record a 1.25 ERA against teams over .500 in 2015. Kershaw and Greinke both also sport ERAs under 2.00 against teams over .500 but both are nearly 50 percentage points higher than that of Arrieta. Arrieta has proven himself not only relative to Kershaw and Greinke, but against some of the best teams in the entire league.
This has been the closest Cy Young race in recent memory. Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Jake Arrieta have all had amazing years, perhaps even career years, all at the same time, and in the same league. This has made the job of the many Cy Young voters nearly impossible this year. Faced with a nearly impossible decision, and based off one of the best second half performances in recent memory, as well as an absurd performance against the best teams in the league all year, Jake Arrieta should be the National League Cy Young winner despite the amazing years for both Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Impossible scenarios call for impossible decisions, and Arrieta is the impossible this year.
Patrick Brewer is the Lead National League writer for Call to the Bullpen. You can find him on Twitter @PatrickBrewer93, or join in the conversation@CTBPod, in the comment section below or on our Facebook Page.