King of the Hill

Analyzing the MLB NL Cy Young Race

As the 2018 MLB regular season winds down, the talk is heating up about which National League pitcher should win the Cy Young Award. The Cy Young Award is named after the winningest pitcher in major league history. The award recognizes the top pitcher in each league. The Baseball Writers of America vote on the award. The vote totals are derived from a weighted points system.

The National League Cy Young race this season has generated some heated debate as to what stat(s) should be used to identify the best pitcher. On one side of the debate, there are folks like Michael Wilbon who believe that games won is the stat to use as the main driver to decide the award. He recently said on his show 'Pardon the Interruption', "If [deGrom] goes 8-11 and wins the Cy Young, then all the people voting for the Cy Young should be dismissed”. On the other side of the debate there are those who feel that games won is the wrong stat to use to decide the award and that other stats within the pitcher’s control should be used to identify the best pitcher.

I am in the second camp and I will explain why.

Currently, the NL Cy Young race is a three-man race between the National’s Max Scherzer, the Phillies’ Aaron Nola, and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom. Let’s analyze these pitchers using the criteria outlined from each of the two camps.

Wins and Losses

If we are giving the award solely on wins and losses, it becomes a two-man race. The win totals of Max Scherzer (17) and Aaron Nola (16) dwarf Jacob deGrom’s (8).

The flaw with this logic Is that a pitcher is not in total control of determining whether he will win the game. Pitchers are reliant on their teammates to make plays in the field and score runs on offense. Let’s look at two areas; first, the stats within the pitcher’s control, and second the overall team performance or lack thereof, and how it affects a pitcher’s numbers.

Earned Run Average (ERA)

Earned run average (ERA), is defined as the number of earned runs surrendered by a pitcher every nine innings. In major league baseball today, a pitcher with an earned run average of 3.5 or less would be considered an all-star. A sub-2 earned run average is rare for a full-time starting pitcher. Jacob deGrom sports a 1.78 ERA over his 30 starts this season.

Runs Allowed

The chart below shows the number of times each pitcher has allowed a certain number of runs in an outing. Jacob deGrom has given up 3 or less total runs in 29 of his 30 starts, Max Scherzer has 28 of 32 starts giving up 3 or less runs, and Aaron Nola has 27 of 31 starts giving up 3 or less runs.

If we take a closer look, deGrom has 16 starts where he allowed one or less runs. Aaron Nola follows with 15 and Max Scherzer has 11.


Strikeouts are another stat that indicate the dominance of a pitcher. Looking at the chart below, we see that Max Scherzer has been the most dominant with 290 strikeouts over his 32 starts (9.1/gm). Jacob deGrom is right behind him with 251 strikeouts over 30 starts (8.4/gm). Aaron Nola has amassed 210 strikeouts over his 31 starts (6.8/gm).

Lack of Run Support

One would expect that if a pitcher surrenders less than two total runs (earned and unearned) over 5 or more innings pitched, that his team would have the lead when he exited the game. It would also raise the probability of that pitcher earning a win for the outing. The chart below shows the breakdown of game situations in which the pitcher lasted 5 or more innings and surrendered less than two runs in the game. There were seven times when Jacob deGrom left the game either trailing or tied after only giving up one or no runs. Aaron Nola (3) and Max Scherzer (2) combined only had that happen to them five times.


Looking at win/loss record to determine which pitcher deserves the Cy Young award is flat out wrong. Once we dug deeper into the numbers we saw that Jacob deGrom, with his eight wins, is a legitimate candidate for the award. His earned run average (ERA) is 1.78. He averages 8.4 strikeouts per start. In 53.3% of his starts, he left the game having given up 0 or 1 run. The fact that he plays on a bad baseball team should not exclude him from contending for, and potentially winning, the Cy Young.

Trust me when I tell you that I am no Mets fan, but I am casting my vote for Jacob deGrom no matter what Michael Wilbon thinks of it.

All stats reported are updated as of 9/20/18

This week, @Qlik_CBO dives deep into data to squash the latest debate in the National League Cy Young Awards

Keep up with the latest insights to drive the most value from your data.

Get ready to transform your entire business with data.

Follow Qlik