The 2021 regular season is winding down, to the point that there are just nine days left. That means starting pitchers vying for the prestigious Cy Young awards are going to get just one or two more chances to fill out that resume. We've been doing a weekly check in on how the race for Cy Young is shaping up here this month. Let's get after it again in the penultimate entry.
What follows is not necessarily how I would vote but how I believe the voting body would slot the pitchers based upon recent voting history. This week, I'm going to rank a top five in each league.
Right now, Ray leads in the league in ERA, WHIP, innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA+ and WAR (baseball-reference.com version). He has the lowest rate of hits allowed, too. While I don't think this is a blowout, it's a pretty clear-cut case for Ray to take home the honors in leading the most important rate stats along with innings pitched and strikeouts.
Another easy one to slot. Cole is second to Ray in ERA, WHIP, WAR, ERA+ and strikeouts while being tied for fourth in innings pitched. He has the highest strikeout rate in the league. He's second in FIP and leads in win probability added. There's also an intangible "ace" feel that some pitchers have and Cole has that in spades. I've noted it before and I'll reiterate here: There's no such thing in voting as some sort of bias toward New York. Each chapter in the BBWAA (one per city in each league) gets two voters for each award. That is to say there are as many Kansas City voters as New York voters.
There's a big drop here from second to third and I think Eovaldi has the third spot for the time being. He leads in Fangraphs' version of WAR and some writers prefer that one. In the baseball-reference.com version he's fourth. He's also sixth in ERA, fifth in WHIP, fourth in innings, sixth in strikeouts, third in ERA+ and first in FIP. He's been the mainstay in a pitching staff that's barely held together all season while sitting in playoff position for most of it.
4. José Berríos, Blue Jays
I think Berríos gets the nod here. It's possible I'm wrong and he would finish third in front of Eovaldi, too. He's third in ERA, third in WHIP, fourth in ERA+ and second in innings pitched. He's also sixth in FIP and seventh in strikeouts. The Blue Jays have surged right up next to playoff position and have won four of his last five starts.
There's a glut of starters vying for this spot and it's possible Frankie Montas would take it, but I'll guess Hendriks. He leads the league in saves and has a 2.77 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. Perhaps most importantly here are the 104 strikeouts against just six unintentional walks in 66 innings. That is the needle-mover.
I think he's nailing this thing down. Scherzer leads the majors with a 2.28 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in addition to ERA+ and the lowest rate of hits allowed. At 174 innings, his workload isn't huge, but he's done enough in those innings to take it. He has 232 strikeouts. Perhaps the biggest thing is that the Dodgers have won all 10 of his starts since the trade.
For the workload fans -- and I maintain innings pitched is a very underrated stat -- Wheeler leads the majors with 206 1/3 innings. He also has the lead with 240 strikeouts. He's pitched well enough with this heavy workload to sit fifth in ERA, fifth in WHIP and that has pushed him to lead in baseball-reference.com WAR and second place in Fangraphs' version.
Burnes leads in Fangraphs WAR and it's on the strength of some ridiculous rate stats. He's second in ERA, ERA+ and WHIP to Scherzer. He leads the majors in strikeouts per walk and strikeout rate. He has 221 strikeouts against 32 walks in 158 innings, though do take note of how Wheeler's innings total dwarfs Burnes'. This is a new-school case -- note the lead in Fangraphs' WAR -- as he has a gigantic lead in FIP (1.58; Wheeler is second at 2.62).
4. Walker Buehler, Dodgers
Buehler was our leader a few weeks ago, but he seems to have hit a wall. He has a 7.32 ERA in his last four starts. He's still fourth in ERA, fourth in WHIP, fourth in ERA+ and third in WAR, though. A strong close could move him up, but I'm not sure he still has a chance to win this thing absent extreme circumstances (something like he throws a shutout while the three above get shelled every time out).
5. Brandon Woodruff, Brewers
In fact, I think Woodruff might jump Buehler. He's now third in ERA, third in WHIP and third in ERA+ while sitting eighth in innings. He's also sixth in strikeouts and fourth in WAR. I don't know how much vote splitting there will be with two Dodgers and two Brewers in the top five -- see my note above about how each chapter gets two votes -- but it'll sure be interesting to see how it plays out.