The mainstream baseball media long ago conceded the NL Cy Young award race to the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara. The Miami righthander has had an excellent season, and is on the way to racking up a recently unheard of seasonal innings pitched total. Truth is, there have been a number of NL pitching performances that are arguably better, and have been shunted to the side for one reason or another.
This month, I’m taking a last in-season look at the major individual award races in both leagues. Last week, we checked in on the AL Cy race, currently led by the Rays’ Shane McClanahan but likely about to be seized by the White Sox’ Dylan Cease. Tomorrow and next week, we’ll take a last in-season look at the MVP races.
As usual, I’ll be doing this utilizing the batted ball-based methods I typically employ here. I take all batted balls allowed by qualifying starting pitchers and apply league average production rates for each exit speed/launch angle bucket. Then I add back the Ks and BBs to determine each pitcher’s “Tru” ERA-, my proxy for ERA-/FIP-. Then that figure is spread across each pitcher’s innings bulk, and the hurlers are ranked by “Tru” Pitching Runs Above Average (TPRAA).
As I see it, there are four main candidates for the NL hardware — and Alcantara is not one of them. Here’s my current Top Five, with four Honorable Mentions thrown in for good measure.
The Dodgers’ Julio Urias (20.1 TPRAA) continues to be one of the most well-rounded and consistent starting pitchers in either league. His command is impeccable, he’s an extreme pop up generator, and his average liner authority allowed (89.7 mph) is 2nd lowest among NL qualifiers. Diamondbacks’ righty Zac Gallen (18.7 TPRAA) just had his historic scoreless innings pitched streak snapped. He has been pretty fortunate across all batted ball types this season (45 Unadjusted vs. 88 Adjusted Fly Ball, 79 vs. 92 Line Drive, 84 vs. 98 Ground Ball Contact Scores). Overall, he’s posted a 64 Unadjusted compared to an 88 Adjusted Contact Score.
The Marlins’ Alcantara (17.8 TPRAA) currently stands 8th (Monday night’s start is not included). In our last check of this race, he stood 2nd with 19.1 TPRAA. Yes, he’s been a slightly below league average pitcher over the last three months, with his “Tru” ERA- rising from 68 to 80. Yes, he gets points for extreme durability, but has been pitching to fairly authoritative contact of late. The Mets’ Chris Bassitt (16.5 TPRAA) continues to be consistently overlooked. He’s the one NL qualifier allowing even less authoritative line drive contact (87.4 mph) than Urias. The Mets have more dominant starters in Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, but Bassitt is the one that has gone to the post every fifth day.
THE TOP FIVE
#5 — LHP Tyler Anderson (Dodgers) — 72 “Tru” ERA-, 20.5 “Tru” Pitching Runs Above Average (TPRAA)
Anderson remains the leader in the NL Contact Manager of the Year race (71 Adjusted Contact Score), which he has pretty much wrapped up at this point. He’s an extreme pop up generator, has muted fly ball authority best among these Cy contenders (63 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score), and as an added bonus has done the same on grounders (79 Adjusted Grounder Contact Score, 78.4 mph average grounder exit speed). While the Kershaws, Mays and Gonsolins have gone down around him, Urias and free agent bargain bin acquisition Anderson have anchored the Dodger rotation.
#4 — LHP Carlos Rodon (Giants) — 67 “Tru” ERA-, 24.3 TPRAA
And now we get to the inner circle group of candidates. Rodon is currently running a narrow 2nd behind Corbin Burnes in the NL strikeout race, and has managed to avoid the injury bug for once. His command is the least precise among this group of contenders, but that’s his only flaw. His contact management performance (92 Adjusted Contact Score) has been better than his norm, thanks largely to a strong 71 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score, 2nd among contenders behind Anderson.
#3 — LHP Max Fried (Braves) — 68 “Tru” ERA-, 24.6 TPRAA
Our third straight lefty in the top five. Fried has had a brilliant season, and his trend line has been pointing up of late. His command and contact management abilities are dual strong suits. Only Nola has walked fewer batters among our contenders, and only Anderson has a better Adjusted Contact Score (Fried is at 78, narrowly ahead of Urias at 79). Fried is a grounder machine — his 7.1 degree average launch angle allowed is bettered only by Alcantara (5.7) among this group of contenders.
#2 — RHP Corbin Burnes (Brewers) — 68 “Tru” ERA-, 25.0 TPRAA
Almost a dead heat between Burnes and Fried for the #2 spot, with the Brewer righty getting the nod due to slightly better innings bulk. He got my vote and the actual Cy in 2021, and remains in the mix for a repeat. His contact management performance (92 Adjusted Contact Score) is way down from last season, when he was the NL Contact Manager of the Year. At this level of competition, his 46 walks actually are a bit worse than the norm. The difference between Burnes and our leader is essentially the 22 extra free passes he’s issued.
#1 — RHP Aaron Nola (Phillies) — 66 “Tru” ERA-, 27.6 TPRAA
So what exactly is the rationale for excluding Nola from this year’s Cy race? His losing record? I thought we finally put that criteria in the rear view when Felix Hernandez deservedly got the hardware with such a record a few years back. His control is the best among NL ERA qualifiers, and he ranks 3rd in strikeouts. His K/BB profile is easily the NL’s best. Nola has maintained his excellence when his club has needed it most, with co-ace Zack Wheeler sidelined by injury. His contact management performance (91 Adjusted Contact Score) has been solid. He’s been fairly unlucky on grounders (108 Unadjusted vs. 82 Adjusted Grounder Contact Score), thanks to a leaky infield defense. With the tools we now have at our disposal, we can separate out such extraneous factors, and better measure what a pitcher actually controls — and those tools deem Nola the NL’s best pitcher at this late stage of the season.