Of all the statistics offered to illuminate the debate over the National League Cy Young Award, this might be my favorite: In the last 15 years, according to Fangraphs, there have been 585 times when pitchers have thrown at least 200 innings.
The lowest on-base percentages allowed: 1. Zack Greinke, 2015; 2. Clayton Kershaw, 2015; 3. Jake Arrieta, 2015.
The three contenders are that superb, and that close.
When Kershaw won his first Cy Young, in 2011, he got 27 of 32 first-place votes. He posted an earned-run average of 2.28. He led the league in walks-plus-hits per inning (WHIP), at 0.977. He had an ERA+ of 161. He had 4.6 strikeouts for each walk.
Kershaw’s numbers are better in each of those categories this year. So are Greinke’s. So are Arrieta’s.
No pitcher in the last 13 years has more strikeouts than Kershaw. No pitcher in the last 20 years has posted a lower ERA than Greinke. No pitcher in the last 100 years has posted a lower ERA since Aug. 1 than Arrieta.
There are persuasive cases to be made for all three pitchers. There is no such thing as a wrong way to vote.
But think about this: When the Chicago Cubs play the NL wild-card game Wednesday, there is no doubt that Arrieta will start. When the Toronto Blue Jays open the playoffs Thursday, there is no doubt that David Price will start.
When the Dodgers open the playoffs Friday … well, they have not announced their starter, but the assumption is that Kershaw would be the guy.
This would not be some sort of career achievement award. This would not be in recognition of a stellar postseason history, certainly. This would be because he is their best pitcher, the one that gives them the best chance to win.
If the Cy Young is about honoring the best pitcher in the league, and the Dodgers essentially say Kershaw is the best pitcher on their team, we’ll go with Arrieta.
Our other award picks:
AL Cy Young: Price.
NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals.
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels.
NL rookie of the year: Kris Bryant, Cubs.
AL rookie of the year: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros.
NL manager of the year: Joe Maddon, Cubs.
AL manager of the year: Mike Scioscia, Angels.
Trout gets the nod here over Toronto’s Josh Donaldson — and, as with the NL Cy Young, there is no wrong way to vote — because of all the factors cited in August, when Donaldson appeared on his way to becoming a runaway winner.
Trout slumped when his team did? Yes, but since Sept. 1, the Angels have the best record in the major leagues, and his September OPS was 1.085. Trout was not running as much? Yes, but he willed a triple on Friday — on what most players would have happily called a double — and scored the winning run. Trout’s defense was not as good as Donaldson’s? Maybe by certain metrics, but Trout’s spectacular robbery last weekend — grabbing the top of outfield fence with one hand, then pulling himself up several feet above the wall to make the catch — put the Angels in position for a comeback victory.
Donaldson might well beat Trout, but consider this: Trout will finish first or second in the MVP voting, for the fourth time in his four major league seasons. The only player in AL history to finish first or second in four consecutive seasons: Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.
Scioscia gets the nod here because Game 162 matters for the Angels, a miraculous Saturday atop an extraordinarily dysfunctional season.
The owner banished the left fielder. The general manager quit. The Hall of Famer in waiting can barely walk. The second baseman could not see properly for a few weeks. The closer and setup man were on crutches at various times in September. The longtime ace learned on the job how to survive with fastballs thrown at knuckleball speeds. The roster included a Rule 5 pick, batting .115 at the All-Star break. The interim front office, forced to deal without prospects to offer, delivered a few spare parts to supplement the roster.
We’re already projecting one award winner for 2016: Corey Seager, NL rookie of the year.
Just win your division
From the department of searching for a solution to a problem that does not exist, we give you this: The system is unfair to the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, so down with the system!
The Cubs and Pirates have won more games than any team in any division except their own. They will meet in the NL wild-card game. The problem, allegedly, is that one of those teams will go home after one postseason game. The Dodgers and New York Mets — and their lesser records — advance to the best-of-five division series, as division champions.
The solution, supposedly, is to seed the playoff teams by their records. In that scenario, the Dodgers and Mets would have the fourth-best and fifth-best records in the postseason field, and so they would play the sudden-death playoff game.
This is not a problem. This is a historical anomaly.
Since the wild-card era started in 1995, how many other times have the second- and third-place teams in one division won more games than the winners of the other two divisions?
Seed the playoffs by record, and you would have to play a balanced schedule. For the Dodgers, that would mean fewer home games against the San Francisco Giants, more against the Milwaukee Brewers. For the St. Louis Cardinals, fewer games against the Cubs, more against the Arizona Diamondbacks. For the New York Yankees, fewer games against the Boston Red Sox, more against the Chicago White Sox. (On the other hand, the Angels would love fewer games against the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.)
Seed the playoffs by record, and a division championship becomes meaningless — heck, the divisions themselves might as well be abolished. If you’re going to be intellectually honest, throw all 30 teams together, regardless of league, with the teams with the 10 best records advancing to the postseason.
Oh, and the Cubs and Pirates do not face an insurmountable disadvantage. The teams in the World Series last year were wild-card teams.
Outrage over a historical blip is not unprecedented, and in fact increases in volume in an era that demands instant opinion, on sports talk and Twitter.
In 2013, when the Baseball Writers Assn. of America elected no one to the Hall of Fame, anguished cries echoed through the land: Do something before this happens again, and again!
In 2014, three players were elected. In 2015, four players were elected.
Remember last winter, when new Commissioner Rob Manfred floated a trial balloon about banning defensive shifts? The balloon landed with a thud, but the outcry obscured Manfred’s larger point: Let’s consider all sorts of options to deal with declining offense, but first let’s see if offense declines again in 2015.
Runs per game, 2014 season: 4.07. Runs per game, 2015 season: 4.26.