The race for the NL Cy Young Award seemed all but over by the All-Star break, with Zack Greinke dominating for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Greinke hasn’t exactly slipped—his ERA is still a surreal 1.61. But now Jake Arrieta, the surprise staff ace for the emerging Chicago Cubs has also emerged to challenge Greinke for the award. Who should win it?
Let’s begin with a comparison of the basic stats:
ERA: Greinke (1.61), Arrieta (1.99)
IP: Greinke (200), Arrieta (199)
W-L: Greinke (17-3), Arrieta (19-6)
Greinke retains the edge on the surface, but we can’t forget that the contrast between pitching in Dodger Stadium and pitching in Wrigley Field is extreme. We can’t forget that Arrieta gets a disproportionate number of starts against the lineups of St. Louis and Pittsburgh because of the unbalanced schedule emphasizing divisional play. Because of that, the modest statistical edge for Greinke doesn’t bother me.
That still doesn’t make Arrieta a slam dunk. I think we have to bring the “value” element into this decision, along the lines of what voters consider when they look at MVP voting. If anyone is looking for an alternative to Washington’s Bryce Harper for NL MVP since it looks like the Nationals won’t make the playoffs, they might have to look at the pitchers.
You can make the value argument for either pitcher. On the one hand, Arrieta doesn’t pitch alongside Clayton Kershaw, whose 2.15 ERA is third in the National League and therefore the Cub ace bears a greater burden. On the other hand, the entire Dodger staff (including the bullpen) is top-heavy reliant on Greinke and Kershaw with a big dropoff to #3, while the Cub rotation has nice balance, led up by Jon Lester.
Given those contrasting definitions of value, I give a slight lean to Greinke. I’ve still got Harper for the MVP award, because I’m not hung up on his team not making the playoffs. But Greinke still needs to have a slight edge for the Cy Young Award—with a definite emphasis on “slight.” The Cubs and Dodgers are pretty well on a glide path to their respective playoff positions, but their aces are going to spend the next three weeks battling for pitching’s highest honor.