With the season winding down, the NL Cy Young race appears to be down to four different names. It could go to any of them, but one of Zack Wheeler, Corbin Burnes, Walker Buehler, or Max Scherzer will be taking that award home. Up until recently Scherzer may not have had his name floated around as much with the rest of that quartet, but the Dodgers starter reminded everyone of his candidacy last night with 13 K’s in 8 innings without allowing an earned run. A deep dive into the numbers proves that it is not just recency bias indicating that Scherzer is deserving of the award, his numbers do all of the talking necessary.
General Numbers and Counting Stats:
Let’s start with the basic stuff. When it comes to ERA among qualified starters in the National League, Scherzer is first. His 2.28 ERA is clear of all competition, and over one-half point ahead of his competitor Zack Wheeler who is currently seventh in the NL with a 2.91. Although the voting guidelines for Cy Young are not as clear-cut as something like MVP, ERA tends to be one of the bigger factors to BBWAA voters, and Scherzer checks his box there.
Beyond that, Scherzer keeps pace with the rest of the pack when it comes to traditional counting stats as well. Innings pitched is probably the statistic where he falters the most. While he has pitched the 13th most innings of any pitcher in the NL, his 154 innings are a distant 34.2 innings behind the league leader, none other than Cy Young competition Zack Wheeler. Wheeler and Buehler occupy the top two spots there, but Corbin Burnes is also lacking in innings pitched, currently at 144. It feels safe-ish to assume that innings pitched may not play a massive role in the voting this year, especially coming off the shortened 60 game season in 2020 that led to speculation that pitchers may regress as a whole in terms of innings pitched, proved true by the limited quantity of starters who could even sniff the 200 IP mark by the beginning of October.
Scherzer’s resume may take a hit in the quantity category, but it almost works to his benefit because the quality department is looking stellar. Scherzer sits second in total strikeouts in the NL with 210, just 7 behind Wheeler’s league-leading 217. If Scherzer can gain enough ground to pass Wheeler over his last few starts (extremely possible based on last night’s performance) holding the title in two of the top three statistical categories could spell a clear path to victory for the former National turned Dodger, leading him to pick up a ludicrous 4th Cy Young to further polish his Hall of Fame candidacy. With a fourth award, Mad Max would enter a rather elite group of pitchers, as the only pitchers with four or more Cy Young awards are Greg Maddux (4), Steve Carlton (4), Randy Johnson (5), and Roger Clemens (7).
When it comes to ratios, Scherzer takes the cake. Looking at K/9 first, Scherzer leads the NL and is second in the MLB to only Gerrit Cole of the Yankees. His 12.48 K/9 is a full 3 K/9 higher than his teammate Buehler, 2 K/9 ahead of Wheeler. In the innings he’s pitched, Scherzer has dominated hitters more than any other pitcher in this race, bar none. Other stats that Scherzer is top 2 in the NL include K/BB (2nd), K% (1st), WHIP (1st), ERA- (1st) just an example of how elite this season has been so far. It’s also notable to point out that Scherzer distantly leads the NL in LOB% (Left on Base%). Among starters with at least 30 innings pitched with runners on base, Scherzer is distantly first in ERA with a 3.67 while someone occupies the basepaths, over two full points higher than a pitcher like Corbin Burnes whose number resides north of 5. Advanced numbers are where Scherzer’s campaign for the award makes it or breaks it, as a deep dive into those numbers provides grounds to justify that it is not a 4 horse race, but instead a 2 between Scherzer and Burnes.
Entirely irrelevant to his award status but nonetheless an interesting tidbit brought to my attention by the recent episode of The Ringer Baseball Podcast, Scherzer is currently in the midst of arguably the worst season at the plate in MLB history. In the 2021 season, he’s come to the plate 53 times and has not reached first once. No hits, no walks, no HBP’s, just 53 outs. Scherzer does have 1 RBI though, so good for him. Also notable is the fact that if Scherzer is to win, he would be the second Cy Young winner to be traded midway through their award-winning season, joining Rick Sutcliffe who won it in 1984 after being traded from Cleveland to Chicago halfway through the year.
How He Wins It:
If Scherzer is to win this award, he needs to rely on catching up to Wheeler in K’s, while also benefiting from a potential bad start or two from Corbin Burnes. In two of his last three starts, Burnes has allowed three or more runs, so a potential cold streak could be on the way. Scherzer is on the opposite end of that spectrum, going three straight starts without allowing an earned run. To collect two-thirds of the pitcher’s triple crown should be enough to get the job done, and that is looking well within the realm of possibilities.
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!
main image credit: Embed from Getty Images