With the lead-up to the 2021 Cy Young announcements, let’s mimic the process the BBWAA takes, ranking the top five contenders in both leagues.
5. Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies
Previous: 12th in 2020
Zack Wheeler is the workhorse of the group. He led the Majors with 213.1 innings pitched, helping him to lead the NL with 247 strikeouts. He posted career-bests in hits per nine, walks per nine, and strikeouts per nine. Wheeler made his first All-Star Game, and he led all pitchers in bWAR (7.8). He finished with a 2.78 ERA, 2.59 FIP, and 1.008 WHIP, all marks that are the best in his career.
4. Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers
Brandon Woodruff likely would not have sniffed old ballots as he finished with a 9-10 record, but thankfully, pitcher wins are less important in the modern game. Woodruff finished with a 2.56 ERA, 2.96 FIP, and 0.965 WHIP, all career-highs. He allowed under 1.0 home runs per nine, and he struck out 10.6 per nine. He was fourth in ERA, third in FIP, and eighth in strikeouts in the NL.
3. Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers
Previous: 9th in 2019
Walker Buehler led the ERA lead for much of the season, but he ended with a 2.47, good for third. He had 212 strikeouts in 207.2 innings, and he had a WHIP under 1.000 for the third time in four years. He had the lowest strikeout rate of his career, but he was excellent at limiting walks and home runs. Buehler racked up 6.7 bWAR, nearly doubling his previous career-best.
2. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals & Los Angeles Dodgers
Previous: 1st in 2013, 2016, and 2017; 2nd in 2018, 3rd in 2019, 5th in 2014 and 2015
The veteran of the group, Max Scherzer is no stranger to receiving Cy Young votes. He is eighth all-time in Cy Young shares. Among active players, only Clayton Kershaw (his current teammate) and Justin Verlander (his former teammate) have more. Scherzer had a strong season with Washington, working to a 2.76 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. However, he ascended to a new level with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Scherzer fired 68.1 innings to a 1.98 ERA and an incomprehensible 0.820 WHIP.
Scherzer led the majors in WHIP (0.864) and both components of WHIP. His WHIP ranks in the top 20 in MLB history among those that threw 162 innings.
1. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
Previous: 6th in 2020
Scherzer had a few modern contemporaries in terms of WHIP. Corbin Burnes, on the other hand, is one of just two pitchers to have a FIP below 1.80 in the Integration Era. Pedro Martinez twirled a 1.39 FIP in 1999. Burnes had a 1.63 FIP in 2021, the 13th-best in MLB history (minimum of 162 innings pitched). Burnes obviously led MLB in FIP, but he also led baseball in ERA, ERA+, home runs per nine, strikeouts per nine, and strikeouts per walk.
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