Chris Sale’s Chase for the Cy Young Award

The Red Sox ace has never added the desirable Cy Young Award to his resume, but that may change this season.

With a little less than 2 months until the end of the season, the Cy Young race is in full swing. While a lot can change from now until October, Chris Sale has been by far the best pitcher in the American League and should be considered the Cy Young favorite. In fact, Sale is having one of the most dominant pitching seasons in recent memories. A deeper look at the sabermetrics will undeniably show that if the season were to end today, Chris Sale would be the Cy Young Winner in the American League. Furthermore, I will compare Sale’s current stats to those of past Cy Young winners to demonstrate just how dominate he has been.

The Contenders

In order to demonstrate that Chris Sale is the AL Cy Young favorite, we first have to establish who his competition is. As such, I used WAR to select the top 3 pitchers who are rivaling Sale (6.1 WAR) thus far. They are as follows: Trevor Bauer (5.9 WAR), Gerrit Cole (4.8 WAR), and Justin Verlander (4.5 WAR). Next, it is crucial to select the metrics that will quantify the pitchers’ performances. The main stats which I use to analyze a pitcher are Deserved Runs Average (DRA), Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP), Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) against, Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), and xFIP- which is park and league adjusted. While many stats are good, I find these ones give a complete picture of a pitcher’s performance.

  • Chris Sale (12-4 / 146.0 IP): 2.04 DRA / 0.85 WHIP / .231 wOBA against / 54 xFIP- / 2.27 xFIP
  • Trevor Bauer (12-6 / 166.0 IP): 2.39 DRA / 1.09 WHIP / .260 wOBA against / 74 xFIP- / 3.12 xFIP
  • Gerrit Cole (10-5 / 153.2 IP): 2.45 DRA / 0.99 WHIP / .258 wOBA against / 73 xFIP- / 3.07 xFIP
  • Justin Verlander (11-7 / 158.1 IP): 2.34 DRA / 0.91 WHIP / 2.64 wOBA against / 78 xFIP- / 3.27 xFIP

At first glance, the AL Cy Young race isn’t even close at this moment. Chris Sale leads in every sabermetric I listed previously. His DRA is 0.30 below the next closest pitcher, and his WHIP is at a terrifying number (for reference, a score of 1.00 is considered “excellent” by FanGraphs). Furthermore, his wOBA against is an entire 0.27 lower than his next closest competitor. In terms of xFIP and xFIP-, Chris Sale is absolutely dominating his competition; his lead on the other pitchers is insanely large. It should be emphasized that there’s still a lot of baseball to be played and innings to be pitched, but at this very moment Chris Sale is running away with the Cy Young and has a sizable lead on the field.

Previous Winners

I thought it would also be interesting for us to evaluate Chris Sale’s numbers against previous AL Cy Young winners. This will hopefully accomplish two things: 1) to show how elite his season has been; 2) to show the statistical precedent set by previous winners and to use it as a benchmark.

  • 2017: Corey Kluber (18-4 / 203.2 IP): 2.26 DRA / 0.87 WHIP / .240 wOBA against / 57 xFIP- / 2.52 xFIP
  • 2016: Rick Porcello (22-4 / 223.0 IP): 3.31 DRA / 1.01 WHIP / .274 wOBA against / 92 xFIP- / 3.89 xFIP
  • 2015: Dallas Keuchel (20-8 / 232.0 IP): 2.80 DRA / 1.02 WHIP / 2.54 wOBA against / 68 xFIP- / 2.75 xFIP

Unbelievably, Chris Sale is currently leading in all the sabermetrics I listed versus the past 3 Cy Young winners. That is mind-blowing considering the diversity of stats as well as the quality of pitchers. Sale’s closest competition comes from Kluber in 2017. As it stands, Sale has a better DRA by 0.22, a better WHIP by 0.02, a better wOBA against by 0.09, a better xFIP- by 3, and a better xFIP by 0.25. That’s a pretty clear and sizeable lead over last year’s Cy Young winner. However, it should be noted that Cy Young voters unfortunately do not always vote based on advanced metrics and often opt for simpler statistics like wins and losses (Rick Porcello’s 2016 Cy Young proves that). Nonetheless, it is undeniable to say that Chris Sale is having an amazing season. At this point, he could have a few bad outings and still outperform this year’s field as well as last year’s Cy Young winner.

I believe Kluber’s 2017 stat line is a solid benchmark for this year’s Cy Young. Like Chris Sale, Kluber’s metrics beat the other 2018 contenders in every stat. I believe this is a safe base to use. If Chris Sale can maintain the same level as Kluber in 2017 (which Sale is currently well above), he ought to win the Cy Young.

Conclusion

While maintaining these stats will be hard, Chris Sale should be considered the heavy favorite for the Cy Young. He is significantly ahead of the other AL pitchers in all 5 key stats that I’ve highlighted. That is remarkable. Perhaps even more so is his statistical dominance over the past 3 Cy Young winners. I cannot see into the future, but I am absolutely confident in saying that Chris Sale has had the best season out of all the AL pitchers as of August 14th. If the season were to end today, Sale would undoubtedly be the most deserving of the Cy Young.

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All stats courtesy of FanGraphs (https://www.fangraphs.com/) and Baseball Prospectus https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/sortable/index.php)

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