Comparing NL Cy Young Award Candidates Hendricks, Lester and Scherzer – My Prediction

Tonight the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA) will present the Cy Young Award to one player from each league. On the National League side, there’s no real consensus amongst pundits about who will, or should, walk away with the award. Granted, when you compare stats it’s somewhat of a toss-up. Here’s the rundown.

Kyle Hendricks: 16-8, 2.13 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.59 xFIP, 190.0 IP, .250 BABIP, 170 Ks, 4.5 fWAR

Jon Lester: 19-5, 2.44 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 3.47 xFIP, 202.2 IP, .256 BABIP, 197 Ks, 4.3 fWAR

Max Scherzer: 20-7, 2.96 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 3.37 xFIP, 228.1 IP, .255 BABIP, 284 Ks, 5.6 fWAR

You can see that it’s quite an even match-up and it’d be pretty easy to see it going to any of the three candidates.

Making the case

For Hendricks to win, all you’d need to do is look at his league-leading 2.13 ERA, not to mention his 3.20 FIP. Sure, some of the reason Hendricks’ ERA is low has to do with the defense behind him, but with a .250 BABIP he matches up quite closely to both Lester (.256 BABIP) and Scherzer (.255 BABIP) so I don’t think it’s fair to ding Hendricks, or Lester for that matter, for the defensive support they received. Kyle also had the lowest 2nd half ERA, at 1.68, among all three candidates – Lester 1.76 and Scherzer 2.86.

Jon Lester could win but it’s much more difficult to see how that happens when compared to the other two pitchers. His numbers were very good – particularly in the 2nd half – but when looking at the stats above he doesn’t lead in any category. So, as good as he’s been this year it’s hard to see the award going his way.

Max Scherzer certainly has a strong case to win it. While he’s sporting the highest ERA at 2.96, his FIP of 3.24 is right in line with Hendricks at 3.20. He also leads in innings pitched with 228.1 compared to 190.0 for Hendricks and 202.2 for Lester. Add to that, he managed to strike out 284 batters in 2016, completely dominating that category amongst Hendricks (170) and Lester (197), while leading the entire league in strikeouts.

The prediction

This year’s National League Cy Young award is between Kyle Hendricks and Max Scherzer. Both lead in certain statistical categories so how do you determine who put up the best pitching performance over the entire year?

While there’s some notion that innings pitched may play a role in being a deciding factor, I don’t see that being the case here. Now, if Hendricks was closer to 162 innings pitched, I think that may come into play but since he’s at 190.0 innings I just don’t see how that can count against him or, put differently, I don’t think that even though Scherzer threw 228.1 innings that should be enough to put him ahead of Kyle.

Scherzer had slightly better run support this year at 4.79 runs per game compared to Hendricks at 4.70 runs per game, so neither team’s offense did much to differentiate the two pitchers from each other. And you can make a case to attribute Scherzer’s higher win total (20 vs. 16 for Hendricks) to his higher innings pitched since he started 34 games compared to Hendricks who started 30 games.

After taking all the facts into consideration, and once you rule out Lester, this comes down to who had the lower ERA and FIP. Once you dig into the ‘why’ I think things become a bit more clear. Consider that Scherzer had a much higher fly ball rate (47.9%) than Hendricks (31.3%), and fly balls fall for hits less often but that wasn’t enough to limit Scherzer’s ERA. In addition, Hendricks was better at inducing weak contact than Scherzer was. Per FanGraphs, Hendricks induced soft contact 25.2% of the time compared to Scherzer at 22.2%. Likewise, Hendricks hard contact rate was 25.8% compared to 30.1% for Max Scherzer.

As you can see, you really need to dig into the numbers to figure this one out. For those reasons I believe that, while it will be close, Kyle Hendricks should walk away with the Cy Young Award tonight. Be sure to tune into the MLB Network at 5 PM CT to find out.

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