Yu Darvish leads crowded field in 2020 NL Cy Young race

Profile Picture: Robert Criscola

September 28th, 2020

The MLB regular season has come to an end, but the debate surrounding NL Cy Young Award honors rages on. Two-time defending winner Jacob deGrom of the Mets is in the running once again, but he has stern competition from the Reds’ Trevor Bauer and the Cubs’ Yu Darvish. We’ll break down their chances here and attempt to forecast who will take home this coveted title.

Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer’s 2020 win-loss record (5-4) is far from impressive, but voters have shown over the last two years that pitcher wins have lost most, if not all, of their value as a qualitative statistic. Jacob deGrom was a mere 10-9 in 2018 and an only slightly better 11-8 the following season in his consecutive NL Cy Young campaigns.

Bauer has distinguished himself by producing an NL-best ERA of 1.73 over his 11 starts this season, as well as an NL-leading 0.795 WHIP. The Reds ace had two complete-game shutouts this year – the only pitcher in either league who can claim that – albeit both starts were part of seven-inning doubleheaders.

But Bauer checked in behind deGrom in the strikeout department (104-100) and was a modest fifth in FIP (2.88), trailing Darvish (2.23) and deGrom (2.26) as well as the Padres’ Dinelson Lamet (2.48) and Cincinnati teammate Luis Castillo (2.65).

It also remains to be seen if voters will grade on a curve in terms of the Reds making the playoffs this year. In an ordinary season, they would have been on the outside looking in. Team performance is not an official metric for Cy Young voting, but it can oftentimes shade how voters will view certain pitchers. Bauer also has a tendency to rub some people the wrong way with his public statements and social media posts, which could work against him.

Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish was the NL win leader (eight) on a division-winning Cubs team, which will certainly buoy his chances in the Cy Young race against Bauer, whose team barely qualified, and deGrom, whose Mets went golfing early for a fourth straight campaign.

A Darvish victory would be a story of redemption following his miserable World Series as a member of the Dodgers in 2017. He’s also a lot less prickly than Bauer. But a vote for Darvish wouldn’t merely be from the heart. He beat both Bauer and deGrom in innings pitched (76) and was second only to Bauer with a 2.01 ERA. Darvish also led the NL in FIP (2.23).

However, Darvish was just seventh in strikeouts (93) and eighth in WHIP (0.961) in 2020.

Jacob deGrom

deGrom is once again lacking in the win-loss department (4-2), but his continued stinginess on the mound gives him a realistic shot at a third straight NL Cy Young Award.

deGrom led the NL in strikeouts with 104, on pace for a career-best 277 Ks if he’d made his typical 32 starts in 2020. His FIP was a strong 2.26, second only to Darvish.

But Bauer and Darvish both have deGrom beat in ERA, as he even trails Lamet (2.09) at 2.38. deGrom’s WHIP (0.956) rates well behind Bauer’s. His 68 innings pitched put him well behind Darvish (76) from the same number of starts (12) and five behind Bauer despite the Reds ace making one fewer start.

The verdict

The good appears to outweigh the bad with Yu Darvish. Early-season leader Max Fried burned out and Bauer rose late, but Darvish has consistently been at, or near, the top of this race all year long. Darvish should win his first career Cy Young Award in 2020.