Awards Watch: Arrieta’s case for the Cy Young
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Not since the 2009 National League Cy Young voting has the league seen three different pitchers each receive more than one first-place vote for the award. That year, Adam Wainwright grabbed the most first-place votes, despite finishing third, while Tim Lincecum collected his second consecutive Cy.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the voting went down in a similar fashion in 2015, as a trio of nominees all put up stellar seasons that would likely make them hands-down favorites almost any other year. Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw looks to make it three in a row and four in five years after another dominant season. His teammate and 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke completed the finest season of his Los Angeles tenure. But at the end of the day, both could be looking up at Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, who put up a historically great second half in 2015.
On the entire season, the 29-year-old Arrieta’s final numbers are more than deserving of final consideration as the league’s top pitcher. For starters, he won a league-best 22 games. Before the relevancy of pitcher wins is argued, it’s worth noting the teams he defeated and how dominant he was against them. In 18 regular-season starts against teams better than .500 this season, he went 12-3 with a 1.48 ERA and managed an elite-level 9.0 strikeout-per-nine rate. Here is how he fared against playoff-bound NL teams:
His 236 strikeouts ranked fourth in the National League and his ridiculously low 1.77 ERA trailed only Greinke this season. But it’s also the second-lowest NL earned run average since 1995, and the ninth-lowest in the last 50 years (aside from Greinke and Dwight Gooden, the other six totals were produced by Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver).
The story of Arrieta’s season and candidacy really boils down to his second half, where he was empirically the most dominant starter in baseball history. His 0.75 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break was the best all time, surpassing Gibson’s 1968 season, in which he went a seemingly unsurpassable 11-4 with a 1.19 ERA in 16 starts. In Arrieta’s last 12 starts, he gave up just four earned runs in 88.1 innings for a 0.41 ERA, and struck out 89 batters. The ace highlighted that stretch with a dominating no-hit effort on Aug. 30 against the Dodgers, striking out 12 and giving up just one walk before getting mobbed by his teammates.
One of the many reasons Arrieta was so strong in 2015 was because teams were essentially starting innings with only two outs to play with. He opened a frame on 232 occasions, holding leadoff hitters to a .167/.203/.194 line. Of the 37 hits he allowed to leadoff men, just three were doubles and one was a homer.
And when batters fell behind 0-1 in the count, they hit just .167/.212/.227. That occurred almost 49 percent of the time (11 percent of the time a play ended after the first pitch). Overall, when Arrieta got ahead in the count, batters were just .114/.122/.161.
There isn’t a lot separating these three pitchers, but Arrieta matched Kershaw’s power and Greinke’s command down a historic back stretch of the season. Add in Arrieta’s big-game resume, and his case is difficult to dismiss.