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Cubs' Jake Arrieta in three-man race for NL Cy Young Award

Jake Arrieta went 22-6 this past season with a 1.77 ERA, 120th all-time and 16th in the live-ball era. | Julie Jacobson/AP

BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI

For the Sun-Times

The Cubs haven’t had a Cy Young Award winner since Greg Maddux in 1992 and have had only four winners since the Baseball Writers’ Association of America launched the award in 1956.

Jake Arrieta has a chance to be No. 5, though he’s no cinch after the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA. That was the lowest ERA by a qualifying starter since Maddux’s 1.63 for the Braves in 1995. Greinke’s season ERA ranks 75th in major-league history but eighth since the live-ball era began in 1920.

Arrieta is a good statistical match after going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA, 120th all-time and 16th in the live-ball era. It’s the lowest live-ball ERA not to lead the league, and his 0.75 post-All-Star break ERA was the lowest in big-league history.

There are also by-the-numbers reasons to include the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, who has won the award the last two years and was 16-7 with a 2.13 ERA this past season. Kershaw led the majors with a 1.99 FIP (fielding-independent pitching), with Arrieta second at 2.35 and Greinke sixth at 2.76. And at FanGraphs.com, Kershaw leads in wins above replacement with an 8.6 fWAR to Arrieta’s 7.3 and Greinke’s 5.9.

One issue is Greinke’s success at stranding runners. Of runners to reach base against Greinke, 86.5 percent were stranded, far better than his career average of 74.9 percent. Arrieta stranded 80 percent of baserunnners and Kershaw 78.3 percent.

Dave Cameron, who has a Cy Young vote this year, pointed out at FanGraphs.com that Dodgers relievers inherited seven Greinke runners and allowed only one to score, but they allowed six of nine Kershaw runners to score. Cubs relievers allowed two of eight Arrieta runners to score.

Unusual left-on-base percentages tend not to hold up from year to year. FanGraphs’ approach eliminates runners stranded from the equation. If you think Greinke deserves full credit for that, then the Baseball-Reference.com approach of basing rWAR on runs makes Greinke the leader at 9.3 to 8.6 for Arrieta and 7.5 for Kershaw.

Arrieta is strong by both by-the-numbers approaches, but there is no wrong answer among those three.

υ The best player in the National League this past season was clearly the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, with a .330 batting average, 1.139 OPS and 9.5 fWAR. Runner-up Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks was more than two wins behind at 7.4 fWAR.

Nonetheless, Anthony Rizzo has been mentioned as an MVP candidate with a case that hinges on credit for the Cubs’ playoff run (neither Harper nor Goldschmidt reached the postseason) and his production in high-leverage situations.

Rizzo led the NL in win probability added (WPA) at 7.57 to 6.36 for the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and 6.25 for Harper. But Harper had fewer high-leverage opportunities, and when that’s factored with a leverage index (LI), Harper leads with an 8.18 WPA/LI, followed by the Reds’ Joey Votto at 6.39 and Rizzo at 5.99. If the MVP is the best player, regardless of team standing, it’s Harper.

Follow me on Twitter @GrochowskiJ.