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Cubs’ Yu Darvish deserving of a satisfying Cy (Young)

Traditional numbers and metrics alike show that the staff ace would merit the National League award.

The Cubs’ Yu Darvish led the National League in victories and was second to the Reds’ Trevor Bauer in ERA during the pandemic-shortened season.
The Cubs’ Yu Darvish led the National League in victories and was second to the Reds’ Trevor Bauer in ERA during the pandemic-shortened season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Cubs had their ups and downs in 2020, but this was the year right-hander Yu Darvish was all they could have expected when they signed him before the 2018 season.

Were Darvish’s accomplishments enough for him to win the National League Cy Young Award? We’ll find out when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America releases its balloting Nov. 11.

Darvish went 8-3 in his age-33 season, leading the NL in victories and tying the Indians’ Shane Bieber for the major-league lead. His 2.01 ERA was second among NL qualifiers to the Reds’ Trevor Bauer at 1.73.

Darvish’s 93 strikeouts tied the Padres’ Dinelson Lamet for fourth behind the Mets’ Jacob deGrom (104), Bauer (100) and the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (96). The only ERA qualifier with fewer walks than Darvish’s 14 was Cubs teammate Kyle Hendricks with eight. Hendricks and Darvish also were first and second in strikeouts per walk, with Hendricks at 8.00 and Darvish at 6.64.

Combine the high strikeouts and low walks with a home-run rate of 0.59 per nine innings — second in the NL to the Phillies’ Zack Wheeler at 0.38 — and Darvish was a fielding independent pitching master. In a metric that focuses on pitcher-hitter outcomes not affected by defense, Darvish’s 2.23 FIP topped deGrom’s 2.26 for the NL lead.

FIP is at the base of Fangraphs.com’s WAR, and Darvish was the leader there, too. Darvish’s fWAR of 3.0 topped those of deGrom (2.6) and Bauer (2.5).

There’s a strong by-the-numbers case that Darvish was the best pitcher in the NL, but that doesn’t mean he’ll win the award.

Through most of Cy Young history, victories were a prime consideration. Bauer, at 5-4 to Darvish’s 8-3, once would have been an underdog despite his ERA edge. But deGrom won the award the last two seasons with records of 10-9 and 11-8 as voters have come around to the idea that victories are team accomplishments affected by run support and defense.

Bill James devised a Cy Young predictor formula to model voter behavior. Rather than ask, ‘‘Who deserves the Cy Young?’’ it asks, ‘‘Whose numbers most closely resemble those usually rewarded by the voters?’’

The formula is ((5*IP/9) - ER) + (SO/12) + (SV*2.5) + shutouts + ((W*6) - (L*2)) + VB. VB is a victory bonus, with 12 points awarded to pitchers on division-winning teams.

Darvish compiled the most NL Cy Young points with 87. The Braves’ Max Fried was next at 75.3, followed by the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (67.6), Cubs reliever Jeremy Jeffress (64.4), Hendricks (63.5) and Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen (62.8). Bauer was at 58.9.

Bieber, the likely American League winner, tops his league at 85.1, followed by the Athletics’ Liam Hendriks at 75.2.

Victories are worth big points in the predictor, but it might be that voter behavior has changed enough that a revised model is needed.

By numbers deep beyond victories, including strikeout-to-walk ratio, FIP and fWAR, Darvish would be a deserving winner. But a Cy Young for ERA leader Bauer would be no shock.