Advanced or not, stats say Dylan Cease should be a Cy Young favorite
No matter what numbers you look at, the White Sox starter ranks among the very best in baseball this season.
By giving up three runs as the White Sox beat the Astros on Tuesday night, Dylan Cease watched his season ERA rise to 2.09, the highest it’s been in a month.
The White Sox right-hander had been on an unprecedented tear before that, recording 14 straight starts with one or fewer earned runs allowed, something nobody in MLB had done since at least 1913. His ERA plummeted in the process from a peak of 4.24 after a poor start against Boston on May 24.
Meanwhile, Justin Verlander, the other half of that much-hyped matchup and Cease’s biggest competition for the American League Cy Young Award, almost never skipped a beat over the first several months.
His ERA, which now stands at 1.95 after allowing three runs Tuesday, has not risen above 2.30 this season.
Right now, the AL Cy Young Award vote looks in part like a referendum on what should be rewarded more: unparalleled consistency, or one of the most dominant 10-week stretches in pitching history.
That’s not an easy question to answer, which means voters will surely look to other numbers and resources to parse out their ballots.
Adjusting for conditions
FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, focuses on the events a pitcher has the most control over: home runs, strikeouts, walks and hit-by-pitches. ERA+ accounts for stadium factors and the league average, creating a scale on which average is 100, with a higher score being better.
Using those two statistics in particular, we can get a better idea of who’s performed better on the mound this year.
Among qualified AL pitchers, Cease ranks fifth in FIP (2.87) and second in ERA+ (188), narrowly ahead of Verlander in the former but trailing him in the latter. Despite a high walk rate fueling his higher FIP, teams haven’t been able to make him pay for those extra baserunners.
A big part of why batters haven’t capitalized much on Cease’s tendency to allow walks is that they can’t barrel up his slider, a pitch so thoroughly unhittable that MLB’s Statcast ranks it as the most effective pitch in MLB this season by a wide margin.
When Cease throws his slider, batters are hitting .122 with a .186 slugging percentage. They’re outright whiffing on the pitch more than 47% of the time. Even if you manage to make contact — which is near a coin flip — chances are it’s going to be a grounder right to the second baseman.
And Cease throws this pitch a lot: over 42% of the time, more frequent than his fastball, which Statcast pegs as closer to league average in terms of results this season.
These are new developments for Cease, who previously leaned more on his fastball while his slider didn’t provide these kinds of results.
Add it all up and Cease’s expected statistics — which account for the types of contact he allows — make the case that there’s been nobody better on the mound this year. Among 110 MLB pitchers to record 250-plus balls in play this season, Cease ranks first in expected batting average (.185), first in expected slugging percentage (.294), second in expected wOBA (.258) and second in expected ERA (2.53).
No matter what numbers the Cy Young voters decide to look at, Cease should be a favorite to win the award this year.