We’ve heard enough about Aaron Judge being the only legitimate nominee for the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. He is not.
We’ve also heard enough about Sandy Alcantara being the only legitimate candidate for the National League’s Cy Young award.
He is not. What the hell?
The Cy Young could be won by Atlanta Braves’ Max Fried, Arizona Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen, or San Francisco Giants’ Carlos Rodon. But with Miami Marlins ace Alcantara and Julio Urías as the likely top two, the NL Cy Young voting race offers an intriguing case study — not just of how we evaluate pitchers, but of how teams use them.
Urías, the Dodgers star, won 20 games last year. He came seventh in the Cy Young voting.
The winner, Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers, won 11 games. The magic of “20-game winner” has been invalidated by the statistical understanding that pitchers shouldn’t be judged on the running support they receive.
Burnes led the league in earned run average and ERA+, which adjusts ERA for quality of competition and baseball factors. The Philadelphia Phillies’ Zack Wheeler, the runner-up in last year’s Cy Young voting, led in innings pitched, complete games, and WAR (the baseball reference version).
A year later, Urías leads the league in ERA and ERA+, with Alcantara leading in innings, complete games and WAR (the baseball reference version).
WAR should never be used as the standard definition of the best at anything, partly because different inputs produce different results. In the Fangraphs version of WAR, Burnes was the leader last year, and Rodon is the leader this year. The analytics revolution has spawned a blizzard of stats, and you’re free to choose your favorite candidate.
The Marlins’ pitch to voters describes Alcantara as “a throwback workhorse.”
That’s him. Alcantara has pitched 229 innings and six complete games; No pitcher has matched either number in six years. No one else has surpassed 200 innings or completed more than three games this season. Of the 30 major league teams, 13 don’t have full games.
A pitcher’s job is to get outs, and Alcantara has had 15% more outs this season than any other pitcher.
Urías could do that too if the Dodgers let him. The Dodgers have carefully managed his workload since signing him at 16, first out of consideration for his age, now on duty to make sure he’s fresh for October. He’s never served 200 innings in the regular season, though he did serve 186 last season and another 15 in the postseason.
“These are decisions I made in the best interests of the organization, the ball club and him,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Teams that don’t play until October tend to have more luxuries. You don’t have to plan an extra month of baseball. This is our reality. It’s good.
“I don’t think he should be punished for that.”
Urías is 26. Alcantara is 27. Over the past three full seasons, Alcantara has averaged 211 innings.
“We should protect our young arms,” said Scott Boras, Urías’ agent. “Alcantara is a young arm.
“This guy is a great young pitcher. I don’t think he should pitch the innings he pitches.”
Managing the workload of preserving young guns is an urgent and evolving art within the sport, but how the Marlins manage Alcantara’s workload is not on the ballot. Whether he’ll pitch far fewer innings than Urías in 2025 isn’t an issue for any responsible voter to speculate on in 2022.
And in 2022, Alcantara has hit more times than anyone, and very well at it. If the argument is that Urías should win the Cy Young for doing what Burnes did last year — leading the league in ERA but not in innings, and on a playoff team at that — Burnes himself isn’t buying it away.
After beating Alcantara 1-0 on Thursday, Burnes was asked if he would vote for Alcantara.
“What he did, getting deep into the games, doing it from the start and from the start, going out there and giving them seven, eight or nine innings and giving them a chance to win.” Burnes told reporters in Milwaukee.
“Obviously they’re not the best baseball team this year, which makes it even harder to go out there and do what he’s doing. So yes, he would be my Cy Young this year.”
Roberts said Urías deserves a long overdue recognition for his outstanding performance.
“I think he was mortified for the All-Star Game,” Roberts said. “He’s an ace for one of the best teams in all of baseball. If that doesn’t justify Cy Young, then I don’t know what does.”
Fifty years ago, Steve Carlton delivered the best season ever played for a bad team. The 1972 Phillies won 59 games. Carlton won 27, leading the league in ERA and innings – with no fewer than 30 complete games. He won the Cy Young Award unanimously.
The 2022 Marlins will win at least 67 games. Alcantara won 14, led the league in innings and is likely to finish second to Urías in ERA. It’s a great season in the 21st century.
So also that set up by Urías. Cy or not, only one man can say he’s the Game 1 starter for the most successful National League team in 113 years.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-10-03/cy-young-dodgers-julio-urias-sandy-alcantara-scott-boras Why Dodgers’ Julio Urías deserves to be in Cy Young conversation