Last week, I took a way too early look at the MVP races, documenting that Mike Trout may be on his way to the best year of his career from an offensive standpoint. Since the publishing of that post, though, Byron Buxton has landed on the Injured List, and J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogearts and Cedric Mullins have leap frogged Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the American League. In the
In the National League, J.T. Realmuto replaces Trea Turner in what is otherwise a similar list. What I am trying to say is that it is too early in the season and the numbers are too volatile for this list to matter in any meaningful way, but it’s fun so I am going to keep doing it.
So with that said, let’s take a look at the other side of the baseball, and see who some early contenders for the 2021 Cy Young Award are, even if some of these pitchers may be irrelevant by the All-Star break.
Gerrit Cole: 1.61 ERA/1.29 FIP/2.10 xFIP, 2.2 fWAR
There is no other way to put it. Cole has been incredible to start the ‘21 season. While his run prevention was pretty in line with what you would expect in ‘20, his FIP ballooned to 3.89 thanks to a small decline in strikeout rate and a 18.7 percent HR/FB rate. There wasn’t really any reason to think this signaled a decline, but Cole appears to have unlocked an even higher gear this year, already eclipsing his ‘20 fWAR total in just over half the innings.
Cole is striking out more batters, is throwing his fastball harder than ever at an average of 97.5 mph, and is throwing the changeup as a high clip than he has at any point in his career—an interesting adjustment for the veteran starter.
Gerrit Cole Last 4 Games: 37 K, 0 BB, 5 ER— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) May 6, 2021
He is the first pitcher in AL history with 35+ K, 0 BB and 5 or fewer ER allowed in any 4-game span.
John Means: 1.37 ERA/2.99 FIP/3.44 xFIP, 1.5 fWAR
Means threw a really fun and controversial no-hitter last week, and while he may not be on this list for long, I think it is reasonable to think that he might at least by in the top half of starting pitchers in baseball. He didn’t have a great ‘20, but he was a three win pitcher in 2019, so he has at least been good before.
This year, he is missing more bats, a trend that started ticking up last year, and he’s continued to do a great job limiting quality contact. Even in his rough ‘20 when he pitched to a 4.53 ERA/5.60 FIP/4.45 xFIP, he still had a 3.02 xERA, so maybe this year is just the same Means with better luck.
John Means. No hitter! pic.twitter.com/dRHSUo9ZaL— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 5, 2021
Shane Bieber: 2.98 ERA/2.59 FIP/2.38 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR
Bieber was the All-Star game MVP in ‘19 and then took home the Cy Young hardware in ‘20. It’s no wonder that he continues to dominate in ‘21. Once again, he is striking out over 14 batters per nine innings, and trails only Cole in strikeout rate among AL qualified pitchers
It was the introduction of a cutter that took Bieber to new heights in his award winning campaign, but this year he is throwing it a lot less and throwing the slider a lot more, almost as much as the curveball. The fastball velocity is down just a tick, but it doesn’t seem to have made a difference so far.
Shane Bieber, Nasty 85mph Knuckle Curve. pic.twitter.com/UKPAnUvjCi— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 11, 2021
Nathan Eovaldi: 4.62 ERA/2.05 FIP/3.26 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR
Tyler Glasonow: 2.37 ERA/2.80 FIP/2.74 xFIP, 1.3 fWAR
Carlos Rodón: 0.58 ERA/1.85 FIP/2.89 xFIP, 1.3 fWAR
Jacob deGrom: 0.68 ERA/1.03 FIP/1.73 xFIP, 2.3 fWAR
deGrom was just put on the injured list, but being that he is more than a half a win better than the next best pitcher, he would have to miss a decent amount of time before getting bumped off this list. deGrom leads the world in strikeout rate, punching out nearly half of the batters he has faced.
Perhaps the most impressive part of his success this year is that his is doing it while throwing more fastballs than ever—relying on the four seamer almost 64 percent of the time, almost an even 20 percentage points more than last year and 16 percentage points higher than his career high in ‘19, which was the last time he won the award.
Most 100.0+ mph pitches in 1st inning, since start of 2020:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) May 9, 2021
Jacob deGrom: 42
Sixto Sánchez: 8
Brusdar Graterol: 7
Tyler Glasnow: 6
Clayton Kershaw: 2.62 ERA/2.45 FIP/3.26 xFIP, 1.6 fWAR
The Dodgers’ lefty proved last year that there is plenty left in the tank. He had a 2.16 ERA for the season, and pitched brilliantly in the postseason en route to his first ring. On a team with rising star Walker Buehler and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, the 33-year-old Kershaw is still the team’s best pitcher.
While he has steadily increased his slider usage year over year, this season he is finally throwing it more than he is throwing his fastball, relying on it 45.9 percent of the time. Despite the heavy usage, hitters haven’t been able to figure the pitch out, whiffing at it on 41.6 percent of swings.
Clayton Kershaw, 87mph Slider (foul) and 90mph Fastball (swinging K), Overlay pic.twitter.com/nFXSfTXbGi— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 9, 2021
Zach Eflin: 3.38 ERA/2.60 FIP/3.22 xFIP, 1.5 fWAR
One of three Phillies starters in the top six in the NL in fWAR, Eflin is picking up where he left off in ‘20 and then some. While most pitchers are going away from the sinker in modern baseball, Eflin made it his primary pitch in his breakout campaign. This year he has stuck with it, and it continues to yield good results.
Realistically, I think Eflin is headed more toward 3.5-4.5 win territory, which is still still really good! The break out is real, but as good as he has been, he is the third best pitcher on his own team.
Zach Eflin, WAR— Devan Fink (@DevanFink) May 8, 2021
2019: 1.5 (163.1 IP)
2020: 1.5 (59.0 IP)
2021: 1.5 (45.1 IP)
Brandon Woodruff: 1.73 ERA/2.22 FIP/2.77 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR
Aaron Nola: 3.59 ERA/2.94 FIP/3.48 xFIP, 1.3 fWAR
Zach Wheeler: 2.83 ERA/3.02 FIP/3.21 xFIP, 1.3 fWAR