The newest Cleveland Ace, a Twin turning back the clock, and a familiar face in a different uniform. All three of the BBWAA’s Cy Young Finalists have had incredible seasons, and rightfully deserve to be lauded for their efforts. However, even the best have room for improvement. With that in mind, let’s look at the best and worst stats for each finalist, and see who comes out on top.
Hyun-Jin Ryu – SP – Toronto Blue Jays
Best Stat: August Splits
Ryu is one of 2 ex-Dodger finalists on this list, and like Kenta Maeda, found huge success in his new town. While an overall 5-2 record and 2.69 might not blow you away, Ryu put together an absolutely dominant month of August. In 5 starts, he allowed only 17 hits and held batters to a .175 batting average. Of the 17 hits he allowed, only 2 were for extra bases (a double and a homer), helping him craft a bananas .216 opposing slugging % for the month of August. Had he been able to keep up this kind of pace for the entirety of the 2020 season, he might have been a lock for this award.
Worst Stat: 72 strikeouts
This stat may be a bit nitpicky, but does stand out for a couple reasons. First, baseball has become as strikeout-happy of a game as it has ever been. For a pitcher with Ryu’s stuff, 72 strikeouts in 12 starts is good… but nothing spectacular. In fact, his strikeout total doesn’t even crack the top-20 in the league this season. Secondly, his 72 strikeouts are the lowest total of all 3 AL Cy Young candidates, and a whopping 50 behind Bieber’s ungodly total of 122. For BBWAA voters who get swayed by strikeout totals, Ryu likely doesn’t have enough to make any real noise.
Kenta Maeda – SP – Minnesota Twins
Best Stat: 0.750 WHIP
Outside of Minnesota and Los Angeles, many people may have forgotten that Maeda ended up with the Twins as part of the notorious Mookie Betts blockbuster trade this offseason. And it therefore stands to reason that a lot of folks out there have no appreciation for how dominant Maeda was in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. Look no further than his astounding 0.750 WHIP for proof. While Maeda only allowed 40 hits in just over 66 innings pitched, he somehow managed to only walk 10 batters in that span. Ten. Less than a walk per start. Add in the fact he hit zero batters and threw zero wild pitches, and one could argue he’s got the best command in the game.
Worst Stat: Shane Bieber Exists
BBWAA voters will be forced to hold this blemish against Maeda whether they like it or not. Maeda had a Bieber per season allowance (BPSA) of 1, meaning that over the course of Maeda’s 2020 season, 1 Shane Bieber existed. If Maeda could have gotten than number any lower, the Cy Young would be his going away. But all that is just coulda, woulda shoulda. Shane Bieber happened, and we have the stats to prove it.
Shane Bieber – SP – The Baseball Team in Cleveland
Best Stat: Everything. Every one of his numbers.
You might be reading this and thinking that the above statement is hyperbole. It’s not. Bieber was the be-all, end-all of starting pitchers in 2020. He led all of MLB (not just the AL), in a slew of categories, including ERA (1.63), ERA+ (281), strikeouts (122), and strikeouts/9 (14.2). The dude was also 8-1, and led the league in WAR. He allowed just 14 earned runs in 77.1 innings pitched and struck out 10 batters in 8 of his 12 starts. Sure, 2020 was a sprint as opposed to a marathon. But it’s still as dominant a 12 game stretch as we have ever seen. So just give him the dang trophy, because Bieber has done everything in his power to ensure he’s the first unanimous Cy Young winner in baseball since Clayton Kershaw in 2014.
Worst Stat: There is only one of him.
Bieber, like Maeda, also had his Biebers per season allowed (1) work against him in his Cy Young case (it’s a bit of a stretch, but bear with us). If he could have gotten his BPSA to say 2, or even 3, he could have pulled off a truly historic stretch the likes of which we have never seen. It’s ticky-tack stuff, but perhaps the only thing we can knock Bieber for in 2020.