Chicago Cubs: Jake Arrieta for Cy Young?

If there’s an argument for Jake Arrieta winning the National League Cy Young award over Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke, the argument is rooted in weighing consistency over localized periods of dominance.

Zack Greinke has been the best pitcher start-to-finish in 2015. Is it enough to win the NL Cy Young?
Zack Greinke has been the best pitcher start-to-finish in 2015. Is it enough to win the NL Cy Young?

Greinke has been electric all season. His 1.65 ERA speaks directly to that. Somehow, Greinke has been so consistently dominant that he is the “boring” pick for the Cy Young. Greinke hit rock bottom on June 2, where his ERA exploded to…1.97 –the highest of his season. His WHIP is 0.848, better than Arrieta’s 0.903. Greinke has a slightly better strikeout-to-walk ratio, and has only six starts where he has given up three runs (Arrieta has eight). No matter the argument I produce in the paragraphs to follow, Zack Greinke is a worthy recipient of the award. Not only that, but he is perhaps the rightful recipient, barring any disastrous circumstance across the final two weeks. After all, what does baseball value if not consistency?

Jake Arrieta has been triumphantly consistent all season, too, but if you look at the full season (which, admittedly, you should), his level of consistency isn’t as dominant as Greinke’s. Arrieta’s ERA in May was 3.99. Greinke’s worst ERA month was August (2.45). Side by side, the ERAs are staggering:

April: 1.93
May: 1.05
June: 1.74
July: 0.95
August: 2.45
September: 1.91

April: 2.03
May: 3.99
June: 2.45
July: 1.90
August: 0.43
September: 0.55

As you look at those numbers, they again show Greinke to be the best pitcher in terms of consistency. But looking at Arrieta’s recent body of work, you’re left with the question that will determine the Cy Young in the National League in 2015: Does Arrieta’s historic run of dominance across the second half eclipse Greinke’s exceptional, season-long performance?

Jake Arrieta's dominance across the second half may be enough to steal the CY Young from Zack Greinke.
Jake Arrieta’s dominance across the second half may be enough to steal the CY Young from Zack Greinke.

In the second half, Arrieta has an ERA of 0.86 in 13 starts. He’s 10-1 in that stretch, while the Cubs are 12-1 –the lone blemish being a three-run home run to Ryan Howard on July 25, while the Cubs were being simultaneously no-hit by Cole Hamels. Opposing hitters are slashing .158/.218/.222 against Arrieta in the second half. Against Greinke, they’re slashing .185/.230/.281. It’s not like Greinke has tailed off; it’s that Arrieta has been unbelievable.

Stepping back to all of 2015, opposing hitters’ slash lines are still ludicrous. Against Greinke it’s .189/.231/.278. Against Arrieta it’s .191/.243/.282 –more or less a dead heat. Greinke has that 1.65 ERA. Arrieta’s is 1.88. The latter has the edge in FIP –2.44 v. 2.92.

What’s intriguing about the second half question is that both of these pitchers are on playoff teams, which means both are pitching in meaningful games each time out. Because of that, Arrieta’s second half dominance becomes more significant –at least significant enough to close the modest gap of the overall numbers between the two. Greinke hasn’t laid any eggs, but Arrieta’s ERA in August and September is a combined 0.48. Greinke’s is a robust 2.20, but it’s no 0.48.

The determination will be made based on how much weight the voters give to the stretch run performance of these two pitchers. Both pitchers have a couple of starts left; the race feels close enough that those outings may be what determines who wins the award between these two magnificent pitchers. If you want the elite consistency across the entire season, it’s Zack Greinke. If you want the historic dominance during a stretch run, it’s Arrieta.

I’m glad I don’t have to make the call.

Brian Davis

I'm a writer and a musician who happens to have a great affinity for Chicago sports.