We also have heard enough about how Sandy Alcantara is the only rightful candidate for National League Cy Young award.
He’s not. What the Julio?
The Cy Young could be fairly won by Max Fried of the Atlanta Braves, Zac Gallen of the Arizona Diamondbacks, or Carlos Rodon of the San Francisco Giants. But with Alcantara, the Miami Marlins’ ace, and Julio Urías as the likely top two, the NL Cy Young voting race offers an intriguing case study — not only in how we evaluate pitchers, but in how teams deploy them.
Urías, the Dodgers’ star, won 20 games last year. He finished seventh in Cy Young voting.
The winner, Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers, won 11 games. The magic of “20-game winner” has been devalued by the statistical understanding that pitchers should not be judged by the run support they get.
Burnes led the league in earned-run average and in ERA+, which adjusts ERA for quality of competition and ballpark factors. Zack Wheeler of the Philadelphia Phillies, the runner-up in last year’s Cy Young vote, led in innings pitched, complete games, and WAR (the Baseball Reference version).
One year later, Urías leads the league in ERA and ERA+, with Alcantara leading in innings pitched, complete games, and WAR (the Baseball Reference version).
WAR should never be used as the default definition of best, in anything, in part because different inputs deliver 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 produced a blizzard of statistics, and feel free to pick and choose in support of your favorite candidate.
The Marlins’ pitch to voters describes Alcantara this way: “a throwback workhorse.”
That he is. Alcantara has thrown 229 innings and six complete games; no pitcher has matched either number in six years. No one else this season has topped 200 innings or completed more than three games. Of the 30 major league teams, 13 have no complete games.
A pitcher’s job is to get outs, and Alcantara has gotten 15% more outs than any other pitcher this season.
Urías could do this too, if the Dodgers let him. The Dodgers have carefully managed his workload since they signed him at 16, first in deference to his age, now in the service of ensuring he is fresh for October. He never has pitched 200 innings in the regular season, although he pitched 186 last season and another 15 in the postseason.
“These are decisions I’ve made for the best interest of the organization, the ballclub and him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Teams that are not playing through October have more of a luxury. They don’t have to plan for an extra month of baseball. That’s our reality. That’s a good thing.
“I don’t think he should be penalized for it.”
Urías is 26. Alcantara is 27. In the last three full seasons, Alcantara has averaged 211 innings.
“We should be protecting our young arms,” said Scott Boras, the agent for Urías. “Alcantara is a young arm.
“This guy is a great young pitcher. I don’t think he should be throwing the innings he is throwing.”
Managing workloads to preserve young arms is an urgent and evolving art within the sport, but how the Marlins manage Alcantara’s workload is not on the ballot. Whether he throws far fewer innings than Urías come 2025 is not an issue upon which any responsible voter should speculate in 2022.
And, in 2022, Alcantara has pitched more often than anyone else, and very well. If the argument is that Urías should win the Cy Young because he did what Burnes did last year — lead the league in ERA, but not in innings, and on a playoff team at that — Burnes himself isn’t buying it.
After he beat Alcantara on Thursday, 1-0, Burnes was asked whether he would vote for Alcantara.
“What he’s done as far as going deep into games, doing it start in and start out, he goes out there and gives them seven, eight or nine innings and gives them a chance to win,” Burnes told reporters in Milwaukee.
“Obviously, they’re not the best baseball team this year, which makes it even tougher to go out there and do what he’s doing. So, yeah, he would be my Cy Young this year.”
Roberts said Urías deserves some overdue recognition for his excellence.
“I think he got slighted for the All-Star Game,” Roberts said. “He’s an ace for one of the top teams in all of baseball. If that doesn’t warrant a Cy Young, I don’t know what does.”
Fifty years ago, Steve Carlton delivered the best season ever pitched for a bad team. The 1972 Phillies won 59 games. Carlton won 27, led the league in ERA and innings — with 30 complete games, no less. 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 likely will finish second to Urías in ERA. In the 21st century, that’s a terrific season.
So is the one put up by Urías. However, Cy or not, only one man can say he is the Game 1 starter for the winningest National League team in 113 years.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.