Dodgers: NL Cy Young Hyun-Jin Ryu’s to lose

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 11: Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch against Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on August 11, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 11: Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch against Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on August 11, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /
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Los Angeles Dodgers ace Hyun-Jin Ryu leads most of the major pitching categories and is well-positioned to pick up the NL Cy Young Award.

Six weeks remain in the regular season, but the NL Cy Young Award race is as close as it can be to being decided already. Los Angeles Dodgers ace Hyun-Jin Ryu has built up substantial leads in several of the categories voters tend to value most highly, so much so that at this point only a full-out collapse could prevent Ryu from winning the award.

Hyun-Jin Ryu is 12-2 with a league-leading 1.45 earned run average in 22 starts to date. Were he to work a regular rotation through season’s end – something he may not be called upon to do given the Dodgers’ big lead in the NL West – he could expect to make about eight more starts and probably add 50 innings to his workload.

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In the unlikely event the Dodgers ace tails off, there are three plausible candidates voters might be persuaded to look at, although assuming Ryu doesn’t tail off, they’re competing for second place. The three are Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer, New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom, and Cincinnati sensation Luis Castillo.

Gauging the preferences of Cy Young Award voters is an imprecise exercise, but in recent seasons those voters have tended to look at excellence in four performance categories. Those four are earned run average, innings pitched, Wins Above Replacement and Weighted Win Probability Added.

For the present, Ryu’s status in those four performance categories establishes him as the obvious favorite.

His 1.45 earned run average leads all major league pitchers, and by a lot. For the moment, Atlanta Braves rookie Mike Soroka is the runner-up, but he’s back at 2.32, an ERA that looks strong when compared with anyone except Ryu. Scherzer (2.41) and DeGrom (2.68) are third and fourth.

Ryu’s biggest statistical weakness involves workload. As deep as the Dodgers’ rotation is, manager Dave Roberts simply hasn’t seen the need to extend him. The result is that Ryu’s 142.2 innings to date ranks outside the top 10, the equivalent of three games behind Trevor Bauer, the major league leader in that category.

But Ryu’s candidacy is not dramatically harmed by his relatively light workload because his most serious challengers have workload issues of their own. Scherzer has pitched only about 132 innings and is on the injured list with a back strain that could sideline him another couple of weeks.

DeGrom and Castillo have both worked a handful more innings than Ryu, but only a handful. Judging strictly by workload, Colorado’s German Marquez – with 163 innings to date – would contend. But all Marquez’ other numbers are as ordinary as one would expect of a Colorado Rockies pitcher.

Ryu and Scherzer stand deadlocked for WAR, both at 5.3 games. That’s more than a half-game better than DeGrom or Castillo.

Hyun-Jin Ryu also has a significant lead in Weighted Win Probability Added. His 3.96 is nearly a full game better than Scherzer (3.08), with Soroka and Castillo third and fourth.

The table below is designed to approximate the present standing of NL Cy Young Award contenders. The figures represent the standard deviations – as measured against the 35 National League pitchers on pace to qualify for the ERA title — for the 10 most plausible NL Cy Young contenders in each of the four categories mentioned above. If the system is accurate, the pitcher with the highest total should be well-positioned to win the award. As is evident from the chart, Ryu has a substantial lead over his three most plausible challengers.

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Pitcher, team                     ERA     Innings    WAR      WWPA    Total

Hyun-Jin Ryu, LA              2.90        0.56        3.57        2.30        9.34

Max Scherzer, Was          1.67      -0.22        3.57        1.64        6.66

Jacob DeGrom, NYM       1.32        1.13        2.97        0.79        6.21

Luis Castillo, Cin               1.31        0.66        2.97        1.07        6.01

Mike Soroka, Atl               1.78      -0.81        2.67        1.23        4.87

Patrick Corbin, Was         0.38       1.05        2.17        0.08        3.68

Stephen Strasburg, Was-0.01     1.52        2.07        0.00        3.68

Aaron Nola, Phi                 0.05      1.04        1.57        0.29        2.95

German Marquez, Col   -1.33      2.58        1.97      -0.32         2.91

Sonny Gray, Cin                0.78     -0.89        1.97        0.54        2.40