Zack Wheeler Was Robbed Of The 2021 NL Cy Young Award
It’s no secret at this point that I’m basically the ring leader of the Zack Wheeler fan club. I’ve been a proponent of Wheeler even when he was struggling with the Mets. However, those things have nothing to do with the topic today. Corbin Burnes won the 2021 NL Cy Young Award and it’s just a damn travesty.
Make no mistake about it; Burnes is a hell of a pitcher. I liked Burnes before it was cool trading for him in my MLB the Show series in 2019. The truth of the matter is, Wheeler was robbed of this award and it really should not be a debate.
Burnes had a great year. On the surface, the basic numbers suggest Burnes was a worthy winner of the award. The Brewers right-handed pitched towards a 2.43 ERA, 0.940 WHIP, 12.6 K per 9, and 1.8 B per 9. Those numbers across the board top Wheeler. Compared that to Wheeler’s 2.78 ERA, 1.008 WHIP, 10.4 K per 9, and 1.9 B per 9 and Burnes feels like an easy winner.
We also know by now those basic numbers don’t tell the entire story. We should be smarter than this by now. It’s why Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young in 2010 with a record of 13-12 despite not even making an All-Star appearance. We’re slowly getting smarter but just handing the award to the guy with the lowest ERA isn’t the end all be all either.
The truth of the matter is, Wheeler was more valuable than Burnes in 2021. Yes, Wheeler had a much higher WAR (7.7) compared to Burnes (5.7) but that doesn’t tell the entire story. We were coming off a year where we just had a 60 game season. The days of 200 inning horses are basically done. They don’t exist anymore.
Baseball is a nine inning game. It always has been but getting through the nine innings is much harder than it used to be. Starters are giving you way fewer innings than they used to. It only takes that one reliever to blow up the game and teams find new ways to use as many as possible. A true starting pitcher that can get through seven strong innings might be the most valuable commodity in the sport right now.
Noah Syndergaard just got $21 million for the Angels after pitching two innings last year. Because he’s recovering from TJ surgery, Syndergaard is probably only going to pitch 130 innings next year. Oh, and the Angels had to give up draft pick compensation and 500k (which is not a small number) of International Bonus Pool Money just to sign him.
The Tigers did the same thing giving Eduardo Rodriguez $77 million (while giving up the draft pick and pool money) after a year where he had an ERA of 4.74. Doesn’t matter. Eduardo gets through innings, controls the strike zone, and takes the ball every 5th day.
Teams value starting pitching more than ever because there are so few that are capable of it anymore. Wheeler ranked 1st in baseball across the board in things that matter more than ever.
Innings Pitched: 1st
Batters Faced: 1st
Complete Games: 1st
Furthermore, it’s important to note that the Phillies didn’t protect Wheeler like Milwaukee did with Burnes. Philadelphia’s bullpen was a disaster. They needed Wheeler to get ever out he could possibly get. That statement could not be further from the truth with the Brewers. They have two real horses with Josh Hader and Devin Williams to get outs at the end of games.
The analytics and non-analytics communities can agree on the same thing but with a different perspective. The data shows that getting the same hitter out the third time around in the order is much more difficult than the first time around. Which makes sense from a common sense frame of reference. The more you see of a guy, the easier his stuff is to pick up.
Wheeler had a lower ERA than Burnes through the first six innings of any appearance. Albeit, Wheeler bested Burnes by 0.06 ERA. That’s not the real indicator. What matters is the fact that Burnes struggled deep in games and was never asked to do so. Wheeler was asked to do early, often, and all the time helping secure Philly a bunch of extra wins that likely never happen otherwise.
Wheeler pitched into the 7th inning on 20 occasions. Burnes just pitch nine times into the 7th inning. The fact of the matter is, Burnes was dreadful a third time through the batting order. Not a HUGE sample size but Burnes gave up a .314 batting average and .811 OPS the third time through the lineup. Of course, it’s impossible to know but had Milwaukee asked Burnes to go deeper in games, it’s plausible that Burnes’ surface numbers don’t look nearly as good.
All of Burnes’ metrics are off the charts but we should also keep in mind that the Brewers defense is also off the charts despite the FIP number being lower than his actual ERA. Jackie Bradley, Kolten Wong, Lorenzo Cain, and Christian Yelich are all former Gold Glove winners on the Brewers roster. It’s an incredible defensive team. The Phillies overall team defense should only be described as below average and that’s putting it nicely.
This isn’t meant to disparage Corbin Burnes. It’s just painfully obvious that Zack Wheeler was the clear cut choice for the NL Cy Young Award. An award Wheeler lost by 10 total points which is the closest race since 1981. The difference in the voting likely came down to those who did and didn’t do their homework. The Baseball writers screwed it up again. SHOCKER.