Zack Wheeler joins Aaron Nola in 2018 as the latest Phillies Cy Young finalist to finish short of the award. This year, Wheeler and Max Scherzer were announced as NL Cy Young nominees while Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes took home the illustrious honor, receiving 151 points to Wheeler's 141.
Wheeler, however, had an uphill battle ahead of him, unlike Scherzer, he's not a future Hall of Famer who already has three Cy Young awards to his name. Yet, 2021 NL Cy Young recipient Burnes had advanced stats and peripherals not seen this century.
In 2021 Burnes posted a 2.43 ERA, good enough to lead all qualified National League pitchers. His FIP, albeit, was elite. Since the end of the deadball era only two pitchers have had lower FIP than Burnes' 1.63 in 2021.
Hal Newhouser in 1946 had a FIP of 1.62 while Pedro Martinez had a FIP of 1.39 in 1999. Both men are Hall of Famers
FIP is a statistic which attempts to eliminate all potential randomness which occurs for pitchers in a baseball game. It uses HR/9, BB/9 and K/9, the only potential outcomes in an at-bat of which the pitcher directly controls the outcome without the interference of fielders. These stats are then boiled down into FIP, which for most pitchers is a number that their ERA will eventually regress to.
That means that not only did Burnes’ 2.43 ERA lead all qualified NL pitchers, but he actually underperformed. Had he thrown more innings in 2021 like Wheeler, who eclipsed both other finalists with 213.1 IP, his ERA would likely have only further decreased.
While Burnes rate stats were dominant, his discrepancy between FIP and ERA self-evidently show his shortcomings. Burnes only threw 167 innings in 28 starts during 2021, just five above the qualifying limit. Meanwhile Scherzer threw 179.1IP in 30 starts, but neither appeared in close to as many games or innings as Wheeler.
Wheeler’s 32 starts and 213.1IP are 46⅓ more than Burnes and 34 more innings than Scherzer. These numbers show a trend widely apparent in modern baseball. The complete game is dying, pitchers are being taken out earlier and earlier while the prominence of the reliever has taken hold, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
The fact that Burnes won the Cy Young Award in 2021 is proof that pitching deep into ballgames in 2021 is less valued. More so than ever efficiency is key and Burnes’ ability to prevent runners from reaching base via the strikeout while allowing few walks earned him Cy Young in 2021.
Wheeler, however, wasn't the only Phillie to put up Cy Young caliber numbers. Much like Burnes, Ranger Suarez was brilliant in an extremely small sample size throughout 2021. Suarez pitched just over 100 innings to the tune of 1.36 ERA and a 2.72 FIP. Though he wasn't a Cy Young finalist this year, he shouldn't be out of the question in 2022.
Should Wheeler and Suarez build upon their 2021 campaigns, the Phillies could be in for a special season in 2022.
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