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Gerrit Cole has a terrific case for the AL Cy Young Award

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Two Astros are vying for the AL Cy Young, but only one will come away with the honor.

Texas Rangers v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

This is the second part of a series evaluating the relative cases of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole for the Cy Young award. Last week Theo Gerome made the case for Justin Verlander. Today, Cody Poage makes the case for Cole. (ed. note)

The Astros are going to collect a lot of hardware very soon. While another World Series title is the ultimate goal, it is distinctly possible that Houston may have the eventual AL MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Cy Young all on their current roster. That doesn’t happen often.

To be clear, I don’t think Alex Bregman will usurp Mike Trout as the AL MVP this year. The other two awards, however, will reside with an Astro soon as Yordan Alvarez is the clear favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year and one of the club’s aces will walk away with the Cy Young.

Oh, yes, the Cy Young battle between teammates, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Stuff of legend, right? Honestly, it is very difficult to choose a favorite in this neck-and-neck race. Both pitchers, at this juncture, each have strong cases for winning the award. However, I tend to lean towards Cole winning this year’s AL Cy Young, but it depends on where you fall on the metrics. First, let’s see how the two compare across the traditional stats.

Traditional Stats

Name W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO
Name W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO
Justin Verlander 20 6 2.53 33 217 133 63 61 34 42 288
Gerrit Cole 18 5 2.61 31 200.1 136 65 58 28 46 302

When it comes to the old measuring points (wins, ERA, innings pitched, games started), Verlander currently holds the edge over Cole, but not by a large margin. The latter does hold the edge in strikeouts and home runs allowed, and if it wasn’t for a scratched start due to a hamstring injury in August, Cole’s numbers would likely look even more impressive. To Verlander’s credit, though, he does have two shutouts and one complete game, which was also his no-hitter, to bolster his case. Cole has no shutouts or complete games this season, which is now becoming exceedingly rare in today’s baseball. But the traditional numbers fail to paint the entire picture, which is why advanced numbers are warranted.

While both pitchers are nearly evenly matched across various advanced metrics, Cole currently maintains the slight advantage.

Advanced Stats

Name K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP BABIP ERA- FIP- xFIP- FIP xFIP SIERA
Name K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP BABIP ERA- FIP- xFIP- FIP xFIP SIERA
Gerrit Cole 39.1% 6.0% 33.2% 0.188 0.91 0.274 58 61 56 2.74 2.56 2.70
Justin Verlander 35.0% 5.1% 29.9% 0.171 0.81 0.218 57 72 71 3.27 3.24 3.01

Cole clearly has the edge when it comes to strikeouts, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and various league- and park-adjusted numbers, such as FIP- and xFIP-. It is reasonable to speculate that Verlander has benefitted more from defense, luck, and sequencing more so than Cole in 2019, although the difference isn’t vast. That said, the former Tiger has done a better job of limiting walks and maintaining an historically low WHIP. But the former Pirate isn’t far behind in these categories.

When it comes to the advanced stats, the most glaring difference may come down to Wins Above Replacement. For example, Cole has the edge in fWAR (FanGraphs) from 6.8 to 6.2 wins for Verlander. However, rWAR (Baseball-Reference) basically flips the narrative with a commanding 7.7 wins for Verlander compared to 6.1 wins for Cole. As noted here from Baseball-Reference in their WAR explanation, the difference likely derives from the difference between FIP, which FanGraphs uses, and Runs Allowed Average that B-Ref has in their calculations. There are a couple of useful examples in the already provided link to illustrate why there could be a difference in WAR calculations.

At this point, the difference between the two is so negligible, the award will likely come down between the finer details and the more dominant stretches this season. When it comes to the latter, Cole has the edge over Verlander, which may prove to be the determining factor.

May 27 through September 23, 2019

Name GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Name GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Gerrit Cole 20 134.2 13.5 1.94 1.14 0.253 91.90% 40.40% 15.20% 1.87 2.55 2.57 5
Justin Verlander 21 137.2 12.62 1.63 1.37 0.253 85.90% 37.10% 15.80% 2.68 2.99 2.93 4.5

After starting the season with a 4.11 ERA/3.13 FIP in his first eleven starts, Cole has turned it up a notch or three. He has arguably been the club’s best starter for the majority of the season and the numbers since May 27 reflect as much. If wins matter to you, then Cole’s 14-0 record in that time will surely stand out.

Cole does have two more starts before the conclusion of the regular season while Verlander has only one. It may be one of those starts that essentially determines how the Cy Young vote will proceed. On a personal note, I do find it somewhat annoying how past seasons tend to influence Cy Young results when the award is specifically designed for single season performance. While he is also deserving of the award, Verlander’s past accomplishments may have a role in how the vote will go this time around. But if the voters concentrate on the season at hand, then it becomes clear that Cole holds the slight advantage.