The San Francisco Giants have not had a Cy Young award winner since Tim Lincecum won back to back awards in 2008 and 2009. Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto did not win the 2016 Cy Young, but both finished fourth and sixth respectively. Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals took home the award, beating two Chicago Cubs, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester.
The San Francisco Giants have built their success around pitching and defense and there has been no better pitcher in San Francisco than Bumgarner the last four seasons. Bumgarner has become their unquestioned ace since 2013 and 2016 was his strongest regular season of his career. His 2.74 ERA was his lowest since becoming a starter in 2010. He also had more innings pitched (226 2/3) a better ERA+ (149), K/9 (10), and second lowest WHIP (1.024) of his career.
Cueto, who signed with the Giants in the off-season, had nearly as strong a year as Bumgarner, who finished 2nd in the NL in WAR (5.6) but also led all of the NL in complete games with 5, third in wins with 18 and third in innings pitched with 219.2. Bumgarner and Cueto were clearly both aces for the Giants in 2016 and both are both finished strong in the Cy Young voting as well.
Scherzer led the National League with a 6.2 Wins Above Replacement, a 20-7 record, 228.1 innings pitched and 284 strikeouts. Overall, he had the best traditional numbers among the group, but also led the league in some of the sabermetric stats as well. He walks away as the rightful winner of the 2016 NL Cy Young Award.
Hendricks led the NL in ERA (2.13) among qualified starters since Clayton Kershaw didn’t pitch enough innings to win the ERA title. His ERA+ (188) and OPS against (.581) was also the highest among qualified pitchers. Cubs teammate Lester, who finished 19-5, may have been even better, especially in the second half of the season. Where Hendricks and Lester separate themselves from the other starters in the running is their strong performances after the All-Star break. Last year’s epic three way battle between Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta might have come down to second half performance as well. It was his pitching down the stretch that may have been the reason Arrieta won the 2015 Cy Young award.
Kershaw, who was pitching at a historic pace before his injury June 26, still ended up with a 5.6 WAR. That tied him for 2nd place in the NL with the San Francisco Giants Cueto. Kershaw only ended up pitching in 21 games in 2016, so that had a big impact on voters, despite a 1.69 ERA, 1.80 FIP and 230 ERA+. To put his 1st half numbers into perspective: According to Baseball Reference, Kershaw had a better WHIP (0.727) and K/BB ratio (16.11) than any pitcher since 1913, which is as far back as their database goes for first half stats.
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It is impossible to talk about the NL Cy Young race without mentioning Jose Fernandez, who finished seventh in the voting. The Miami Marlins ace died on Sept. 25 after his boat crashed and killed Fernandez, 24, and his friends, Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero. He was once again having a strong season. His ERA (2.86) was lower than Scherzer, had more wins than Bumgarner, better FIP (2.30) than Hendricks and better OPS against (.624) than Cueto. Despite 5 less starts than most, he finished second in strikeouts with 253. As baseball statistician, Ryan Spaeder, has pointed out on Twitter, Fernandez had a higher career strikeout percentage than any other qualified pitcher in baseball history.
The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year had defected from Cuba in 2008 to Miami and his loss impacted the entire community in Florida. He was having another strong season and his loss will be felt for years to come.
Bumgarner and Cueto did not win the Cy Young award, but both being finalists proves the Giants starting rotation is in great shape heading into 2017.
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