How our writers voted for Cy Young and why

November 14th, 2019

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America continued handing out hardware on Wednesday, with the naming of Justin Verlander (HOU) and Jacob deGrom (NYM) as this year’s Cy Young Award winners. Both pitchers had won the award once previously.

Winners are determined through a vote of eligible BBWAA members, all of whom are required to submit their ballots prior to the postseason. Each local chapter chooses two members to vote for an award, which results in there being 30 ballots cast for AL candidates and another 30 for NL ones. The ballots for Cy Young honors include five spots, each weighted differently.

Here were the top 3 finishers in both leagues:

National League

  1. , RHP, Mets
  2. , LHP, Dodgers
  3. , RHP, Nationals

American League

  1. , RHP, Astros
  2. , RHP, Astros
  3. , RHP, Rays

Following each BBWAA award announcement this week, is revealing our voters’ ballots and giving them an opportunity to explain how they reached those decisions. (Click here to read about voters' Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year ballots.)


Voter: Steve Gilbert, beat reporter
BBWAA Chapter: Arizona
Ballot: Jacob deGrom – Stephen Strasburg – Max Scherzer – Jack Flaherty – Hyun-Jin Ryu

I felt very confident going with deGrom first and Strasburg second. Those to me were no-brainers after looking at the overall body of work from both. Interestingly, Strasburg’s two poorest starts of the year were games that I was at. Without those numbers, his year would be even more impressive.

As for three through five, it was really tough. I really wrestled with whether to put Scherzer or Flaherty third and you could argue them either way. In the end I went with Scherzer based on his strikeout percentage and walks-to-strikeout ratio – those things to me indicate dominance. Fifth was also a tough call. I considered Walker Buehler here, as well as Patrick Corbin, Mike Soroka and a handful of others.

Voter: Thomas Harding, beat reporter
BBWAA Chapter: Colorado
Ballot: Jacob deGrom – Max Scherzer – Hyun-Jin Ryu – Stephen Strasburg – Patrick Corbin

In 2018, then-Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez predicted that BBWAA members could not resist voting the Cy Young to the Mets' Jacob deGrom. His logic: Great numbers not reflected in win-loss record equaled weird stories. "Americans like weird stories," said a smiling CarGo, who hails from Venezuela. "And I'm just as American as anyone. I like that story, too." Well, when deGrom backed it up this year with the highest strikeout total in the NL and excellent advanced numbers that once again outweighed an 11-8 record on a non-playoff team, he's no longer good and weird. He's just good.

Now, I'm going to admit a weird story lean. The Nationals' Max Scherzer, for whom I have given a first-place vote in years he has won, came back from injury and was a force during the team's second-half run. But I admit, though, as soon as I hit the button on his second-place vote, I regretted the fact I had him ahead of the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu. (So I just prepared for the angry comments and tweets). The Nats' Stephen Strasburg, who just may top the ballots one day, and Patrick Corbin got my other votes.

Voter: Jenifer Langosch, editor
BBWAA Chapter: St. Louis
Ballot: Jacob deGrom – Hyun-Jin Ryu – Max Scherzer – Stephen Strasburg – Jack Flaherty

I’ve voted on the NL Cy Young Award for several years now, and this ballot proved to be the toughest to sort out. I narrowed my list first to 12 candidates and picked 21 pitching categories (ranging from traditional stats to advanced metrics) through which to compare them. In doing this, it became pretty easy to separate the top four. deGrom was dominant in nearly every category I examined -- from opponent OPS and ERA to strikeouts-per-nine-innings and WHIP. I also created my own measure -- one that tallies how many times a pitcher goes at least seven innings while allowing two or fewer runs -- to give me a better feel for a pitcher’s dominance. I termed it the “Super Quality Start,” and deGrom, with 17, had far more than anyone else in the league.

So where to go from there? Ryu’s results trailed off in the second half, yes, but most of that can be attributed to three poor starts, two of which came in hitter-friendly parks (Coors Field and Chase Field). And even so, he finished as the league leader in ERA, ERA+ and walks-per-nine-innings. That was too much to ignore. Scherzer versus Strasburg was a toss-up for me, though I ultimately sided with the pitcher who had a higher strikeout rate, lower walk rate and much lower FIP. As for my fifth spot, it came down to Jack Flaherty, Patrick Corbin and Walker Buehler. Flaherty’s incredible second-half results, as well as his NL-best WHIP and opponent’s batting average, broke the tie.

Voter: AJ Cassavell, beat reporter
BBWAA Chapter: San Diego
Ballot: Jacob deGrom – Max Scherzer – Jack Flaherty – Hyun-Jin Ryu – Stephen Strasburg

deGrom was an obvious choice for me. Everything I wanted to see on a Cy Young resume, he had it – ERA, strikeouts, FIP, WAR, innings. But the ballot got tricky below deGrom. I would’ve felt OK putting two through five in just about any order, and I gave serious consideration to Mike Soroka as well.

Ultimately, Scherzer was simply too dominant. Pitching in a home ballpark that skews toward hitters, Scherzer posted a 2.92 ERA and his peripherals showed he was probably even better than that number indicated. Meanwhile, Flaherty jumped Ryu on my ballot during the final month. I felt Ryu’s NL-leading ERA was due mostly to the fact that he played in front of the league’s best defense. A handful of advanced metrics backed that notion. Flaherty, meanwhile, became a certifiable ace in the second half, and his 33 starts (to Ryu’s 29) made the difference.


Voter: Joe Trezza, beat reporter
BBWAA Chapter: Baltimore/Washington
Ballot: Justin Verlander – Gerrit Cole – Shane Bieber – Charlie Morton – Lance Lynn

It may sound simple, but for me, the biggest thing in analyzing the Cy Young race was run prevention. Who was the hardest to score off of in the largest sample size? At the very top of the ballot, I care less about how they did it. The goal here is determining who had the best individual season, not building a rotation on the back of projectable/repeatable skills. Who was the best at not allowing runs? That’s where I began. The other stuff functioned as tiebreakers.

Then Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander came along and made those tiebreakers very important.

There was no wrong choice here. One’s dominance often canceled the other’s out: Cole’s edge in strikeout rate was nullified by Verlander’s in walk rate; Verlander allowed more home runs but fewer hits. One WAR calculation had Cole a win more valuable; another had Verlander more valuable by the almost the same margin. Their ERAs were essentially the same.

In the end, the only discernable difference was Verlander’s slight edge in innings (the same reason Shane Bieber bested Charlie Morton for third-place on my ballot), and the consistency of Verlander’s season. Cole was dominant slightly more often, but suffered two early-season blow-up losses. Verlander didn’t allow more than four runs in any start, made more starts and held opponents to one or zero earned runs in nearly half of them.

Voter: Scott Merkin, beat reporter
BBWAA Chapter: Chicago
Ballot: Justin Verlander – Gerrit Cole – Charlie Morton – Shane Bieber – Lucas Giolito

If the BBWAA allowed us to split votes for first place, I would have done so between Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. It really was that difficult to pick a winner between these remarkable campaigns. I ultimately went with Verlander. Their numbers across the board have both of these pitchers either one or two in almost every category ranging from ERA to wins to strikeouts to K/9 to K/BB ratio. They even tied for first with a .579 OPS against. Cole topped Verlander in fWAR, 7.4 to 6.4, but Verlander was tops among MLB pitchers in bWAR at 7.8, with Cole fifth at 6.9.

Verlander’s entire body of work set the tone for Major League Baseball’s best team in Houston, which ultimately gave him the slight edge in my eyes. Cole, while still striking out 100 over 65 2/3 innings, featured a 4.11 ERA over his first 11 starts following a loss to the White Sox on May 22 at home. He flawlessly finished 16-0 with a 1.78 ERA and 226 strikeouts in 146 2/3 innings and 22 starts after that loss, but Verlander posted a 13-4 mark with a 2.76 ERA and 205 strikeouts over 143 2/3 innings covering his final 22. He also had a 2.27 ERA over his first 12.

The Rays’ Charlie Morton stood out to me as the third-best pitcher in the AL this season, as well as the top pitcher on a playoff team and the numbers backed that up. Shane Bieber had a breakout campaign for a Cleveland team that lost rotation stalwarts Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger to injury, although Clevinger returned, along with missing Carlos Carrasco during his valiant battle against leukemia. Bieber earned my fourth-place vote.

Lucas Giolito rounded out my ballot, with the White Sox right-hander completing an All-Star transformation after being the worst starter in the AL in 2018. To me, these five were the best AL pitchers across the entire season.

Voter: Jason Beck, beat reporter
BBWAA Chapter: Detroit
Gerrit Cole – Justin Verlander – Charlie Morton – Lance Lynn – Shane Bieber

Considering what happened between Justin Verlander and another Tigers beat writer in Houston back in August, I knew my AL Cy Young vote had the risk of being a hot-button topic. The perceived close contest between Verlander and teammate Gerrit Cole only heightened that sense. I’ve always used a spreadsheet of where players finished in the top 10 of key statistical categories to help determine my awards votes. For this one, I decided I would rely on the spreadsheet, made up of 13 categories this year, to remove any perception of subjectivity. For most of the final two months, that favored Verlander, sometimes heavily, and I was ready to roll with that. When I ran the final numbers at season’s end, to my surprise, they favored Cole. Despite Verlander’s no-hitter on Sept. 1, Cole’s dominant final month nudged him ahead.

In most every stat, Verlander and Cole were either 1-2 or close enough to it that the difference was negligible. The real difference came down to a few key categories. While Cole finished first among AL pitchers in Fielding Independent Pitching, Verlander ended up fourth. But for the first time, I also added a couple Statcast categories this year try to measure the quality of the pitches. Cole finished first among qualified AL pitchers in both expected slugging percentage and expected weighted on-base average. Verlander finished second in xwOBA, third in xSLG. That was enough to push Cole past Verlander.

Voter: Alyson Footer, national correspondent
BBWAA Chapter: Houston
Ballot: Justin Verlander – Gerrit Cole – Charlie Morton – Shane Bieber – Lucas Giolito

This one was agonizingly close, and the picture was no clearer when Gerrit Cole walked off the mound after his final outing on the last game of the regular season. Justin Verlander or Cole? Cole or Verlander? Normally, I'd look at WHIP first, followed by strikeouts per nine innings and then overall strikeout totals. There was virtually no difference between Verlander and Cole in any relevant category. So I let Verlander's no-hitter against the Blue Jays be the tiebreaker, and he received my first-place vote. Next was Cole, of course, followed by Charlie Morton, without whom the Rays would have been swallowed up in the Wild Card race. But Shane Bieber, my No. 4 choice, nearly edged out Morton -- Bieber's 10.88 strikeouts per nine innings weren't quite up there with Morton's 11.1, but with a 1.05 WHIP and 214 1/3 innings pitched, Bieber's season has to be categorized as Cy Young-worthy. Lucas Giolito, who had a breakout season for the struggling White Sox, rounded out my top five.

Voter: Brian McTaggart, beat reporter
BBWAA Chapter: Houston
Ballot: Justin Verlander – Gerrit Cole – Charlie Morton – Mike Minor – Lucas Giolito

Verlander was more consistent over the course of the entire season. Cole’s first 11 starts were nothing special, but he turned it on over his final 22 starts to make it a race. That being said, Verlander hit few road bumps this year and often pitched with poor run support.

Sure, he led the Majors in wins, but his 0.80 WHIP was the third best in a season since 1900 and his .172 batting average against was the fourth best recorded in the same span. Verlander threw 73 1/3 innings against teams that made the playoffs; Cole threw 45 2/3.

Voter: Jeffrey Flanagan, beat reporter
BBWAA Chapter: Kansas City
Justin Verlander – Gerrit Cole – Shane Bieber – Mike Minor – Lucas Giolito

I can’t remember a tougher vote for first place than the one between Verlander and Cole. Statistically, their differences are minute. Cole had the slight edge in ERA and strikeouts. Verlander had the edge in WHIP and innings pitched. I have never put much stock in pitchers wins, but that was almost identical, too. Cole had the edge in FIP, but Verlander had the edge in Adjusted Pitching Wins and in Base-Out Runs Saved, the latter may have turned it for me – when you need a big out in a critical situation, Verlander is the best.

Voter: Bryan Hoch, beat reporter
BBWAA Chapter: New York
Justin Verlander – Gerrit Cole – Charlie Morton – Shane Bieber – Lance Lynn

I would have liked to give Verlander and Cole two first-place votes, then skip right to third place, but alas. Verlander's historic 0.80 WHIP made a big difference to me, as it was the second lowest in the live-ball era. Verlander's no-hitter served as a tiebreaker, but to be honest, I hoped Cole and Verlander somehow split the vote and could share the award. They both deserve it. Charlie Morton, Shane Bieber and Lance Lynn rounded out my ballot; Morton's 0.7 HR/9 rate was particularly impressive given that he pitches in the AL East.