Max Scherzer finished third with 113 points.
Voting for NL Cy Young award: pic.twitter.com/4mHgn4kJ8V
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) November 17, 2021
It was close, but in the end, voters ended up prioritizing Burnes’ per-inning prowess and strikeout tendencies over Wheeler’s durability.
Both men pitched admirably in 2021, but even though Burnes couldn’t even complete 170 innings, he was a deserving winner.
Here are three reasons why Burnes was the right choice for the NL Cy Young.
3. He Is A Strikeout Machine, And Voters Love Ks
Burnes pitched just 167 innings, but he sure made them count.
He finished third in the NL and fifth in MLB with 234 strikeouts.
However, if we look at the ratios, he trumped all the competition.
His 35.6 strikeout percentage led all qualified starters in Major League Baseball, not just in the NL.
He also led the league in K-BB% (which is what we get if we take strikeout rate and subtract the walk rate) with 30.4.
He also paced MLB in strikeouts per walk, with 6.88.
The strikeouts stem from his ability to miss bats and get called strikes.
Burnes also ranked first in CSW%, which means called strikes plus whiffs, with a 33.8 percentage.
In other words, no one missed bats, got strikeouts, and avoided walks like Burnes.
2. A Historic FIP
If we examine ERA, Burnes had the lowest among qualified pitchers in MLB, with 2.43.
He narrowly bested Scherzer’s 2.46 and Walker Buehler’s 2.47.
However, the difference in FIP with the rest of the league was considerable.
FIP means Fielding Independent Pitching, and it’s a stat that evaluates strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs, entirely removing results on balls hit into the field of play.
This way, FIP gives more importance to the things a pitcher can directly control.
Not only did Burnes have the best FIP in the league, but he also finished with the 16th-best end-of-the-season mark in the history of the game, with 1.63.
It was better than Clayton Kershaw’s 2014 FIP of 1.811, when he won both the NL Cy Young and the MVP.
If Burnes had pitched 200 innings at the level he showed in 2021, he might have been a firm MVP candidate.
1. He Led The League In WAR
Wins Above Replacement considers a player’s contributions in comparison to those of a replacement-level player.
WAR is perhaps the best all-inclusive stat to give us an idea of a player’s true worth.
In the case of Burnes, he led the league in WAR (FanGraphs’ version), with 7.5.
Zack Wheeler, who finished second in the NL Cy Young race, had 7.3, then there is a big gap between them and the rest.
If we consider Baseball Reference’s version of pitching WAR, Wheeler paced the league with 7.6, and Burnes was eighth with 5.6.
However, it’s fair to point out Wheeler pitched 213.1 innings, and Burnes only 167.
So, according to FanGraphs’ version of WAR, Burnes was more valuable than Wheeler while pitching 46.1 fewer innings, which is mind-blowing.
Here's how I'm looking at the NY Cy Young….
– More IP
– The performance was deserving of winning
– Less IP
– Performance was better across the board outside of IP
Both deserved the award, but only one can win (Obviously).
Wheeler wasn't "robbed".
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) November 18, 2021
Wheeler had lots of backers in the baseball universe, and he did complete a phenomenal season, but in the end, Burnes deserves the recognition as the best pitcher in the league.