jon lester cubs featureNot unlike the increasingly tight NL Home Run race, the 2016 NL Cy Young award race is still anybody’s game.

Unlike the home run race, however, TWO of the frontrunners for the Cy Young play for the Chicago Cubs.

Indeed, MLB’s first and second ERA leaders, Kyle Hendricks (2.06) and Jon Lester (2.36), have created legitimate arguments for their own presence at the top of the ballots, but each has a different opinion on who should win.

For Lester, the choice is easy: it’s Kyle Hendricks (CSN Chicago), and it’s not even close. For Hendricks, the choice is even easier: It’s Jon Lester 100% (Chicago Tribune). But before we allow either of them to endorse the other, let’s take a look back into their seasons and see where things stand.



Lester may believe Hendricks is the obvious choice for the 2016 Cy Young, but he’s continued to build his own case up to and including another brilliant start against the Reds on Tuesday. After 7.0 innings, Lester allowed just 1 earned run on 6 hits, 0 walks, and five strikeouts. And with that performance (you can see the highlights here), Lester has now allowed two or fewer runs in each of his last ten starts (also in 23 of 30 overall).

Here’s how he ranks among the qualified starters in the NL:

lester-stats

*Naturally, that fWAR tie is with none other than Kyle Hendricks.

By nearly every important measure, Jon Lester has (rightfully) earned his place in the discussion for the Cy Young award. In fact, I believe he holds a pretty strong case, precisely because he excels in many different ways. For the old-school voters, Lester has won as many games as anyone, has the second lowest ERA, and has done it all over plenty of innings. For the more analytically inclined voters, Lester has a top five xFIP (meaning that, all things equal Lester has been among the very best) and a top five (lowest) hard hit rate.

He is undoubtedly in the running, but as we know, his vote (if he had one) would go to Hendricks.



So how has Hendricks been doing? Well, in Hendricks’ last start (against the Brewers), he allowed just 2 earned runs on 6 hits, 0 walks, and 9 strikeouts, through 6.0 innings pitched. The time before that, of course, he came just three outs away from the first no-hitter of his career. Like Lester, Hendricks has allowed two or fewer runs in his last nine straight starts (he allowed 3 earned runs in his tenth start back … immediately after four straight starts without allowing a single run) and has allowed 2 or fewer runs in 23 of his 28 starts this season.

Here’s how he ranks among the qualified starters in the NL:

hendricks-stats

Just like Lester, Hendricks excels in nearly every stat (both old and new-age) across the board. His league leading 2.06 ERA will carry some significant weight, and 15 wins is nothing to sneeze at. At the same time, he has an even better batted ball profile than Lester and nearly interchangeable peripherals (FIP, xFIP). And, despite popular belief, he’s done everything over a perfectly sizable inning total of 179.0 (top 15 in the NL), despite at least one fewer start than everyone ahead of him (besides John Lackey – 183.1).

So where does that leave us?



Well, according to Lester, Hendricks really needs to take it home. “He’s my guy. That’s who I would vote for right now, tomorrow, the next day, whenever.” But Hendricks offers similar praise. “My opinion is him, 100 percent.”

At FanGraphs, Craig Edwards took a look at the evolving, but competitive NL Cy Young race, paying particular attention to Weak Contact and how much credit pitchers deserve for it. Given the data on their hard/soft batted ball rates, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that each of Hendricks (2nd) and Lester (6th) find themselves among the best in the NL when it comes to total average exit velocity allowed (the duo leads the NL in lowest exit velocity allowed on fly balls).

Edwards goes into great detail to determine how much credit any or all of these pitchers deserve for the seasons they’re having, and it’s a worthwhile read – particularly so given the dependence on soft contact from each of the Cubs’ Cy Young candidates. In the end, Edwards concludes that there’s quite clearly a skill involved in suppressing hard contact and BABIP – that both Hendricks and Lester may possess – but the Cubs’ historically good defense and a little bit of luck has undoubtedly helped out.

However the vote shakes out, we’re going to learn a lot about what people think of weak contact. Either way, at least two Cubs pitchers should find themselves near the top.




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