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Reviewing Recent Cy Young Finalists (NL Edition) - Starting Pitcher Outlooks for 2024

Logan Webb - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Starting Pitchers, Draft Sleepers

The three 2023 NL Cy Young finalists were Blake Snell of the Padres, Logan Webb of the Giants, and Zac Gallen of the Diamondbacks.

In 2022, Sandy Alcantara took home the trophy, while Max Fried and Julio Urias were the runners-up.

In this article, I will break down the seasons of each finalist in the National League over the last two seasons using my FaBIO model. The goal here is to see if these awards finalists truly had elite seasons on the mound from a fantasy perspective, or if they were rewarded for superior surface stats. Winning the coveted award is a great honor for any pitcher, but does it indicate that they really had the best statistical season of any pitcher in their league?

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Brief Explanation of the FaBIO Model

My Fielding- and Ballpark-Independent Outcomes (FaBIO) pitcher evaluation model sorts every plate appearance into one of twelve outcome bins (BB+HBP, K, IFFB, Pull-Third OFFB, Center-Third OFFB, Oppo-Third OFFB, Pull-Third LD, Center-Third LD, Oppo-Third LD, Pull-Third GB, Center-Third GB, Oppo-Third GB) and credits the pitcher with their league's mean runs value for said particular event that season. The most runs-punitive events for pitchers are Pull-Third OFFB, the three line-drive types, and BB+HBP. The most runs-preventing events for pitchers are K, IFFB, and Pull-Third GB.

Dividing their total number of expected runs by batters faced (BF) yields expected runs per batter that can be percentile ranked relative to the league mean and standard deviation for that parameter amongst league qualifier starters (else relievers) to arrive at their Overall Rating. Its three subcomponents of Control Rating (CTL, based on BB+HBP per BF), Strikeout Rating (K, based on K per BF), and Batted Ball Profile Rating (expected runs per batted ball) are also reported to understand better the path the pitcher traveled to reach their Overall (reverse engineering Overall reveals that expected run avoidance is generally 44% Strikeouts, 34% Batted Ball Profile, and 22% Control).

To better understand the path to Batted Ball Profile, we will also examine percentile ratings for select batted ball event types (on a per batted ball basis). Lastly, to check how well expected batted ball outcomes matched real-world ones, we will compute percentile ratings for the avoidance of hits (AVG) and isolated power (ISO, or simply extra bases) on batted balls (recognizing full well that these two parameters are neither fielding- nor ballpark-independent outcomes).

A percentile rating of 97 amounts to plus-plus (two standard deviations above the mean), 84 is plus (one standard deviation above the mean), 69 is half plus, 50 is average, 31 is half minus, 16 is minus, and three is minus-minus.

 

2024 National League Cy Young Finalists

Let's review the MLB FaBIO campaigns of the 2023 winner Snell first.

Snell's 2016 MLB debut featured plus K (87) to the good but minus minus CTL (3) and an almost minus minus (6) Batted Ball Profile, with shortness at LD Avoid and IFFB undermining hit (11 AVG) avoidance on batted balls. But just two seasons later Snell would claim his first Cy Young with a plus plus 97 Overall earned via almost average CTL, plus plus K, and nearly plus Batted Ball Profile.

That 2018 season has turned out to be Snell's peak MLB season fundamentals-wise and since then control and batted ball profiles have consistently rated subpar by league SP standards. Snell would only post a 78 Overall in a second Cy Young season of 2023 in which he countered minus minus CTL with plus plus K while extremely overachieving on batted ball outcomes per the underlying batted ball profile fundamentals.

His 95 AVG Avoid on Batted Balls was almost THREE standard deviations higher than it should have been per his combination of IFFB and LD Avoid Ratings; meanwhile, his ISO Avoid was 1.5 standard deviations higher than it should been per the average pair of OFFB Avoids. Looking back over his last three to four seasons, poor trios of CTL, IFFB, and LD Avoid have limited Snell to MLB SP2-caliber all-around pitching fundamentals over that timeframe.

Logan Webb - San Francisco Giants

A heavier groundballer like Logan Webb ideally posts a LD Avoid Rating in the neighborhood of their GB Rating and when they do the gaps between their Batted Ball Profile and GB Ratings skew smaller (barring a Pull OFFB Avoid much lower than OFFB Avoid).

After awful showings at LD Avoid while cutting his MLB SP teeth in 2019 and 2020, Webb improved at that parameter in 2021 but remained shorter on it in 2022 before finally achieving a sterling and more GB-Rating-commensurate 95 LD Avoid in 2023. Oddly, his 2023 AVG Avoid did not improve in kind but ahead it will if he can continue to replicate relatively higher LD Avoids. Webb just might have snatched the award from Snell had he simply avoided hits more in line with how he had line drives in a season in which he else rebounded from a 2022 K decline and upped CTL over a standard deviation versus 2022 and 2021.

Zac Gallen - Arizona Diamondbacks

Only Zac Gallen's regular season was relevant to the award and for that part of his 2023 Gallen rated better per an 82 Overall (89 CTL/84 K/33 Batted Ball Profile). Relative to the higher standard of recent postseason starters (most teams are only deploying their best options then, in contrast to the regular season), Gallen's fundamentals plummeted over a larger sample of 141 October and November batters resulting in a 9 Overall (30 CTL/3 K/28 Batted Ball Profile) for the entire postseason. The relative weak spot in Gallen's 2023 line was the 10 IFFB and 25 LD Avoid combo that dragged what would have else been a solidly average batted ball profile down to half minus. Gallen overachieved then at AVG Avoid a full standard deviation and at ISO Avoid maybe a half one.

Taking the last three seasons into consideration and weighting more recent ones heavier, here is how FaBIO projects the fundamentals of the trio for 2024. In a scenario where 100 MLB pitchers logged 500 or more batters faced in 2024, Webb projects to be 9th best of them at expected run avoidance, Snell 30th best, and Gallen 35th best (bump Gallen ahead of Snell a spot or two if you feel it unfair to factor the former's poor postseason into the forecast).

In the cases of Snell and Gallen, each figure is to be hard-pressed to match or beat the AVG & ISO projections at the right per the forecast holes in their Path to Batted Ball Profile columns. Webb is the relatively safer fantasy play in that the volatility in his FaBIO profile is largely limited to whether his LD Avoid is up to 100 GBer standards and the extent to which the improved CTL from 2023 sticks. That Snell remains unsigned as I initially drafted this article likely reflects that MLB front offices value him more similarly to the FaBIO projection than however his camp has marketed him. If Snell desires to be paid above his present valuation by MLB clubs, the most obvious path to such an outcome would be to revise movement within his fastball arsenal in directions that increase IFFB and decrease LD (CTL can only improve so much in this particular case).

 

2022 National League Cy Young Finalists

Sandy Alcantara - Miami Marlins

2022 winner Sandy Alcantara will not pitch at all in 2024 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in October.

Alcantara, who has always had a Batted Ball Profile > CTL > K skew of some variety in his MLB FaBIO line, lost a standard deviation of Batted Ball Profile and a half one of K in 2023 versus the 2022 Cy Young season and ultimately posted a half plus 72 Overall. Being Batted-Ball-Profile-first his best MLB SP seasons require both a mix of IFFB+LD Avoid+Pull OFFB Avoid Ratings that do not overly undermine (and ideally boost) the GB Rating and AVG & ISO Avoid Ratings that are in the neighborhood of those better-case Path to Batted Ball Profile fundamentals.

Max Fried - Atlanta Braves

Max Fried posted career-best marks at K Rating and Batted Ball Profile Rating in a 2023 campaign that was limited to 333 batters faced with a variety of maladies.

After boosting both K and GB outcomes (which is not so easy to do simultaneously) in 2023, the southpaw seems well-positioned to become a repeat Cy Young finalist in seasons ahead if blessed with cleaner bills of health. Not since 2019 has Fried shown any signs of being unable to Batted Ball Profile commensurate with his GB Rating, making him a safer bet among MLB SP groundballers.

Julio Urias - Free Agent

Third finalist Julio Urias should not merit much attention unless you fantasy-play the Mexican League (or perhaps later Nippon Professional Baseball). The three most recent seasonal FaBIO lines below reflect remarkable year-to-year consistency aside from the untoward downhill trends in Pull OFFB Avoid and ISO columns.

While neither Alcantara nor Urias stand to face a single 2024 MLB batter we can still project their alternate universe 2024 MLB pitching fundamentals.

Assuming a complications-free return from Tommy John Surgery and rehab, one should value Alcantara in the range of a higher-end SP2 to lower-end SP1 who leans heavier on batted ball outcomes owing to fringier strikeout ability. Max Fried is angling for a Top 10 MLB SP spot and would more surely earn that distinction if can he simultaneously post near-plus K and safely above plus Batted Ball Profile Ratings ahead (in step with how his injury-abbreviated 2023 was trending).

 

Conclusion

2023 was one odd year for Cy Young Award winners.

Strikeout specialist Blake Snell took 28 of 30 first-place votes despite minus-minus control and pulled that trick off thanks largely to hit-and-run avoidances that were entirely out of whack with the underlying batted ball fundamentals.

In the opposite league, unanimous winner Gerrit Cole posted 90th percentile fundamentals but even that well above plus showing was worse than what he had posted in each of the prior five AL campaigns; his candidacy was else largely rooted in overperformance at hit and extra-base avoidance on batted balls...just like Snell's but not to the same extreme.

Strangely, the awards went to the already-good pitchers who best overachieved on batted ball outcomes (enough so to mask minor to major fundamental defects) rather than each league's best pitcher in a broader, fundamentals-rooted sense. As mentioned at the close of the American League Cy Young review article, be wary of selecting prior season finalists in redraft leagues without paying closer attention to what went down on their batted balls that season.



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