SAD: Reasons why The Braves Starting Pitcher was Not Awarded have being Outlined…

Why Spencer Strider wasn’t a Cy Young finalist.

Atlanta Braves: How Spencer Strider Stacks up Against 2023 NL Cy Young  Finalists

Strider wasn’t one of three finalists announced for the NL Cy Young on Monday night despite leading the league in strikeouts and wins.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider had a 2023 season for the ages – he went 20-5 with an MLB-best .800 winning percentage and led the league with strikeouts with 281, which also happened to beat Atlanta’s single season record, held by John Smoltz’s 276 in 1996.

So why wasn’t Strider announced as one of the three NL Cy Young finalists on Monday night?

MLB announced that the three finalists, as selected by the BBWAA, were Arizona’s Zac Gallen, San Diego’s Blake Snell, and San Francisco’s Logan Webb.

Shouldn’t Strider be a finalist? What happened? Let’s talk about it.

What did Spencer Strider do this season?

We briefly mentioned it above, but here’s Spencer Strider’s full stats from the 2023 season:

32 GS, 20-5 (.800), 3.86 ERA in 186.2 IP with 281 Ks (13.5), 58 BBs (2.8), 22 HRs

(I’ve helpfully gone and bolded the categories where Strider led all of baseball)

And that ERA is the big thing that stands out as an explanation why Strider wasn’t a finalist for the award – a 3.86 ERA isn’t only incredibly high for a Cy Young winner, it’d be the highest ERA for a Cy Young winner since the award was first given out in 1956.

The current highest ERA for a Cy Young award winner is LaMarr Hoyt’s 3.66 ERA in 1983, when he went 24-10 for the Chicago White Sox and somewhat narrowly won the award over Kansas City’s Dan Quisenberry.

(Also given out in 1983? An MVP award to Atlanta’s own Dale Murphy, the 2nd consecutive year that “Murph” won the honor.)

By contrast, here’s the relevant “baseball card statistics” for the three finalists:

Pitcher Record ERA Innings Strikeouts Walks
Spencer Strider 20-5 3.86 186.2 281 58
Zac Gallen 17-9 3.47 210.0 220 47
Blake Snell 14-9 2.25 180.0 234 99
Logan Webb 11-13 3.25 216.0 194 31

As you can see, Snell led all of baseball in ERA, while Webb led in innings and Gallen was in the ballpark for all of them but leader of none.

“But wait, Snell also led the league in walks!”

You’re right, he did. It’s not in the chart, but he also led in fewest hits per nine innings, at 5.8 BB/9, but it’s why I don’t want to sign him as a free agent. Blake Snell was constantly getting into traffic and constantly getting out of jams – I don’t think that’s replicable again, and regression comes for all of us.

How the Braves' Spencer Strider became 2022's premier strikeout artist -  The Athletic

The real answer comes down to luck

As always, luck plays a huge role in baseball. In this case, Strider’s was bad and Snell’s was good.

Blake Snell’s ERA led all of baseball at 2.25 despite having a FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching – of 3.44, a difference of over a full run.

(Fielding Independent Pitching, to me, is a better measure of a pitcher’s individual effectiveness because it measures only things the pitcher can control – strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitch, and home runs. Any ball that is put into the field of play – whether a hit or an out – is removed from the calculation, because the outcome of that batted ball was subject to the defense’s actions, not the pitcher.) 

And when you dig into Snell’s balls that were put into play – a statistic called “BABIP” for “Batting Average on Balls In Play” – you see that his BABIP was only .256, while the MLB average was .297 this season.

(This is an example of luck in baseball – Snell’s career average BABIP is .291, close to the MLB average, but his other Cy Young, in 2018, came in the lowest BABIP year of his career when he had a .242).

You can guess where this is going with Strider, right?

Strider’s ERA was 3.86, but he had the National League’s best FIP at 2.85, a difference of just over a full run. However, his BABIP was .316, nearly twenty points higher than league average for 2023. So the things he controlled went his way, but the batted balls that were left to the defense did not go his way.

Luck runs both ways, for the record. Strider happened to get some of the best run support in all of baseball, with the Braves only twice failing to give him three runs (or more) of support.

Best MLB Prop Bets Today (Fade Spencer Strider's Massive Strikeout Number  in Tough Matchup for Braves vs. Astros)

Could Strider win the Cy Young next year?

It’s easy to see how he could, yeah. Have more normal BABIP luck and maybe get a bit better than 13th percentile in inducing groundballs.

Strider’s issue here relates to the way he pitches – he’s a strikeout artist, not a groundball pitcher. He runs better than average hard-hit percentages (36.1%, 71st percentile) but worse than average barrel rates (8.2%, 43rd percentile) because he’s not throwing a pitch that will move under your bat and induce a ground ball, he’s throwing a pitch in the strike zone that (the goal is) you’ll swing through and miss. He attacks the strike zone, usually with fastballs.

Sometimes elite players hit those – for as good as Strider’s fastball is, it was barely above average from a run value perspective, at 2 runs above average (54th percentile) because while it got a whiff 29% of the time, it also gave up a .256 batting average and .451 slug.

I’m not going to insist that Strider has to throw the changeup more or learn a fourth pitch to be successful – although he DID throw the changeup more in 2023, increasing its usage by 2.5%, while throwing the slider five percent more and throwing the fastball nearly eight percent less.

But there’s an inherent volatility to the way he pitches. He’ll have years where his ERA is better than the underlying stats, he’ll have years where the FIP and other underlying metrics are better than his ERA (like this one), and he’ll have some years where everything breaks his way and he’ll be a Cy Young finalist.

That’s just how baseball works. As we learned in the postseason, baseball has a randomness to it, an element of chance. Sometimes it works in your favor, and sometimes it doesn’t.

But Strider’s got the “stuff” to be in the conversation every single year.

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