Does Trevor Bauer deserve the National League Cy Young Award this year?
But, then, BYU won the 1984 national championship, too.
So I voted for Yu Darvish.
OK, it wasn’t that simple.
But in 10 years of voting for BBWAA awards in the American League and 14 more in the National League, this year’s NL Cy Young assignment was the toughest by a lot.
While identifying two front-runners for the top line on the five-line ballot was relatively strightforward, splitting hairs between the Reds’ Bauer and the Cubs’ Darvish required unprecedented measures for an unprecedented season.
One candidate was the NL’s pitcher of the month for August, the other for September. Bauer (1.73) and Darvish (2.01) finished 1-2 in the league in ERA, 1-4 in WHIP and 2-8 in strikeouts per nine innings, respectively — with elite numbers in all categories.
Darvish had one more start, three more innings, fewer walks, consequently a better strikeouts-per-walks rate and led the league in fielding independent pitching (FIP).
They even split their two head-to-head meetings with almost identical results.
That’s where BYU comes in — or at least college football and the way it picks champions.
In 1984, BYU and Steve Young’s successor, Robbie Bosco, swept a crap schedule, including eight games in the mid-major WAC, to finish the regular-season ranked No. 1, then beat an unranked 6-5 Michigan team by a touchdown in the Holiday Bowl to finish 13-0.
For more than a week after that, coach Barry Switzer of No. 2 Oklahoma howled that the national champ should be the winner of the Orange Bowl matchup between his one-loss team and a one-loss Washington team that was ranked fourth.
Washington won the famed "Sooner Schooner game" in Miami. BYU won the national championship. And cries for a national playoff game increased until the first incarnation of a BCS playoff format was born in the late ‘90s.
Fast-forward to the pandemic-shortened MLB season in which full-time starting pitchers wound up with roughly the same number of starts as a standard college football season, and, well, you know where we’re going with this.
Yu and Trevor, meet Chicago’s 2020 NL Cy Young Selection Committee: me.
Unlike a normal season, in which every team would face all the other teams in its league, only nine possible opponents were available to each pitcher this season. And in the cases of Bauer and Darvish, six of the nine were playoff teams.
Now start breaking down their seasons:
- Darvish made 12 starts, Bauer 11 — 10 and nine if you throw out their two head-to-head matchups, which we already determined resulted in a draw (both facing lineups that underperformed overall in 2020).
- Of Bauer’s nine other starts, more than half — five — were against the three AL/NL Central teams that didn’t make the playoffs. He went 2-1 with a 0.83 ERA and 0.77 WHIP and 13.2 Ks/9 IP in those games — 3-3, 2.45, 0.82, 11.6 in all his other starts combined.
- Of Darvish’s 12 starts, only two were against teams that didn’t make the playoffs (2-0, 0.69 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 7.6 K/9). In 10 starts against playoff-qualifying opponents: 6-3, 2.29 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 12.0 K/9.
- And this: The two best lineups in either Central division belonged to the Twins and White Sox. Bauer did not face the Twins and faced the Sox once (losing a low-scoring game after pitching well). Darvish beat the Sox twice (one run allowed in 14 total innings) and lost to the Twins when he allowed a season-high four runs in six innings (none from the third through the sixth). Without including that Twins start, Darvish would have led the league in ERA (1.67) with as many starts as Bauer.
- Darvish also beat the Cardinals twice (two runs in 13 innings); Bauer did not face the second-place Cardinals.
Weigh the stats against strength of schedule, and Darvish had the more impressive season.
That’s not Bauer’s fault that his turn came up against lesser teams more often; he can only play the schedule he's given.
But it’s a fact.
And that’s why Washington should be the 1984 NCAA football champ.