Baseball is easily the most data-driven sport there is today. Ever since the emergence of sabermetrics in the 1970s and its proliferation by the Oakland As in the 1990s and early 2000s, every single component of the game was reduced to a series of binary codes on a screen. The front office quickly responded to this trend and hired Ivy League graduates such as Paul DePosta and Theo Epstein, who won the admiration of their fanbase by converting the seemingly random numbers into World Series wins. Now, even the most casual fans are familiar with baseball jargon such as Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).
Of course, there are still some baseball traditionalists who call sacrilege at these number-worshipping heathens. Just last year, Jayson Werth, a former Nationals outfielder, raised controversy by arguing that “the super nerds” are ruining baseball on Howard Eskin’s Podcast. In his perspective, baseball should be nothing less than a display of pure athleticism, and to quantify it in any manner would detract from the aesthetic nature of the sport. But Werth is facing an uphill battle, as more and more baseball fans become enticed by sabermetrics through the likes of Fantasy Baseball—or so it seemed.
The Ryu and Scherzer Cy Young Race
Korean MLB fans have been delighted by the emergence of Ryu as a surprise Cy Young candidate against the National’s Ace Max Scherzer. Ryu has been pitching phenomenally, with 10 wins, a 1.78 ERA, and a 0.9 BB/9 as of July 17th. On the surface, it seems that he has a vastly superior record over Scherzer, who only has 9 wins, a 2.30 ERA, and a 1.6 BB/9.
However, sabermetrics-wise, Scherzer completely dominates Ryu. He has a bWAR of 5.5, which is the highest of all national league pitchers. While Ryu’s bWAR of 4.0 is still formidable, a near 1.5 difference in win contributions to the team gives Scherzer a huge upper hand.
Also, it cannot be denied that Ryu’s ERA benefitted from the pitcher-friendly park of Dodgers Stadium as well as the Dodger’s above average defense. The Dodgers have a positive defensive metric as a whole, with a 9.1 UZR. On the other hand, Scherzer had to rely on the inferior Nationals’ defense with a -6.8 UZR. In fact, if we factor in the park and defense factor, Scherzer has a 2.01 Fielding Independent Pitching(FIP) while Ryu has a 2.89 FIP.
Still, many Koreans believe that Ryu is a lock-in for the Cy Young Award. Out of pure chauvinism, fans are regressing to baseball traditionalism; Ryu’s sub 2 ERA is put on a pedestal, while Scherzer’s much more impressive 2.01 FIP is disregarded as irrelevant.
Nevertheless, no matter how much Werthian ideology pervades the South Korean internet communities, there is a high chance that Scherzer will still win the Cy Young Award. Even if Ryu continues to overachieve beyond the wildest of expectations, past examples show that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America(BBWAA) – who chooses the awardee of the Cy Young Award – heavily factor sabermetrics when determining their choices. Ryu is facing a steep uphill battle, and even the slightest misstep could be fatal for his chances.
However, Koreans should not be disappointed if he fails to win the Cy Young Award. Ryu and Scherzer are putting together one of the best pitching performances in baseball since the times of Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and Roger Clemens. We can only imagine how much he will get better as time goes on.