Phillies starting pitchers Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler did not win the National League Cy Young Award when the Baseball Writers Association of America announced their vote totals yesterday, nor were they expected to. Despite a solid season from both starters, Cincinnati Reds hurler Trevor Bauer was the favorite to win his first Cy Young Award and did so, securing 27 of the 30 first place votes from the BBWAA.
Bauer became the first Reds pitcher ever to win the Cy Young, although five other pitchers finished runner-up: Tom Seaver in 1981, Mario Soto in 1983, Danny Jackson in 1988, Pete Schourek (!!!) in 1995 and Johnny Cueto in 2014. The Cubs’ Yu Darvish took the other three first place votes and finished in second place, with the two-time reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom of the Mets finishing in third.
Further down the list were Nola and Wheeler, with Nola securing a fourth place vote, worth two points, as well as a fifth place vote, while Wheeler earned a single fifth place vote.
That the Phillies possessed two of the top 12 pitchers in the National League this season and failed to make the postseason is a huge disappointment and a failing by the front office in a number of different areas. However, it is a positive that the Phils have two top-of-the-rotation starters locked up for the foreseeable future.
Nola’s and Wheeler’s seasons were nearly identical in their efficacy. Both finished with a 2.0 fWAR this year, which was tied for 8th-best among qualified NL starting pitchers. However, Wheeler’s 2.8 bWAR was tied for tops in the league with Atlanta’s Max Fried, while Nola’s 2.2 was tied for 9th.
In 12 starts, Nola went 5-5 with a 3.29 ERA and a 3.19 FIP, a career best 12.19 K/9 and 2.79 xFIP. Opponents batted just .205 against him this season as he struck out a career high 33.2% of batters. However, he had an uneven September, with several good starts sandwiched by some stinkers and ended up with a 3.57 ERA in the season’s final month. He did not pitch well in a must-win game in the final series of the season against Tampa when he lasted just 3.2 innings and gave up three runs on six hits and three walks.
Wheeler was former GM Matt Klentak’s biggest off-season free agent signing last year and he produced an outstanding first season in a Phils uniform. In 11 starts he went 4-2 with a 2.92 ERA and a 3.22 FIP and allowed just three home runs. While his strikeouts were down significantly, his velocity remained at its traditional levels and he turned into a groundball machine, with a 55.9% ground ball rate that was second-highest in the National League.
The Phillies rotation will need some attention this off-season with Jake Arrieta leaving in free agency. Zach Eflin will likely fill the No. 3 role, with a hopefully healthy Spencer Howard as the No. 4 or 5 starter. Bauer is a free agent, but it’s unlikely the Phils are willing to meet what will certainly be an exorbitant price tag, but could pursue less expensive options like Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi, or Charlie Morton, or dive into a more inexpensive bin for the likes of James Paxton, Garrett Richards, Mike Minor or even former Phillies stars Cole Hamels or J.A. Happ.
Regardless of their direction, the team is thankfully set at the top of the rotation for years to come.