What would have happened if Ranger Suárez had been called up to the majors sooner than May 9? Or what if he had been named a starter sooner than August 2? Would the Phillies have made the playoffs? No, probably not. Would Suárez have been able to maintain his incredible run of dominance over a full season? Again, probably not. Suárez was incredible in 2021, but we can’t say with any certainty that he could have kept that up or lead the Phillies to the postseason.
But there is one “what if” scenario that I’m quite confident about – if Ranger Suárez had been able to pitch 56+ more innings, he would have been a serious contender for the NL Cy Young and almost surely would have won the ERA title.
Through no fault of his own, Ranger Suárez was only able to throw 106 innings in 2021, which is 56 fewer than needed to qualify for the rate stat leaderboards. Not so long ago, Suárez was a key contender for the fifth spot in the Phillies rotation. But after a case of COVID, complicated VISA issues, and a minor quad injury, he found himself on the outside looking in heading into 2021. Suárez quickly proved himself worthy of a job in the starting rotation, but by the time he was added to the rotation and properly stretched out as a starter, the season was nearing its end.
In late September, Phillies fans started seriously talking about Suárez receiving some down ballot Cy Young votes. He didn’t have the innings to compete with guys like Corbin Burnes, Max Scherzer, or Zack Wheeler, but what he accomplished in 106 IP was remarkable.
His 1.36 ERA in 2021 was the lowest amongst NL pitchers with at least 100 IP and it wasn’t even close. Burnes is next on that list with a 2.43 ERA – more than a full run higher than Suárez’s. And that’s just scratching the surface of how good Suárez was. He had the lowest ERA in 100+ IP since Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter in 1977. Sutter was an All-Star that season and finished in sixth place for the Cy Young. But Sutter was a reliever, and Suárez threw two-thirds of his innings as a starter. The last primary starting pitcher to have an ERA as low as 1.36 in 100+ IP was Bob Gibson in 1968 (arguably the greatest pitching season of all time). Gibson, of course, won the Cy Young that season.
Suárez is also the only National League primary starting pitcher to ever post an ERA+ higher than 300 in 100+ IP. Yes, there are a few qualifiers there, but it’s still remarkably impressive.
Ranger Suárez showed no signs of slowing down as the season drew to a close, but unfortunately he ran out of time to build his Cy Young case. But what if he hadn’t? What if Suárez had been able to pitch the 56 more innings he needed to qualify for the ERA title? Could he have been a legitimate Cy Young contender?
I’m not here to argue that Suárez could have maintained his 1.36 ERA over 56 more innings. Sure, he might have, but it’s unlikely. His 1.36 ERA, however, was so much lower than any other starter’s that he wouldn’t have needed to maintain it in order to have won the ERA title.
Ranger Suárez allowed 16 earned runs in 2021. Corbin Burnes allowed 45. That means Suárez could have allowed 27 earned runs in his next 56 innings (a 4.34 ERA) and he still would have finished with a lower ERA than Burnes.
So could Suárez have pitched to a 4.34 ERA over another 9 or 10 starts? Absolutely. The National League average ERA for a starting pitcher in 2021 was 4.21, and Suárez looked a lot better than average last season. He finished the year with a 2.63 xERA, 2.72 FIP, 3.37 xFIP, and 3.51 SIERA. Those numbers are all significantly higher than his actual ERA, but significantly lower than the 4.34 ERA he would have needed to win the ERA title. His Deserved Run Average (DRA) was a little bit higher, coming in at 3.99, but that’s still comfortably lower than 4.34. (It’s also worth noting that DRA is scaled to league average runs allowed per 9 innings, not earned runs.)
So, if Ranger Suárez had been able to pitch 56+ more innings – even if they were totally mediocre innings – he very well could have finished with the lowest qualifying ERA in baseball. With that honor almost always comes serious Cy Young consideration. It’s hard to imagine he would have won, since Burnes, Scherzer, and Wheeler all finished with significantly better underlying numbers, but Suárez would have been a serious part of the conversation.
We can’t say for sure how good Ranger Suárez would have been if he’d been able to pitch a full season in 2021. But what’s incredible is that his partial season was so good, he could have been mediocre for another 10+ starts and still finished with elite numbers.
So while Suárez did not, of course, win the ERA title this year, he did show that he had the talent to do so. He just didn’t have the time.