The Phillies brain trust made the decision to transfer Ranger Suárez to the starting rotation on the morning of July 31. At that point, the Phillies had 59 games remaining in the 2021 season.
So when Suárez took the mound as a starting pitcher on August 2 — his first major league start since 2018 — it was almost as if he was getting the chance play the 2020 season all over again.
In February of 2020 Ranger Suárez was considered a serious contender for the fifth spot in the Phillies rotation. Then, he tested positive for COVID-19. His case was a mild one, and after a few days he was completely asymptomatic — but his tests just kept coming back positive. He was forced to quarantine alone in his hotel room for weeks, and by the time he was finally cleared to rejoin the team, he hadn’t thrown a pitch in 30 days. His season was all but lost.
In 2021, Suárez made 12 starts and pitched 65.2 innings in those starts. The median qualified starting pitcher in 2020 made 12 starts and pitched 69 innings. So it really was as if Ranger Suárez got back his lost 2020 season in 2021. And boy oh boy, did he make the most of it.
In fact, he pitched well enough in 2021 to have won the 2020 Cy Young.
These are Ranger Suárez’s numbers as a starter in 2021 compared to those of the 2020 NL Cy Young winner.
- Ranger Suárez in 2021: 12 starts, 65.2 IP, 1.51 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 3.39 xFIP, 2.4 fWAR
- Trevor Bauer in 2020: 11 starts, 73 IP, 1.73 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, 2.5 fWAR
Based on these numbers, you’d be hard-pressed to pick one over the other for the Cy Young. While Suárez pitched 7.1 fewer innings, his ERA was also 22 ticks lower.
Looking at strikeout, walk, and home run numbers doesn’t make it any easier to pick between these two.
- Suárez: 8.91 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, 0.14 HR/9, 11.2 HR/FB
- Bauer: 12.33 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 1.11 HR/9, 12.3 HR/FB
Bauer’s 12.33 K/9 is impressive, but his K/9 only ranked second in the NL that season, behind Jacob deGrom’s much more impressive 13.76 K/9, and deGrom finished behind Bauer on every single Cy Young ballot. Meanwhile, Ranger Suárez’s 0.14 HR/9 would have easily led the league in 2020.
For additional context, here are some of their batted ball stats.
- Suárez: .295 BABIP, 16.4% line drive rate, 56.7% ground ball rate, 26.9% fly ball rate, 1.7% barrel rate, 31.6% HardHit%
- Bauer: .215 BABIP, 17.8% line drive rate, 34.4% ground ball rate, 47.8% fly ball rate, 6.3% barrel rate, 38% HardHit%
Numbers like these don’t tell us much on their own, but they help to contextualize the other statistics we’ve been looking at. Opposing batters struggled to get hits against Ranger Suárez because he induced soft-hit ground balls and prevented line drives and hard-hit balls. Meanwhile, Bauer benefitted from a BABIP that was much lower than his career average and the league average. He also allowed almost four times as many barrelled balls as Suárez.
- Suárez: 2.25 win probability added, 2.04 context neutral wins
- Bauer: 1.61 win probability added, 1.81 context neutral wins
According to FanGraphs, win probability added “credits or debits a player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning.” Context neutral wins measure “how much value a player added to their team regardless of the leverage.”
According to both metrics, Ranger Suárez comes out on top.
So, would Ranger Suárez have won the Cy Young Award if he had put up these numbers in 2020? There are far too many factors at play and far too many unknowns to be able to seriously answer that question, but luckily, we don’t need a serious answer. This is all for fun, and it’s really just another way to point out how incredible Ranger Suárez was in 2021.
So in the name of fun, consider this the beginning of my campaign to have Ranger Suárez retroactively named the 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner for his performance in the 2021 season.