According to most of the established advanced pitching statistics, Matt Harvey is having a better year on the mound than Clayton Kershaw is. Harvey’s 2.00 FIP and 2.60 xFIP trump Kershaw’s 2.40 FIP and 2.94 xFIP by a pretty solid margin.
But although Kershaw is likely to win the Cy Young (and quite possibly the MVP as well), it isn’t the infamous win-loss record that’s putting him over the top; his 13-7 record is solid, but traditionally pedestrian and arguably competitive with Harvey’s 9-4 record for a much worse team. Kershaw will win the Cy Young because his ERA is a majestic 1.72, despite the fact that the difference between his ERA and FIP/xFIP is easily explainable by a ridiculous .231 BABIP and career-high left-on-base rate of 80 percent. Oh well, que sera, sera; we’ve seen this many times before.
But is there a sabermetric argument in favor of Kershaw topping Harvey? One could argue that although Harvey’s 5.9 fWAR (which is based off FIP) beats Kershaw’s 5.5, when you take batting WAR into account, Kershaw comes out ahead. Harvey is hitting just .088/.088/.123 this year, good for an awful wRC+ of -53 and -0.3 WAR, dropping his overall fWAR total to 5.6. Meanwhile, Kershaw has been one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball with a .156/.217/.250 slash line in 76 plate appearances, good for 0.4 WAR, bringing his overall fWAR to 5.9.
So the real question is: Should any of this matter?
First awarded in 1956 and invented by then-commissioner Ford Frick, the Cy Young award purports to go to the “best pitcher.” It’s not a stretch to distinguish between the “best pitcher” and the “player who pitches best” to make the case that being a pitcher in the National League entails not just pitching, but hitting.
Although we often think of pitchers hitting as some sort of cute sideshow to “real baseball” that doesn’t have much impact, the fWAR numbers aren’t any less real than those for Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera. The only question is whether the Cy Young award should consider a pitcher’s season at the plate (and, related, in the field and on the base paths, although those WAR numbers are usually low enough to leave them as a non-issue).
My gut answer would be “no,” that for the purposes of the award the intent is “who pitched the best,” despite the “best pitcher” language. But in terms of figuring out who had a more valuable season overall? Kershaw’s bat may prove determinative.