Zack Wheeler Narrows the Gap for Cy Young Award

Philadelphia Phillies Zack Wheeler
TAMPA, FL – MARCH 07: Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) delivers a pitch during the MLB Spring Training game between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees on March 7, 2021 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

As Zack Wheeler blanked the Milwaukee Brewers in the Phillies’ series opener on Monday afternoon, he was doing so under the watchful eye of some of his biggest competition. Sitting in the Brewers’ dugout was 26-year old starting pitcher Corbin Burnes, the other starting pitcher in the race for this year’s National League Cy Young Award.

On the day, Wheeler threw six shutout innings for the Phillies while striking out nine batters. He did so while allowing five hits and zero walks on the day. The most trouble Wheeler got into on Monday came in the bottom of the third. With two outs, Wheeler allowed consecutive singles to Kolten Wong and Jace Peterson. Faced with two runners on, Wheeler forced former- MVP Christian Yelich into a groundout to first baseman Brad Miller.

Sizing Up the Cy Young Race

With Wheeler’s former teammate Jacob deGrom still on the Injured List for the New York Mets, the NL Cy Young race is really down to a two-horse race. There is always an outside chance that Walker Buehler for the Los Angeles Dodgers has an incredible month of September to take over the race, but it is rather unlikely.

Who are the two horses, you might ask? Wheeler and Burnes of course.

Who is currently in the lead for Cy Young? Phillies fans, you won’t like the answer.

Corbin Burnes (MIL)144.02.381.586.612.25
Zack Wheeler (PHI)188.22.912.626.410.35

While Wheeler has been a wheelhouse when it comes to innings pitched for the Phillies, Burnes has Wheeler beat in every other major category. And before you say it, the fact that Wheeler has more wins than Burnes means absolutely nothing.

While the Cy Young Award race in the American League is still very much up for grabs, Gerrit Cole is considered to be the front runner at this time. Cole owns a 5.2 fWAR on the season, ranking third in all of baseball. Who ranks in front of him? Wheeler or Burnes of course. If either Wheeler or Burnes were in the American League, they would run away with the AL Cy Young Award.

Final Month of Matchups

There is still, of course, a month to go in the regular season. Wheeler still has plenty of time remaining to seal the gap. Additionally, if he pitches so well that he helps the Phillies make the postseason, that will only further boost his case for the Cy Young.

This past week, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury reported on how the Phillies rearranged their starting pitching rotation in order to optimize the use of Wheeler the rest of the way.

Thanks to Salisbury’s beautiful artwork, we know that Wheeler’s final five outings are currently slated to be:

  • Saturday, 9/11 vs. Colorado Rockies (4.57 runs/game)
  • Friday, 9/17 @ New York Mets (3.89 runs/game)
  • Wednesday, 9/22 vs. Baltimore Orioles (4.11 runs/game)
  • Tuesday, 9/28 @ Atlanta Braves (4.88 runs/game)
  • Sunday, 10/3 @ Miami Marlins (3.97 runs/game)

What about Corbin Burnes? Assuming the Brewers keep to a standard five-man rotation, here are Burnes’ projected final starts:

  • Saturday, 9/11 @ Cleveland Indians (4.49 runs/game)
  • Saturday, 9/18 vs. Chicago Cubs (4.31 runs/game)
  • Thursday, 9/23 vs. St. Louis Cardinals (4.15 runs/game)
  • Wednesday, 9/29 @ St. Louis Cardinals (4.15 runs/game)

Given that the Brewers are running away with the NL Central title this year, they do not need to optimize Burnes’ starts the rest of the way to milk the most out of him.

On average, Wheeler’s projected competitors in his final five starts average 4.28 runs per game so far this season. Burnes’ projected competition also averages 4.28 runs per game. While the actual competition differs, this creates an even playing field for the two starting pitchers to demonstrate which one of them truly deserves the Cy Young Award this season.

Burnes certainly has the inside track with only four starts remaining on the season. Wheeler, meanwhile, will have to continue to do what he has done all season for the Phillies: eat innings and keep the team in the game regardless if they only give him one run of run support or 12.

Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire