After posting one of the top pitching seasons in Philadelphia Phillies history, starter Zack Wheeler has officially been recognized as one of the league’s best in 2021.
The right-hander was named a finalist for this year’s National League Cy Young Award, presented annually for the most outstanding performance in each league. Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes and Max Scherzer, who played for the Nationals and Dodgers, were also voted finalists in the NL.
Wheeler threw a major-league-leading 213 1/3 innings this year in 32 starts, also tying for the most complete games (3) and shutouts (2). His 247 strikeouts on the season were second-highest in the majors and tops in the NL, while he was fifth in both the majors and the league in ERA (2.78) and second in fWAR (7.3).
The 2021 season was a breakout for 31-year-old 2009 first-round pick. Dealing with injuries throughout his career, but still showing flashes of his talent, Wheeler finally put it all together in his second year in Philadelphia after signing a five-year contract after the 2019 season. Wheeler was effective in the abbreviated 2020 season, recording a 2.92 ERA in 11 starts. He followed it up by pitching even better with a heavy workload, making for one of the more impressive seasons by a Phillies pitcher.
Only three other Philadelphia pitchers have surpassed Wheeler’s 7.3 fWAR in a season in the last 50 years: Steve Carlton (1972, 1980, 1983), Curt Schilling (1997, 1998) and Roy Halladay (2011). Carlton won two of his four Cy Young Awards out of those seasons — in 1972 and 1982. Schilling finished second in Cy Young voting in 1997, and Halladay finished second in 2011 after winning it with a 6.5 fWAR the season prior.
Wheeler is still not the most likely to win the NL Cy Young, as Burnes pitched an incredible season, albeit carrying a much lighter load than Wheeler. In 167 innings over 28 starts, Burnes produced a 2.43 ERA, a 1.63 FIP, 12.61 strikeouts per nine innings and 7.5 fWAR, all major-league bests.
Still, the being named a finalist is fitting honor and a reflection of the ace’s dominant 2021 campaign, even if he doesn’t end up taking home the award.
The winner of this year’s Cy Young Awards will be announced on Nov. 17.
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