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San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Logan Webb (62) delivers against the  Cincinnati Reds in the first inning of a MLB game at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Logan Webb (62) delivers against the Cincinnati Reds in the first inning of a MLB game at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

In this year’s National League Cy Young race, beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

A voter’s ballot would reveal their values.

Should the award reward run-prevention above all else? What’s to be said for shouldering a heavier load, especially in this day and age? And where does pure dominance in the areas most in a pitcher’s control — that don’t necessarily translate to a low ERA — factor in?

Ideally, there would be a pitcher who encapsulates all of these qualities, and that’s how you get unanimous winners. But, as Mike Petriello incisively outlined for in September, there were no Justin Verlanders or Sandy Alcantaras in this race.

There were the workhorses: Logan Webb, Zac Gallen and Zack Wheeler; the strikeout artist, Spencer Strider; and the ERA leader, Blake Snell. A tier below, Kodai Senga and Justin Steele were deservedly in the conversation with lower ERAs than all but Snell but ultimately fell short by throwing fewer innings than the aforementioned five.

Once I received my voting assignment around the end of August, I dreaded the day when I would have to turn my ballot. When it came time to select my top five, though, it was an easier decision than I expected, thanks to Snell’s strong finish and a philosophy behind my thought process.

You can find the final results and all 30 ballots via the BBWAA, but here’s how I voted:

1. Blake Snell

2. Logan Webb

3. Spencer Strider

4. Zac Gallen

5. Zack Wheeler

Absent a runaway winner, I wanted to reward the pitchers who excelled in their facets of the game.

Snell led the National League with a 2.25 ERA, but he also walked the most batters — the first time that has ever happened — a failure of a pitcher’s most fundamental requirement that, for a time, I thought would disqualify him from the top spot on my ballot. His command issues prolonged his innings, shortened his outings and put more stress on the Padres’ bullpen, finishing 36 innings — or about six starts — behind Webb’s MLB-leading 216.

But Snell was so dominant in the innings he was in the game, it didn’t matter.

Surveying the Giants’ clubhouse, Snell was the most common answer I got for the filthiest pitcher they faced this season. Opposing hitters batted a paltry .180 against him, while only Strider (36.8%) struck them out at a higher rate than Snell (31.5%), allowing him to strand 86.7% of all those free base runners, the most in the league.

Snell was simply the best at the most important part of the game. His ERA was a full point lower than Webb’s (3.25) and he would have had to allow 33 earned runs over the 36 innings separating them in workload to even that gap.

Webb, on the other hand, was more reliable and arguably even more important to his team. The Giants’ piecemeal pitching doesn’t work without Webb taking the load off their overworked bullpen every fifth day. Officially, Webb finished fourth in the NL in ERA, while no other Giants pitchers even threw enough innings to qualify.

The only other pitcher who worked deep into games as often and effectively was Gerrit Cole, the runaway winner in the American League. Webb’s 24 quality starts (6+ IP, 3 or fewer ER) were tied with Cole and three more than runner-up in the NL (Wheeler), while he led all of baseball with 12 ultra-quality starts (7+ IP, 2 or fewer ER), three more than the next-closest in the NL (Gallen).

Those numbers aren’t reflected in his 11-13 record, thanks to receiving the least run support in the majors, but they weren’t overlooked by then-manager Gabe Kapler.

“I think what he’s done is probably the most challenging part of everything a pitcher does, which is to be durable and dependable, pitch deep into games and cover innings for a team,” Kapler said late in the season.

“I think innings is a huge factor in this. I don’t think Cy Young should be just about rate stats. I think it definitely has to include counting stats. And probably the most notable counting stat should  be innings because you’re covering those for your team, and that makes you valuable to your team.”

If there was one area where Webb fell short, he was very often good but rarely great.

As someone who observed nearly all of his 32 starts, Webb lacked the dominant performances that define a Cy Young season.

Meanwhile, Strider, the finest purveyor of swings and misses on either side of the Mississippi, is arguably the game’s most electric starting pitcher. On the all-time single-season leaderboard, Strider’s strikeout rate ranks right below two of the greatest pitching seasons in history, 2001 Randy Johnson and 1999 Pedro Martinez.

The two Hall of Famers, however, weren’t just elite at generating swings and misses; they also prevented runs. Strider finished with a 3.86 ERA, which would have been the highest mark for any Cy Young winner in history. He was, however, so much better than anyone else at missing bats in an era that values the strikeout above all else, that the ballot would have felt empty without him.

The most difficult, and least consequential, choice was how to rank Gallen and Wheeler, who easily beat out Steele and Senga for the final spots by throwing considerably more innings, in total, and taking down more impactful ones as their teams hunted down playoff spots in September.

Wheeler was the most valuable pitcher in the majors, according to FanGraphs WAR, but Gallen beat him out in innings pitched (210 vs. 192) and ERA (3.47 vs. 3.61).

And ultimately, the Cy Young is a results-based award, not a predictor of future performance.