Jacob deGrom emerged late last year to capture the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year award from a relatively weak class of fellow rookies. He did this despite not debuting until the middle of May and making only 22 starts. deGrom finished his rookie season with a 2.69 ERA in 140.1 innings and struck out 9.2 per nine innings. He has been even better in 2015, and could emerge yet again as a late season addition to grab another postseason award — this time, the Cy Young.
Winning the Cy Young in just his second season would be a huge accomplishment for deGrom, especially given the quality of the competition he is up against. There’s Zack Greinke, who continues to sport a 1.71 ERA, and Clayton Kershaw, in the midst of arguably his most dominant season. Kershaw too, could finish the season with a sub-2.00 ERA and become the first pitcher since 2002 to record a 300 strikeout season. Jake Arrieta has also been on fire of late for the Chicago Cubs, and is inserting his name into consideration as well. Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer also have strong cases, although Scherzer has seen his ERA climb up to 2.44 after a few subpar (by his standard) starts.
Let’s make one thing clear: the award will be Kershaw’s to lose if he gets his ERA under 2.00 or strikes out 300. Neither achievement is out of the question. Greinke seems to be running out of steam, and the 1.39 first-half ERA that was fueled largely by luck is starting to experience some correction. Greinke has to keep his ERA under 2.00 to have a shot at the Cy Young. Of the remaining names, deGrom looks to have the best shot at unseating Kershaw.
There are a few factors fueling deGrom’s rise to the top of the contenders to knock off Kershaw. First, there is the improbable rise of the New York Mets. DeGrom leads what has become the best rotation in baseball. If the Mets are able to secure a playoff spot, their best pitcher will receive a substantial boost in support from the voters. Then, there’s the fact that deGrom has emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball. His 2.13 ERA is second only to Greinke in the National League. He had an ERA under 2.00 in both June and July, and appears to be getting stronger as the year goes on. The lanky 27-year-old ranks behind only Greinke and Scherzer with his .202 BAA and has the second-lowest OPS against and BB/9 among Cy Young contenders (for argument’s sake, Bartolo Colon and his 0.9 BB/9 are left out of the discussion). Finally, there’s the plain old Kershaw fatigue factor to consider. Kershaw has won the award three of the last four seasons. For the same reason LeBron James is not handed the NBA MVP award every year, it’s easy to envision voters feeling as if it is time for someone else to hoist the Cy Young. The young, likeable deGrom is the perfect candidate in that regard.
The 2015 National League Cy Young is still Kershaw’s to lose. Kershaw has allowed just five earned runs and walked five dating back to July 1. He’s at his absolute best right now, and it’s very difficult to imagine anything changing between now and the end of the year. DeGrom is approaching his career-high innings total, and will need to prove he has the endurance to last an entire Major League season without wearing down. If he can do that, and if Kershaw has another rough start or two like his most recent one, it may very well open the door for some fresh blood to capture the 2015 NL Cy Young.