Three out of the past four seasons, the National League Cy Young award has gone home to sit on the mantle of one player, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kershaw has been out of this world good over the past four seasons, and really, you could make a case that the only reason he lost out on the 2012 Cy Young was due to the feel-good story that was R.A. Dickey.
This season, however, a change finally appears to be coming. Kershaw has been cuffed around a bit this season, and even though advanced statistics suggest that his 4.24 ERA should be coming down sooner rather than later, the rest of the National League’s stable of aces are more than holding their own as they try to dethrone Kershaw.
Just take a look at the National League pitching leaderboards. If that doesn’t make you think about the Dead Ball Era, I don’t know what will. So far this season, there are six pitchers with an ERA below 2.00, mostly after eight starts (Aaron Harang has nine starts under his belt, but I think we can safely discount him from the Cy Young race). Michael Wacha is also knocking on the door with a 2.13 ERA.
The best of the bunch has been Shelby Miller of the Atlanta Braves, who came just an out shy of no-hitting the Miami Marlins on Sunday. That complete game shutout lowered Miller’s ERA to 1.33. In 25.0 May innings, Miller has allowed only one run. He has two shutouts on the season. Lest you believe that Miller has only been good in May, he had a 2.17 ERA in April. The St. Louis Cardinals are definitely kicking themselves for swapping Miller, who seemed expendable in their rotation at the time for Jason Heyward who has been just as mediocre this season as his career numbers would predict.
The oldest sub-2.00 ERA man this year is A.J. Burnett. Burnett is back in Pittsburgh with the Pirates after a disastrous 2014 season with the Philadelphia Phillies that saw him lead the National League with 18 losses. Burnett is back in Pittsburgh, where he appeared to be very comfortable in two bounce back seasons following three bad seasons with the New York Yankees. Burnett’s ERA of 1.38 is nearly as good as Miller’s, but I would not expect Burnett to keep up this torrid pace.
After Burnett, things get interesting, as we come to the pitchers who I think have the best chance to capture the Cy Young — Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, and Matt Harvey. Yes, I realize I am skipping Aaron Harang. He’s not winning the Cy Young. Moving on.
Greinke and Scherzer both have American League Cy Youngs on their resumes, and both appear primed to unseat Kershaw. Harvey has been phenomenal following a missed 2014 season following Tommy John surgery. Scherzer and Harvey hold the advantage here over Greinke thanks to the fact that they, like Miller, pitch in what may be the most offensively challenged division in baseball, the National League East.
Of the pitchers mentioned so far, Scherzer appears to be the one most likely to continue his performance. His FIP of 2.01 is closest to his actual ERA of 1.75. Greinke’s 3.20 FIP more than doubles his ERA, as does Miller’s 3.27 FIP. Harvey’s FIP of 2.65 is more in line with his actual performance this season. All that being said, these are elite pitchers, and elite pitchers tend to limit hits at a higher, more sustainable rate than the average pitcher. Expect some correction in the form of a few more hits and runs allowed for Miller and Greinke, but not much.
My favorite to take home the award is Scherzer. He has the benefit of pitching in the weakest division of the group, and the scheduling gods have not yet figured out a way for him to face his own team. Miller and Harvey will have to face the Nationals a few times, and that may put a dent in their ERAs. Scherzer also seems to like pitching in the National League. He has yet to allow a hit to a number-nine batter this season. Aren’t pitchers batting awesome?
No matter who takes home the award this season, baseball fans are in for a real treat. Instead of handing Clayton Kershaw the award on Opening Day, the Cy Young award this season is not a foregone conclusion, and that makes for a great baseball story down the stretch. We may even be treated to several Scherzer-Harvey-Miller matchups given the fact that they share a division. And of course, Kershaw himself cannot be counted out. Wouldn’t that make things even more interesting?
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