A 60-game regular season means we haven't had the proper amount of time to separate the elite from the very good, meaning we have a crowded field in many regular-season award races. None is more intriguing than the National League Cy Young race.
At least eight candidates can consider themselves in contention for the award. Candidates range from Jacob deGrom, who's looking for this third straight Cy Young, to Corbin Burnes, who has emerged from a relative unknown in Milwaukee this season.
With the regular season wrapping up this weekend, we look at the case for and against each of the Cy Young candidates:
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Stats: 4-2, 2.14 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 94 K, 16 BB, 63 IP, 198 ERA+, 1.99 FIP
Case for deGrom: The two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner is seeking his third straight, and it's hard to argue that he isn't the best pitcher in the league for the third consecutive year. His 94 strikeouts are leading the league, and his 2.14 ERA comes against teams in the AL and NL East, which include outings against above-average offenses such as the Braves, Phillies, Blue Jays and Rays. DeGrom has one more start remaining, and another strong outing should solidify him.
Case against deGrom: The writers get bored with him? It's hard to find a weakness here, but if you're looking for something, you can point to four straight outings against a below-average Marlins offense whose .712 OPS ranks in the bottom third of the league. Still, the Marlins may be a playoff team, and their team OPS does rank higher than six different Central teams, which could give deGrom an edge over contenders like Yu Darvish, Corbin Burnes and Trevor Bauer.
Next start: Saturday vs. Nationals
Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs
Stats: 7-3, 2.22 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 88 K, 13 BB, 69 IP, 200 ERA+, 2.23 FIP
Case for Darvish: The Cubs' ace has arguably put together the best season of his career and has done so by playing an integral role in Chicago nearing the NL Central crown. He has pitched the most innings out of any of the other contenders, with only teammate Kyle Hendricks and the Rockies’ German Marquez having pitched more in the NL this season. Darvish struck out 10 and allowed one earned run to a White Sox team that boasts the most potent offense in the Central, and he has thrown two one-hit outings over seven innings.
Case against Darvish: He still falls short of deGrom in both standard and advanced pitching statistics. While he shut down a potent White Sox lineup, only the Twins rank in the top half of the league in OPS and wRC in the Central, and he had his worst outing against them, allowing four earned runs on nine hits over six innings. Both of those teams are in the AL Central too, meaning most of Darvish’s starts came against the much weaker NL Central lineups.
Next start: Friday at White Sox
Max Fried, Atlanta Braves
Stats: 7-0, 1.96 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 50 K, 19 BB, 55 IP, 243 ERA+, 2.61 FIP
Case for Fried: The Braves southpaw had to step up in a major way once Mike Soroka went down, and he did as the Braves have gone 9-1 in his 10 starts. His K/BB ratio leads all contenders, he hasn't allowed a single home run and his adjusted ERA+ is better than that of deGrom and Darvish, although it still ranks third in the NL. If you want to get really deep into the analytics, batters have a 22.1 hard-hit percentage against Fried – fourth-lowest in MLB – and a 7.7 swing percentage, which ranks first among all NL starters. Fried did all that while pitching against the aforementioned superior NL and AL East lineups.
Case against Fried: Fried missed a start with a short injured list stint and in a truncated season, that could weigh against him. His K/9 ratio also isn't nearly quite to the levels as the others and while he has the ERA and WHIP to support and impressive 7-1 record, wins don’t carry as much weight as they once did.
Next start: Wednesday vs. Marlins
Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati Reds
Stats: 4-4, 1.80 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 88 K, 16 BB, 65 IP, 264 ERA+, 3.15 FIP
Case for Bauer: He leads the majors in WHIP as well as one of the more advanced statistical categories, ERA+, which takes a player’s ERA and normalizes it across the league by accounting for external factors such as ballparks and opponents. Opponents are also hitting just .161 – second-best in MLB.
Bauer is pitching on short rest Wednesday, meaning he could get two more starts in before the season ends Sunday. If he turns in stellar outings on short rest to help the Reds get into the playoffs, that could be a wild-card factor when weighing his Cy Young chances and perhaps leapfrog him over others in a few key categories.
Case against Bauer: He has struggled with the long ball, allowing nine home runs this year, and still trails guys like deGrom and Burnes in K/9 ratio. As mentioned earlier, the NL Central is among the weakest-hitting divisions in baseball, although Bauer’s ERA+ is certainly a good argument against that. Pitching on short rest the next two starts could also backfire on Bauer, causing him to drop in key categories.
Next start: Wednesday vs. Brewers
Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
Stats: 4-0, 1.77 ERA, .095 WHIP, 83 K, 22 BB, 56 IP, 257 ERA+, 1.78 FIP
Case for Burnes: The Brewers right-hander is having a breakout season and is leading the league in ERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), the latter an advanced statistic that measures events the pitcher has the most control over – strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs. Opponents are hitting a microscopic .158 against him, which leads the league. His K/9 ratio trails only deGrom, and his ERA+ comes in just behind Bauer, giving him as strong a case as anyone.
Case against Burnes: It sounds like a broken record at this point, but again, the NL Central boasts a weaker lineup and Burnes has only faced two lineups that rank in the top half of home runs, runs, OPS or wRC+. This might be getting a bit nit-picky, but Burnes doesn’t pitch deep into games either, pitching into the seventh inning just once this season.
Next start: Thursday at Cardinals
Dinelson Lamet, San Diego Padres
Stats: 3-1, 2.07 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 89 SO, 19 BB, 65.1 IP, 207 ERA+, 2.50 FIP
Case for Lamet: Many casual baseball fans may be wondering who is Dinelson Lamet? The 27-year-old Lamet has emerged for the Padres as an ace and is one of the best pitchers in the NL. He ranks third in the NL in opponent batting average (.161) and strikeouts (89). Against the Dodgers, arguably the best lineup in baseball, Lamet is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA, including an 11-strikeout performance over seven innings on Sept. 14.
Case against Lamet: While he's enjoying a breakout season and is in the thick of major categories, Lamet still isn't leading any singular one. There also may be some East Coast bias that comes into play, as many may not be familiar with Lamet and what he brings to the table.
Next start: TBD
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: 6-2, 2.15 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 59 K, 8 BB, 54.1 IP, 196 ERA+, 2.94 FIP
Case for Kershaw: Kershaw hasn't yet reached the minimum qualified innings yet, per Fangraphs, but when he does, he'll be leading the league in WHIP and will be fourth in K/BB ratio – while leading all Cy Young contenders in that category.
Case against Kershaw: We’ve seen Kershaw in the prime of his career and the bar is high, and this isn't quite the Kershaw of old. His strikeouts are low and his innings are low as well, but he still continues to be in the mix as one of the best pitchers in the league.
Next start: Friday vs. Angels
Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
Stats: 5-4, 3.06 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 90 K, 20 BB, 67.2 IP, 148 ERA+, 3.22 FIP
Case for Nola: Nola has continued to dominate with the second-most strikeouts in the NL and a K/9 ratio that ranks just behind Bauer and ahead of Darvish, putting him in the conversation. Opponents are hitting just .194 against him, and he has gone up against some of the toughest lineups in the league, including a 12-strikeout performance against the Yankees earlier this season.
Case against Nola: Honestly, Nola may have pitched himself out of the conversation in his most recent two outings. His five-run performance against the Mets last week really hurt his chances, and his ERA took a big hit. While he's in the mix in many categories, he doesn't lead the NL in anything. There’s also an argument to be made that Zack Wheeler should be the Phillies pitcher to be considered over Nola, as he hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start, but he lacks the overpowering numbers as Nola.
Next start: TBD