Handicapping the NL Cy Young Race


While the AL Cy Young races have seen their share of drama, the same can’t be said for the NL. Since the turn of the century, four different players have won back-to-back awards with Randy Johnson winning four straight from 1999-02. Tim Lincecum won two in a row in 2008-09, Clayton Kershaw won three in four years between 2011-14, and Max Scherzer won two straight and almost a third, but voters decided on Jacob DeGrom instead in 2018. Scherzer will look to also win his third Cy Young in four years, but he’ll have some stiff competition in order to do so.

The Favorites

Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ryu has been absolutely incredible this season. Not only does he have the lowest WHIP (0.93) and ERA (1.76) in the National League, but he’s thrown 112 strikeouts with only 14 walks in his 19 games. He has allowed less than two runs in all but one start (at Coors Field no less), and one run or less in nine of his starts At Dodger Stadium, Ryu holds an 8-0 record with a 0.89 ERA, only allowing seven earned runs. You could argue he’s performing even better than Jacob DeGrom did last season en route to winning the Cy Young, although Ryu has the advantage of team success, he’s getting an average of 5 runs per game of support. If he can keep his opponents on-base percentage around the .248 mark that it’s at right now, as well as maintaining his great ERA, this award should be Ryu’s to lose.

Current Hypothetical Odds: -200

Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

On May 17th, Scherzer was sitting at a 2-5 record with a 3.72 ERA after giving up three runs in six innings against the Chicago Cubs. The Nationals looked down and out with one of the worst records in the NL, and there were even talks of trading Scherzer away. They didn’t, and Scherzer has responded by winning seven consecutive starts since June 2nd while throwing for 79 strikeouts, six walks, and only giving up five runs. His ERA is now down to 2.30, good enough for second in the NL behind Ryu, and he is also top three in WHIP (0.95), K/BB (7.87), and home runs allowed (9). Scherzer has missed most of July with inflammation in his back, but if he keeps pitching the way he did just before going on the IL, it’ll be an interesting race.

Current Hypothetical Odds: +125

The Field

Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds

Many people expected Castillo to have a breakout season in 2018, but he ended up going 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA. But 2019 has seen him pitch like an ace as he became the first Cincinnati starting pitcher to make the NL All-Star team since Johnny Cueto in 2014. His 2.36 ERA is third in the league, and his allowed batting average is a minuscule .180. He’s been able to strike out opposing batters, posting 10.53 strikeouts per 9; but Castillo has struggled with walks, his 57 being second in the league. Whether or not he can cut back on those walks may determine if he can catch the top-two of this list, and possibly become the first Cy Young winner out of Cincinnati.

Current Hypothetical Odds: +750 

Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks

Greinke, at age 35 in his 16th MLB season, is having his best year since 2015 when he finished second in Cy Young voting. His 2.93 ERA and 0.95 WHIP are both top-5 in the league, and that’s with the velocity of his fastball being under 90 MPH. Not only that, he is on pace for the best K/BB ratio of his career, along with his lowest BB/9 total. There are rumors Greinke may end up leaving Arizona via trade before the deadline, which may end up helping his case if he ends up pitching more significant innings down the stretch.

Current Hypothetical Odds: +1250

Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves

It can take some time for rookie pitchers to get adjusted to the major league level, but Soroka has made it look easy so far, posting a 10-2 record with a 2.46 ERA through his first MLB season. To put it in perspective, compare Soroka’s numbers this season to some other elite pitchers that have won Cy Young awards.

  Games Played Record Innings Strikeouts Walks ERA WHIP BAA
Soroka 17 10-2 102.1 86 24 2.46 1.09 0.23
Kershaw 17 8-2 111 108 19 2.84 1.02 0.228
DeGrom 21 6-7 129 163 32 2.86 1.09 0.225

The strikeouts could be higher, but Soroka is putting up comparable numbers with some of the best pitchers in baseball, and he is only turning 22 in August. If he does manage to get his name on the ballot, he could be the second rookie ever to win the Cy Young (Fernando Valenzuela, 1981) and the first Atlanta pitcher to win the award since Tom Glavine in 1998.

Current Hypothetical Odds:+2500

Also Considered: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals; Jacob DeGrom, New York Mets; Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs; Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies; The rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation

Just like the NL MVP race, this one seems to come down to just two players in Ryu and Scherzer. Ryu has better numbers and looks like a pretty safe bet to win this one, but Scherzer has the pedigree, and we’ve all seen what he can do at his best. It appears that it will all come down to whether Ryu can maintain his torrid pace and low ERA. As long as Ryu pitches well when the Dodgers visit Coors field next, that seems a pretty safe bet.

Photo: Sportingnews

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