September’s here. The usual suspects (and the Mets) are dominating the National League. Continuing my series of major award previews, here are the five players most likely to win the NL Cy Young Award, in ascending order of likelihood:
5. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
No, Bumgarner probably isn’t one of the five best pitchers in the National League. Despite last October’s theatrics and the subsequent canonization, he probably never has been. He’s 13th in the league in ERA (2.97) and tied for fifth in FIP (2.76) despite pitching in the most extreme pitcher’s park in the league. His 9.84 K/9 are great, but not Kershaw (11.48) great. Bumgarner finds himself on this list for another reason. He’s 16-6, and while pitcher wins and losses don’t carry as much weight as they used to (for good reason), it’s not just defense and run support that are carrying him to all those wins. MadBum is batting .262/.286/.525 with five home runs. That’s not just far better than any other pitcher, it’s 27 percent better htan league average for any player. Fangraphs tells us he’s been worth 1.1 wins above replacement with his bat and glove. Add that to his 4.4 on the mound and he jumps to third in the NL in total fWAR. That’s not quite MVP material, but if the Cy Young Award is for the best player in baseball whose primary position is pitcher, Bumgarner’s not far off.
4. Jacob deGrom, Mets
Two years ago, the Mets brought up a rookie who pitched one of the great seasons in baseball history, nearly joining a very elite club. When Matt Harvey missed a full season to Tommy John surgery, the Mets called up deGrom, a less-heralded but nearly-as-effective righty who won the Rookie of the Year award. This year it was Noah Syndergaard’s turn to introduce himself to the world, but as good as Thor has been, Harvey’s been better and deGrom has been the best of the three. His 2.32 ERA ranks fourth in the NL and his 2.89 FIP is ninth. He’s a major part of the reason the Mets have surprised everyone by running away with the NL East. A lot would have to break his way for deGrom to win a Cy Young Award, but it’s not impossible.
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
If I were ranking the best pitchers in the NL this year, Kershaw would come out on top. 11.48 K/9. 1.61 BB/9. 0.63 HR/9. 2.24 ERA. 2.10 FIP. There’s nobody better in the game right now and this lines up with the best years of the lefty’s career. There’s a better story going though- maybe two- and voters need to be blown away to keep giving the Cy Young Award to the same guy. Kershaw was the best pitcher in the league when RA Dickey won his award in 2012 and he’ll likely have been the best pitcher in the league when one of the next two guys wins it this year. So it goes.
2. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
Until this weekend, this was a one-horse race, and it may still be, but with his Sunday no-hitter against the Dodgers, Arrieta reminded us that ballots aren’t due just yet. His 2.49 FIP can’t quite match Kershaw’s, and it’s driven in large part by a freakishly low 0.44 homers per nine innings. His 2.11 ERA isn’t quite the next guy’s, but it would be the fourth lowest in either league over the last ten seasons, topped only by the guys before and after him on this list. Both are second-place figures, though, and along with the narrative of the Cubs finally getting back to the playoffs and a chance to break a 107-year World Series drought, it’s not out of the question that Arrieta could pull into the lead this month.
1. Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke has a 1.61 ERA. Pedro Martinez never did that. Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver, Warren Spahn, and Randy Johnson never did that. Here’s full list of qualified ERAs that low since 1920:
Bob Gibson, 1968, 1.12
Dwight Gooden, 1985, 1.53
Greg Maddux, 1994, 1.56
Luis Tiant, 1968, 1.60
Two of those guys pitched from 10-foot high mounds in the Year of the Pitcher. One of those guys started just 25 games in a strike-shortened year. Zack Greinke’s 2015 is next on this list.
His 8.23 strikeouts per nine are merely very good. His 1.56 walks per nine are legendary. For good measure, he’s given up a homer per 18 innings, held batters to a .236 batting average on balls in play, and stranded 86% of runners who reached base against him. Don’t expect Greinke to keep his ERA this low over five or six more starts. It’s very likely, though, that he’ll keep it under 2, and if he does, he’ll be hard to deny for his second Cy Young Award, even if Kershaw or Arrieta is just a few hundredths of a run behind. Some numbers are magical. So are some seasons. Greinke’s having one of those right now.
Honorable Mention: Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, all of the Cardinals’ starters