Who Are the Front-Runners for the National League Cy Young Award?
With the season approaching its halfway point, it's time to take a look at the front-runners for the National League Cy Young Award. And unlike last season when Clayton Kershaw was in front and everyone else was behind him, this year there's a lot of competition in the National League.
We'll take a look at numberFire's nERD metric, used to measure the amount of runs a player contributes, or in the case of a pitcher, prevents, above or below the league average, along with a few other sabermetrics -- fWAR, ERA-, and swinging strike percentage -- to determine the leading candidates for the National League Cy Young award.
1. Max Scherzer, Nationals
nERD: 2.55 | fWAR: 4.7 | ERA-: 56 | SwStr%: 13.9%
If there's any National League pitcher capable of winning the Cy Young over Kershaw,right now, it's Max Scherzer, who's just been incredible over the first half of the season. In 18 starts, Scherzer has a 2.11 ERA, 2.20 FIP and 2.90 xFIP, with 10.23 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and just 0.95 walks per nine innings (BB/9).
The Nationals' pitcher has been fantastic, posting a league-high 4.7 fWAR among starters. His 2.55 nERD is tied with Kershaw's. His 56 ERA-, meaning his ERA is 44 percent better than the league average, is second in the National League, and his fastball has been the best in the National League with 18.1 wFB, fastball runs above average. His opponent batting average is also the lowest in the National Leagueat .183. However, look for some regression from Scherzer in the second half, as his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) should regress upwards from .242 closer to .300. But right now, Scherzer is sitting pretty at the All-Star Break, atop the National League Cy Young race.
2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
nERD: 2.55 | fWAR: 3.7 | ERA-: 79 | SwStr%: 15.6%
Even though he hasn't been quite as dominant as he has in recent seasons, Kershaw's still dominating. In 18 starts, Kershaw has a 2.85 ERA, 2.39 FIP and 2.07 xFIP. His 3.7 fWAR is second in the National League only to Scherzer's. The Dodgers' pitcher is striking out 11.71 per nine innings, best in the National League, while walking just 1.98 per nine innings. Kershaw also hasn't been getting as lucky as other National League starters and owns a .306 BABIP -- right around the league average.
With an opponent batting average of just .216, a strikeout rate of 32.7 percent (best in the National League), and the best curveball in the National League per wCB, Kershaw has pitched himself into the Cy Young discussions yet again, even in a so-called down year for him.
3. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
nERD: 2.27 | fWAR: 3.4 | ERA-: 69 | SwStr%: 9.8%
Jon Lester is having a down year of his own in the Windy City, but Jake Arrieta has pitched like an ace for the Cubs. In 18 starts, Arrieta has a 2.66 ERA, 2.60 FIP and 2.72 xFIP with 9.10 K/9 and 1.85 BB/9.
Third in the National League with his 2.27 nERD and 3.4 fWAR, Arrieta has been excellent for the Cubs this season, with a devastating cutter that ranks second in the National League in cutter runs above average, 9.3 wCT. With an ERA- of 69, Arrieta has pitched 31 percent better than the league average, putting himself among the National League's elite.
4. Gerrit Cole, Pirates
nERD: 2.22 | fWAR: 2.7 | ERA-: 63 | SwStr%: 9.7%
Gerrit Cole has broken out this season, emerging as the Pirates' ace. The Pirates' phenom has a 2.30 ERA, 2.74 FIP and 2.95 xFIP in 18 starts, with 8.90 K/9 and 2.15 BB/9. Cole has made huge improvements since last season, with the help of an incredible fastball, which ranks among the top five in wFB in the National League.
Cole is solidly among the top National League starters in just about every pitching category, striking out 24.6 percent of batters he's faced, while walking just 5.9 percent. And similar to Kershaw, with a .305 BABIP, Cole hasn't been getting a whole lot of luck in the field, so he could even improve upon his fantastic numbers in the second half, a scary thought for the other National League Central teams.
5. Zack Grienke, Dodgers
nERD: 2.14 | fWAR: 3.2 | ERA-: 38 | SwStr%: 11.3%
Zack Grienke has been on a tear recently, pitching absolutely light outs. Grienke owns a 1.39 ERA, 2.65 FIP and 3.18 xFIP with 7.74 K/9 and 1.46 BB/9 in 18 starts this season. With an ERA- of 38, almost a full 20 points ahead of Scherzer's, Grienke's ERA is 62 percent better than the league average.
While he may not have the best nERD, his ERA- and his top-five fWAR vault him into the Cy Young discussions. The Dodgers' pitcher is leaving an astounding 89.5 percent of base runners on and has a 0.84 WHIP, second best in the National League. Unfortunately, Grienke, with a .233 BABIP, probably won't be able to keep it up for the rest of the season while his LOB% and BABIP approach the league averages.
A.J. Burnett, Pirates
nERD: 2.16 | fWAR: 2.8 | ERA-: 58 | SwStr%: 8.5%
A.J. Burnett has had a resurgent year after an awful 2013 season, giving the Pirates an excellent number-two behind Cole. In 18 starts this season, Burnett has a 2.11 ERA, 2.77 FIP and 3.32 xFIP with 7.54 K/9 and 2.49 BB/9. At 38 years old, Burnett may not have the best stuff -- as evidenced by an 8.5 swinging strike percentage -- with an ERA- of 58, he's pitched 42 percent better than the league average in the first half. If he can keep it up in the second half, he could actually approach the Cy Young discussion. Burnett currently owns a .314 BABIP but also a 81.7 LOB%, so it's unclear whether he can expect to improve or not over the second half.