For the players, Spring Training is the time of year to get back into playing shape and get their reps in before the season starts. For management, it’s the time of year to decide who stays in the Bigs and who’s sent down to the minor leagues. For the fans, it’s the time of year when we all draft our free agent teams – minus the keepers, of course. For me, in this series of articles, Spring Training is the time of year where I make my predictions regarding the 2019 season.
This article will take a look at who I believe are the strongest candidates to win the 2019 National League Cy Young Award. The National League has some darn good pitchers competing for the award, so I’ll do my best to narrow it down to just five.
1. Jacob deGrom – New York Mets
Coming off one of the best seasons ever for a starting pitcher, there is no one better poised to win this year’s Cy Young Award than Mets ace Jacob deGrom. He would have been the unanimous NL Cy Young in 2018 if it weren’t for an out-of-touch writer from San Diego who just voted for the guy with the most wins.
In 2018, the 30-year-old went 10-9 with a 1.70 ERA, 1.99 FIP, 0.912 WHIP, 269 strikeouts, and only 46 walks in 217.0 innings. He became only the 11th qualified starting pitcher in the last 100 years to finish a season with an ERA of 1.70 or below, and the first pitcher all time to start 20 or more games with an ERA of 1.70 or below and record 10 wins or fewer in a season.
He set a new single-season record with 29-straight starts allowing three runs or fewer, a streak that is still going — With one more on Opening Day, and he would pass Jake Arrieta (2015-16) for a record of 30 straight starts overall. Additionally, his last 24 starts were all quality starts (also a single-season record), and is only two behind Bob Gibson‘s 26-straight quality starts from 1967-68.
He’s the only pitcher in MLB’s modern era (since 1900) with a sub-2.00 ERA, 260 or more strikeouts, 50 or fewer walks and 10 or fewer home runs allowed in a season. It’s not like this season came out of nowhere either, as he sported a career 2.98 ERA and 3.07 FIP in 680.2 innings from 2014-17, of course winning Rookie of the Year in 2014.
Feasting on hitters that subscribe to a launch-angle approach, which is most of the league, deGrom is only getting better. While it will be difficult to replicate the best-of-the-best season he had in 2018, watch for him to continue to dominate in 2019 and beyond.
2. Max Scherzer – Washington Nationals
Since 2013, Max Scherzer has won three Cy Young Awards (American League with Tigers in ’13, National League with Nats in ’16 and ’17). He finished fifth in ’14 and ’15, and second to deGrom in 2018. He is a model of elite consistency and at 34 years old, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
In 2018, Scherzer went 18-7 with a 2.53 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 0.911 WHIP, and 300 strikeouts in 220.2 innings. He led the Majors in innings and strikeouts, and the National League in wins, WHIP, H/9 (6.1), K/9 (12.2), and K/BB (5.88). He finished second in voting to deGrom, as I said above, with one first place vote — 123 overall points to deGrom’s 207.
While deGrom is able to circumvent the long ball (he had an MLB-leading 0.4 HR/9 ratio in 2018, allowing only 10 home runs in 217 innings), Scherzer was hurt by it, posting a 0.9 HR/9 ratio having allowed 23 home runs in 220.2 innings. Despite that, he is an annual threat to win the Cy Young and should never, ever be taken lightly.
3. Aaron Nola – Philadelphia Phillies
A highly touted prospect for a long time in Philly, Aaron Nola finally found his stride and broke out in a huge way in 2018. He finished third in Cy Young voting, putting up numbers that would have been more than worthy of the award if it weren’t for the monster seasons by Scherzer and deGrom. At just 25 years-old, though, Nola is poised to build on his success.
In 2018, Nola went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 0.975 WHIP, and 224 strikeouts across 212.1 innings while being elected to his first All Star Game. The Cy Young race was tight for a long time, but Nola had a rough September, allowing nine home runs in six starts (he hadn’t allowed more than two home runs in a month before September), going 2-3 with a 3.72 ERA.
Armed with a huge curveball, Aaron Nola and teammate Jake Arrieta make up a formidable two-headed monster atop an otherwise very weak starting rotation in Philadelphia. While other young pitchers might crack under the pressure of carrying a team towards the playoffs, Nola seemed to handle himself remarkably well last season. Now with a new battery-mate, J.T. Realmuto, he will surely put up good numbers once again — The question is, will it be enough to pass Scherzer and deGrom in the final Cy Young vote?
4. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers
Remember him? One of the best left-handed pitchers of all time turns just 31 years-old in March, but after being a beacon of health for many years, he has averaged just 162 innings per season from 2016-18. When healthy, he is one of the best in the game and a serious threat to take home the Cy Young Award — For a fourth time.
In an injury-plagued 2018, Kershaw went 9-5 with a 2.73 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 1.041 WHIP, and 155 strikeouts in 161.1 innings (26 starts). It was the first time since 2011 that he finished lower than 5th in Cy Young voting, having not garnered any votes.
Kershaw leads all active pitchers with a 2.39 career ERA, 2.64 career FIP, 1.005 career WHIP, 6.7 career H/9, career 0.6 HR/9, 15 career shutouts, and a .689 winning percentage (153-69). He is a first ballot Hall-Of-Famer and someone you should never, ever sleep on.
5. Noah Syndergaard – New York Mets
After missing most of 2017 and a quarter of 2018, Noah Syndergaard is in camp healthy and ready to reach the 200 innings mark for the first time in his career. “Thor” has always put up stellar numbers when healthy, so if he makes 30+ starts, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be in the Cy Young discussion.
Syndergaard, 26, went 13-4 with a 3.03 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 1.212 WHIP, and 155 strikeouts in 154.1 innings in 2018. When he’s healthy, he has perhaps the best fastball, best hard slider, and best changeup of any starting pitcher. He also pounds the strike zone, averaging only two BB/9 across his career against 9.9 K/9.
The two injuries that caused him to miss significant time in 2018, a strained ligament in his index finger and hand, foot, and mouth disease, should not affect him going forward. He finished last season about as strong as anyone could, throwing two complete games in September, the second of which was a complete game shutout in which he allowed five hits and no walks with six strikeouts against the Marlins.
- Zack Wheeler – Wheeler’s 2018 season was a tale of two halves, as before the All Star Break he was very inconsistent and after he was one of the best pitchers in the game. From July 24 to Sept. 17, Wheeler threw 75 innings and struck out 73 batters. He gave up a mere 46 hits, 15 walks and 14 earned runs which translated to a sparkling 1.68 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. If second-half Wheeler shows up in 2019, he could have an enormous breakout season as he heads to free agency.
- Miles Mikolas – Who? Oh, yeah! After taking a hiatus from minor league baseball to find himself in Japan, he returned prior to this season having gone 31-13 with a 2.18 ERA in 424 innings. In his first MLB season since 2014, Mikolas went 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA and 3.28 FIP, striking out 146 in 200.2 innings. After dominating in Japan for three seasons, he continued to pitch very well in America, so look for that trend to continue.
- Patrick Corbin – Pitching in hitter-friendly Arizona, Patrick Corbin had a breakout 2018 season in which he went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA and 2.47 FIP, striking out 246 batters in 200 innings. He finished 5th in Cy Young voting, and now shares a rotation with Max Scherzer at pitcher-friendly Nationals Park after signing with Washington via free agency.
- Kyle Freeland – Pitching a good game at Coors Field is no easy feat, let alone pitching well for an entire season. The lefty Freeland did just that in 2018, going 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA and 3.67 FIP with 173 strikeouts in 202.1 innings. He was actually far more effective at home, going 10-2 with a 2.40 ERA at home and 7-5 with a 3.23 ERA on the road.
- Zack Greinke – He’s always really good, and at 35 years old, he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. He went 15-11 with a 3.21 ERA and 3.71 FIP at hitter-friendly Chase Field in 2018, striking out 199 batters in 207.2 innings. He has also won the Gold Glove award for National League pitchers each of the last five seasons, and while that has nothing to do with winning the Cy Young, it’s still pretty cool.
- Stephen Strasburg – Sharing a rotation with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, Strasburg is not quite the pitcher he was supposed to be when he was first called up. He’s no longer throwing 102 mph, but he is still more than able to get outs, having finished third in Cy Young voting in 2017. He had a comparatively down year in 2018 going 10-7 with a 3.74 ERA and 3.62 FIP in 22 starts, but his peripherals stayed consistent. Look for him to rebound in 2019 and compete for the Cy Young.
- Edwin Diaz – Many people call it the “Robinson Cano trade,” but I call it the “Edwin Diaz trade.” Diaz saved 57 games for the Mariners last season, tied for the second-most all time. It wasn’t luck, as he also posted a 1.96 ERA, 1.61 FIP, and 0.791 WHIP in 73.1 innings, striking out 124 and walking only 17. He finished 8th in AL Cy Young voting last season, a year where many were worthy. Look for him to cement himself as one of, if not the best closer in the National League.
- Walker Buehler – After a rookie season that earned him a third place finish in Rookie of the Year voting, Buehler took the national stage when the Dodgers went to the World Series in 2018. During the playoffs, Buehler made four starts, going 0-1 with a 3.80 ERA and 0.845 WHIP having been stung by the long ball. He showed impressive poise for a rookie and I expect him to have another strong season in 2019 behind Kershaw.
- Madison Bumgarner – He’s made only 38 starts between 2017 and 2018, but MadBum is healthy and ready to go back to his stalwart ways in 2019. He has a career 3.03 ERA and 3.25 FIP in 255 games, and he’s still in his prime at age 29. It would be silly to leave him out of the possible Cy Young discussion, and it will be for years to come.