The case for each NL Cy Young Award finalist
The National League East provided much of the Senior Circuit's pitching star power during the 2018 season, ultimately producing all three of the finalists for the NL Cy Young Award. While Max Scherzer of the Nationals has won the honor in each of the past two seasons and Phillies ace Aaron Nola led the NL in pitching WAR during a true breakout campaign, they could be facing an uphill battle this year against Jacob deGrom of the Mets, who posted historic numbers despite taking the mound for a non-contending team that didn't give him much help in amassing pitcher wins.
With the 2018 NL Cy Young Award winner set to be revealed in Wednesday's 6 p.m. ET announcement on MLB Network, here's a look at the case for each of the finalists.
• AL Cy Young Award: A case for each finalist
Jacob deGrom, Mets
The case for deGrom as Cy Young is not particularly difficult to make; he was, statistically, the best pitcher in the NL.
Many baseball fans, when discussing matters of pitching, value ERA above all else. deGrom's 1.70 mark not only led the NL by a wide margin, it was MLB's sixth lowest among qualifying pitchers since the league lowered the mound to its current height in 1969. deGrom also ranked second in the NL in innings and strikeouts. He set Major League records for consecutive quality starts and consecutive starts of three or fewer runs.
Prefer advanced metrics? deGrom's league-leading ERA+, which is adjusted for league and ballpark factors, ranked 24th among qualified starters in Major League history. He led all MLB pitchers in WAR, whether your preferred calculation is fWAR, bWAR, RA9-WAR or Baseball Prospectus' WARP. According to Statcast™ data, deGrom led NL pitchers in barrels per plate appearance and expected on-base percentage, both weighted and unweighted. Simply put, pitching is about run prevention, and no one was better at that than deGrom.
There are really only two arguments against him. One is that deGrom did all this for a Mets team that was never in a pennant race -- a fact that voters sometimes take into consideration, even though it's not a ballot criterion. The other is that, due to the Mets' 23rd-ranked offense by runs scored and 28th-ranked bullpen by ERA, deGrom finished with a personal record of 10-9. Wins and losses have long since fallen out of vogue with the bulk of the BBWAA's constituency, but a few voters will surely punish him for that record.
The rest? They'll reward deGrom for what was statistically one of the greatest seasons by any pitcher in the last half century.
-- Anthony DiComo
Aaron Nola, Phillies
Nola, 25, went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA in 33 starts. He ranked second in the NL in ERA, opponents' OPS (.570) and barrels per plate appearance (3.0 percent); third in innings (212 1/3) and wOBA (.251); fourth in wins and FIP (2.97); fifth in strikeouts (224) and opponents' batting average (.197); sixth in average exit velocity (85.9) and eighth in hard-hit percentage (31.0 percent).
Nola finished with a 10.5 pitching WAR, according to Baseball Reference. deGrom finished second (9.6). Historically, Nola's WAR puts him in rare company. It ranks 18th in baseball in the past 100 seasons. It is the highest by any pitcher since Randy Johnson's 10.7 in 2002. The Mets' Dwight Gooden is the only NL pitcher in the past 100 years to post a better WAR during or before his age 25 season. Gooden posted a 12.2 WAR in 1985.
Nola's 19 starts allowing four or fewer hits are three more than any other Phillies pitcher since the mound moved to 60 feet, 6 inches, in 1893. Nola and Hall of Fame right-hander Grover Cleveland Alexander are the only Phillies pitchers since at least 1908 with 200 or more strikeouts and an opponents' batting average of .200 or lower.
-- Todd Zolecki
Max Scherzer, Nationals
"Strikeouts are sexy," Scherzer once said, a statement that encapsulates his bid for a third consecutive Cy Young award. Scherzer scoffs at the notion of "pitching to contact," believing strikeouts are the best way to show his dominance as a pitcher over the opposing hitter. In 2018, Scherzer paced the NL with 12.24 strikeouts per nine innings and 300 strikeouts overall, becoming the fifth pitcher since 2001 to reach that plateau. Even during an era in which strikeouts are higher than ever, few have reached that mark.
Scherzer will be going for his fourth Cy Young Award overall, including an American League Cy Young Award he won in 2013 with the Tigers to go along with his awards in the past two seasons with the Nats. Another win would put Scherzer in even more rarefied territory, but deGrom will enter this announcement as the favorite. Scherzer's 2.53 ERA is good, but it doesn't approach deGrom's historic 1.70 mark, which makes him the favorite. But Scherzer holds an advantage in a few other categories, including WHIP (0.91), innings (220 2/3) and wins (18), all of which paced the NL.
Even after winning Cy Young Awards in the past two seasons, Scherzer made it a goal for himself to get better. At the age of 34, he continues to do so, putting himself in position to potentially win his third straight award.
-- Jamal Collier