Justin Verlander is still the American League’s pacesetter as he seeks his second career Cy Young Award, but the NL race is becoming a real neck-and-neck sprint between a stalwart and an upstart.
Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu continues to lead the Majors in ERA (1.53) and the NL in win percentage (.846) -- two measures that historically translate to a Cy Young. But three-time winner Max Scherzer owns the edge in several of the NL’s new-school metrics, including Baseball-Reference WAR (5.3), strikeout rate (35.3%) and fielding independent pitching (FIP -- 2.09). Your 2019 NL Cy Young choice could come down to health and which statistics you prefer.
That’s why we polled MLB.com reporters and asked them to rank their top three choices in each league, gathering a sense of what they’re favoring in this year’s races. Pitchers received five points for a first-place vote, three points for second place and one point for third. There were 47 voters in total. Here are the aces currently topping their polls.
Justin Verlander, Astros (37 first-place votes)
How’s this for stifling? Verlander’s 0.812 WHIP is on pace to be the lowest by any Live Ball Era (1920-present) pitcher with at least 30 starts in a season; the lowest by anyone, in fact, since Addie Joss’ 0.806 WHIP for the 1908 Cleveland Naps. Those Naps, if you recall, only had seven foes in the AL, and all of them played east of the Mississippi River. Verlander’s .219 on-base percentage allowed would slot nearly 10 points below Sandy Koufax’s .227 OBP allowed in 1965 -- the lowest modern-era mark on record.
Verlander’s 10-strikeout start against the Mariners on Sunday -- his fourth-straight double-digit strikeout outing and seventh of the season -- wasn’t even the Astros’ best pitching performance of the weekend thanks to Aaron Sanchez and company. But the fact that it felt rather routine for Verlander speaks to how dominant he continues to be.
Gerrit Cole, Astros (9)
This is Cole’s first top-three appearance in our poll, but he’s on pace to record the third-best qualified season by strikeout rate in history -- with Pedro Martinez’s 1999 and Randy Johnson’s 2001 campaigns the only ones ahead of him. Hitters are whiffing on nearly one-third of their swings against each of Cole’s four primary pitches (four-seamer, slider, curveball, changeup), according to Statcast, and they haven’t been able to combine for an average above .250 against anything he’s thrown.
Cole is 9-0 with a 1.91 ERA in his last 13 starts dating back to May 27, the longest winning streak of his career and the longest by any big league pitcher since the reigning AL Cy Young, Blake Snell, won nine straight from Aug. 10-Sept. 23 of last year.
“Don’t take for granted what he’s rolling out there every five days,” said Astros manager AJ Hinch last month. “It’s elite. He continues to set the intensity at the beginning of the game and keep a mindset that [is] incredible.”
Charlie Morton, Rays (1)
Verlander, Cole and Morton are a trio that helped define the first two years of Houston’s dynastic run, and Morton’s level hasn’t dropped at all since he signed with the Rays. With co-aces Snell and Tyler Glasnow sidelined with injury, Morton has picked up the slack, winning four of his last five starts to help Tampa Bay stay right in the thick of the AL Wild Card chase. Morton is throwing his curveball more than he ever did in Houston and hitters still can’t pick up on it, batting just .134 and combining for six extra-base hits across 227 plate appearances against the righty’s devastating hook.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (31 first-place votes)
Ryu’s worst start of the season -- and, truthfully, one of his only starts that could even be considered “poor” -- came June 28 at Coors Field, when he surrendered seven Rockies runs and lasted just four innings. So, of course, Ryu came back to Denver on Wednesday and shut Colorado down, permitting only three hits and a walk across six scoreless frames.
That’s the good news, but Ryu’s current injury-list stint with a sore neck might be the biggest roadblock to his first Cy Young. Neither he nor Dodgers manager Dave Roberts categorized the injury as serious, and there was probably at least some motivation for Los Angeles to put Ryu on the IL simply to give him a breather. Greg Maddux’s 23 walks in 1995 are the fewest recorded by any Cy Young-winning starter, but Ryu has currently issued just 16 -- fewer than one per start.
Max Scherzer, Nationals (16)
Both NL frontunners are currently on the IL, but Scherzer’s strained rhomboid muscle could be the most significant factor that curtails him from Cy Young No. 4. There’s no clear timetable for his return, and he hasn’t thrown off a mound since he was sidelined again after his July 25 start against Colorado.
Scherzer’s insane month of June (6-0, 1.00 ERA, 68/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio) -- which pushed him ahead of Ryu last time we checked in on this race -- proved that he can still be baseball’s best pitcher when healthy. But he might need a similar hot stretch over the final six weeks to overcome Ryu’s body of work.
Jacob deGrom, Mets (0)
deGrom’s ERA stands at 2.78. Opponents are hitting just .223 against him. He’s allowed more than two earned runs in just five of his 22 starts this season.
And yet, deGrom’s win-loss record stands at 6-7. Sound familiar?
deGrom made history when he won the 2018 NL Cy Young with a 10-9 record, and it might be too early to count him out for a repeat. The Mets ace ranks among the league’s top-five pitchers in bWAR, ERA, strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he’s the logical darkhorse if injuries continue to hamper Ryu and Scherzer the rest of the way.