Cy Young 2018: Sizing up the finalists and making our picks

Yahoo Sports

Baseball’s awards week is in full swing. We’ve already awarded the top rookies and the best managers of 2018. Next it’s time to get into the really contentious stuff — who should be the Cy Young winners in the American League and National League?

Some of the usual suspects are here. Guys like Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander, and we’ve got some interesting cases to dissect in Jacob deGrom and Blake Snell.

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A few questions that are central to the conversation this time around: How much does the pitcher win matter? Can someone like deGrom with a 10-9 record but a 1.70 ERA really win the award? And how does a player not on a playoff team compare to one who makes the playoffs?

In baseball’s information age, some of the thought around these subjects is changing. We’ll see just how much when the Baseball Writers Association of America hands out its Cy Young awards, because a deGrom win could represent a radical shift in how we look at pitching stats. TV coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday on MLB Network.

Below we’ll break down each finalist and offer picks from the Yahoo Sports MLB crew.

Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber is looking to become a three-time Cy Young award winner. (AP)
Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber is looking to become a three-time Cy Young award winner. (AP)

American League

Corey Kluber — Cleveland Indians

Kluber is looking for the Cy Young hat trick in what could be his final season with the Cleveland Indians. If he pulls it off, he’ll become only the 11th pitcher in MLB history to win at least three Cy Young awards.

The 32-year-old right-hander carried a heavy load again, leading the AL in innings pitched (215). It’s the fifth straight season Kluber has exceeded 200 innings. Despite the workload, he remained dominant, posting a 2.89 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 6.3 WAR. There are few more reliable arms in the game.

Blake Snell’s breakout season could make him the Tampa Bay Rays second Cy Young winner. (AP)
Blake Snell’s breakout season could make him the Tampa Bay Rays second Cy Young winner. (AP)

Blake Snell — Tampa Bay Rays

At times this season Snell was the only true starting pitcher on the Rays roster. If you’re only going to have one, it might as well be one of the best.

The 25-year-old left-hander emerged as one of the truly elite starters in MLB, producing strong numbers across the board despite pitching in MLB’s toughest division. Most will understandably discount his MLB-leading 21 wins, but he was much more than that anyway. He ranked first in the AL in ERA (1.89), ERA+ (219) and hits per nine innings (5.6). Snell has a good chance to join David Price (2012) as a Rays Cy Young winner.

Will Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander finally win his second Cy Young award? (AP)
Will Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander finally win his second Cy Young award? (AP)

Justin Verlander — Houston Astros

A certain future Hall of Famer, Verlander is looking to add a second Cy Young award to his résumé. Verlander won the Cy Young award, along with the MVP, for the Detroit Tigers back in 2011. Since then, he’s had two runner-up finishes and another top five in the Cy Young voting. In other words, he’s been really good for a long, long time, and there were no signs of slowing down in his age-35 season.

Verlander led the majors in WHIP (0.90) and strikeouts per walk (7.8), while ranking first in the AL in strikeouts (290), WAR (6.8) and starts (34). His 2.52 ERA was the second best of his career, trailing only his historic 2011 season. Everything about his case is strong, except that he may have ended up splitting votes with teammate Gerrit Cole.

Jacob deGrom’s hard-luck season would have a fairy-tale ending if he wins the NL Cy Young award. (AP)
Jacob deGrom’s hard-luck season would have a fairy-tale ending if he wins the NL Cy Young award. (AP)

National League

Jacob deGrom — New York Mets

We all know the story surrounding Jacob deGrom. He was MLB’s most hard-luck starter as he frequently received little-to-no support from his New York Mets teammates. Yet that never stopped the 30-year-old right-hander from stacking dominant starts and putting together one of the most incredible seasons we’ve ever seen from a starting pitcher.

DeGrom led the entire league in ERA (1.70), WAR (8.8) and home runs per nine innings (0.4). He also posted single-season records with 24 consecutive quality starts and 29 straight outings of three runs or fewer. But all he had to show for that is 10 wins. That outcome only further discredits the value of the pitching win. With that said, if deGrom does win, he would be the first starter to ever win the Cy Young while only having won 10 games.

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola took another huge step forward to become a Cy Young contender. (AP)
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola took another huge step forward to become a Cy Young contender. (AP)

Aaron Nola — Philadelphia Phillies

Aaron Nola entered 2018 as one of the best young starting pitchers in the game. He left it as one of the truly elite pitchers without any other qualifications needed.

The 25-year-old right-hander posted a 2.37 ERA (second in the NL), and a 0.97 WHIP (third in NL), while gobbling up a career-high 212 1⁄3 innings. In many seasons, those numbers would have vaulted Nola to the top of Cy Young ballots. This season, it leaves him in a tough spot as there are two more established pitchers who clearly posted better seasons. Nonetheless, the table has been set for future Cy Young awards.

Will Max Scherzer’s first 300-strikeout season result in his fourth Cy Young award? (AP)
Will Max Scherzer’s first 300-strikeout season result in his fourth Cy Young award? (AP)

Max Scherzer — Washington Nationals

The Cy Young always feels like it’s Max Scherzer’s to lose. This season, he seemingly did everything he needed to become only the fourth pitcher to win the award at least four times.

The 34-year-old right-hander beasted again, leading the majors with a career-high 300 strikeouts. His 220 2⁄3 inning also led MLB, while his 5.88 strikeouts per walk, 0.91 WHIP and .187 opponent batting average all led the NL. With a win, Scherzer would become the first MLB pitcher to win three Cy Young awards in a row since Randy Johnson won four straight from 1999-2002. Only deGrom’s incredible season stands in his way.

Our Picks

Chris Cwik
AL — Justin Verlander: It’s impossibly tough for me to pick between Verlander and Blake Snell. in the end, I decided that Verlander’s lead in innings — he pitched over 30 more than Snell — outweighed Snell’s advantage in ERA (1.89 to 2.52). Verlander also posted a slightly higher strikeout rate and a much lower walk rate. To me, the most valuable pitcher in baseball should be capable of pitching a lot of innings for his team while going deep into games. Verlander did that better than Snell in 2018.

NL — Jacob deGrom: Jacob deGrom strikes me as the easy choice here. He stands up to both Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola in basically every pitching category. His innings, strikeout rate and walk rate are all on par with both guys. Combine all that with deGrom’s excellent 1.70 ERA, and I think he has a leg up on the competition. Don’t even think of coming at me with deGrom’s win-loss record, either. It’s 2018. Pitcher wins stopped mattering over a decade ago.

Mike Oz
AL — Blake Snell: I’m fine with Snell or Verlander winning it, both are deserving. But what Snell did was pretty darn impressive. I don’t care much about pitcher wins, but the fact that he Snell won the most games in MLB *and* had the lowest ERA in the American League says to me that there’s no denying how great he was. The only real advantage that Verlander has is that he pitched more innings, and while that’s important, I’ll take a sub-2.00 ERA instead.

NL — Jacob deGrom: Allow me to be yet another person talking about how great deGrom was despite his win-loss record. To that point, I’ll just say this: It’s not his fault the Mets were a mess and couldn’t score enough runs for him to get a “win.” He was dominant by every other metric.

Liz Roscher
AL — Justin Verlander: At age 35, Verlander is still pitching like a kid. He logged over 200 innings and made 34 starts. That alone is pretty rare these days, but he also did it with a 2.52 ERA. He notched a career-high 290 strikeouts, and had a career-low 0.902 WHIP. 2018 was one of the best seasons of his career — his best since 2011, when he won his first and (thus far) only Cy Young. I think he deserves a second one.

NL — Jacob deGrom: There is no other choice in the NL, really. Both Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola were exceptional, but deGrom was in a different stratosphere. He had one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time. This award belongs to him.

Mark Townsend
AL — Blake Snell: No, Snell didn’t handle the same workload as Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber. No, his team didn’t make the postseason. Yes, he did post a 1.90 ERA while pitching mainly against AL East competition. That’s all you need to know.

NL — Jacob deGrom: During the season the story became how the Mets couldn’t support deGrom, which is so fittingly Mets you’d almost think they were parodying themselves. Now though, the story should be all about deGrom and how he somehow kept getting better while everything around him kept getting worse.

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