The word came down Tuesday morning that 2018 National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets was getting a massive five-year, $137.5 million contract extension. No doubt this was a direct result of his historic 2018 season.
Winning back-to-back awards is never easy. Since 2000, only four pitchers have been able to do it, and all of them pitched in the National League. It will be a tall task for deGrom to repeat with all of the great pitchers in the NL this year, including one on his own staff.
2019 NL Cy Young Candidates
No. 1 – Jacob deGrom
Fresh off his new contract extension, deGrom can now pitch this season without his contract status hanging over his head. He won the award pitching on a bad Mets team where he only had 10 wins – the lowest total ever by a Cy Young Award winner. His 1.70 ERA was the third-lowest total for any pitcher who made more than 30 starts since MLB lowered the mound following the 1968 season. Only once in his 32 starts did he allow more than three earned runs in a game, and that was on April 10. He also struck out 276 batters – averaging more than one per inning – while walking 46 batters.
deGrom checked all the boxes needed for a Cy Young Award winner except for the win total. His selection was almost unanimous, as he received all but one first-place vote. His former agent is now his new boss, and he has improved the talent level of this team. If deGrom does his job, he should win more than 10 games in 2019. Can he duplicate those other 2018 numbers?
No. 2 – Max Scherzer
Any Cy Young candidate list must include Max Scherzer. In fact, he is probably the favorite to win the award. His dominance of the league can be summed up with one stat: he is one of six pitchers to win Cy Young Awards in both leagues. Four of those five pitchers are in the Hall of Fame. The fifth pitcher – well, we will not get into that. Scherzer’s run began in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers where he won his first Cy Young Award and has continued through the 2018 season with the Washington Nationals. Max has averaged 17 wins, 270 strikeouts, and 218 innings pitched during that span. His ERA over those six years is 2.81, and his WHIP is 0.975.
Even at age-33, Scherzer is not showing any signs of slowing down. In 2018, he led the National League in wins, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP. Most years, that would be good enough to win the Cy Young. He has led the NL in strikeouts and WHIP the last three seasons. One can go on and on about his accomplishments. Despite the Nationals having a slightly different look this season, there is nothing to suggest that Scherzer’s Reign of Terror will come to an end.
No. 3 – Aaron Nola
The Philadelphia Phillies went on a massive spending spree this offseason, upgrading their everyday players all over the field. They did not need to buy an ace pitcher. That is because they already have an ace in Aaron Nola. Nola continued to improve as he lowered his ERA from 3.54 to 2.37. He lowered his WHIP from 1.208 to below 1.000. He also improved his strikeout total from 184 to 224. With all this improvement, he won five more games, improving from 12 to 17.
Nola did not start the 2018 season as a Cy Young candidate but finished third in the voting. This year, he is among the favorites. Seeing what the Phillies did in the off-season, all eyes are on Philadelphia this year.
No. 4 – Kyle Freeland
We know offensive players sometimes get penalized in award voting by playing half of their games in Colorado. The opposite should be said of pitching in Colorado. After two full seasons in the majors, Kyle Freeland lowered his ERA by over one run (4.10 to 2.85), lowered his WHIP from 1.487 to 1.245, and increased his strikeouts from 107 to 173. To take this one step further, Freeland has actually pitched better in Coors Field than he has on the road.
That is a truly amazing statement, considering the history of playing in Colorado. Virtually nobody talks about pitchers from the Rockies, but Freeland finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018. Nothing suggests that Freeland will take a step back in 2019.
Others to Watch
The man Mets fans call Thor for both his golden locks and the thunderbolt he has for a right arm is always mentioned as a potential Cy Young candidate. Still only 25 years old, Noah Syndergaard is the pitcher most experts say has the best stuff in all of baseball. With just 86 career starts under his belt, Syndergaard has a 162-game average of 15 wins, a 2.93 ERA, a 1.132 WHIP, and 225 strikeouts. This would be considered a great season for most pitchers, but for Thor, more is expected. Could this be the year he puts it all together?
Is Josh Hader a closer or a set-up man? Or, is he just a great relief pitcher who is called on by his manager to get the job done when the game gets tight, no matter what the inning is? Those who watched how the Milwaukee Brewers used him in the playoffs know that he can be called on at any point in the game. In 2018, Hader pitched in 81 innings with an ERA of 2.43, a WHIP of 0.811, and a whopping 143 strikeouts. In the playoffs, he pitched 10 scoreless innings, with 16 strikeouts further indicating that he is a money pitcher. Relievers do not often win Cy Young Awards without a bucketload of saves. Hader finished in the top 10 of the voting despite only saving 12 games. As baseball is trending towards relievers pitching more innings, Hader just might be the best of the bunch.
Want to talk about a player coming out of nowhere? That is exactly what Miles Mikolas is. From 2015-2017, Mikolas pitched in Japan. Before that, he pitched for the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres and was not very good. In 2014, he started 10 games for the Rangers and went 2-5 with a 6.44 ERA. Ouch. Although his numbers in Japan were very good, it is not Major League Baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals signed him before the 2018 season, and all he did was go 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.071 WHIP. He is considered a dark horse candidate for the Cy Young, but if he improves on his 2018 numbers, he should be right there in the discussion.
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