It's a three-man race for the NL Cy Young involving Nationals' Max Scherzer, Mets' Jacob deGrom and surprising name

The MLB season has hit the dog days of August and this is about the time we can seriously start discussing the races for major individual awards in addition to keeping watch on the divisional and wild-card races. In the case of the former, this week here on CBS Sports, we'll be running through each award for each league and discussing the top candidates. We continue with Cy Young award on the National League side. For more on the American League Cy Young race, click here.

The Cy Young voting, perhaps moreso than any other award, has evolved in recent years. Pitcher wins have been devalued to some degree and other performance indicators like runs allowed and strikeouts are being emphasized. Workload matters too. Quality reigns supreme, but the best pitchers in the game provide quality and quantity. They're great and they chew up innings. Here's a look at the NL Cy Young candidates.

The three favorites

By and large, the early NL Cy Young conversation has revolved around two men: Mets righty Jacob deGrom and Nationals righty Max Scherzer. And deservedly so. They've been excellent. The NL Cy Young is not a two-man race, however. It's a three-man race. Phillies righty Aaron Nola belongs in the conversation as well.

deGrom, Nola, and Scherzer rank 1-2-3 in the NL in pretty much every meaningful category at the moment. Check it out:


deGromNolaScherzer

Innings

159 (2nd)

154 (5th)

168 2/3 (1st)

ERA

1.81 (1st)

2.28 (3rd)

2.19 (2nd)

ERA+

208 (1st)

183 (3rd)

194 (2nd)

WHIP

0.97 (2nd)

1.00 (3rd)

0.88 (1st)

Strikeouts

195 (2nd)

149 (7th)

227 (1st)

K/BB

5.42 (2nd)

3.47 (9th)

5.68 (1st)

WAR

7.1 (2nd)

7.5 (1st)

7.0 (3rd)


Nola does lag behind deGrom and Scherzer in strikeouts, but he actually leads the trio in WAR because he pitches in the most hitter-friendly home ballpark, and also because he hasn't allowed any unearned runs. You can assign blame to the defense for unearned runs, sure, but runs are runs, and Nola has kept them off the board.

Scherzer has a significant edge in strikeouts and in preventing baserunners. No one has been better at limiting earned runs than deGrom. He is first or second in every category listed above. That's mighty impressive. Quality starts are pretty weak -- three earned runs in six innings is a 4.50 ERA -- so let's raise the bar to seven innings and no more than two earned runs allowed. Here are the totals:

  1. Jacob deGrom: 13
  2. Max Scherzer: 12
  3. Aaron Nola: 9 (tied with Tanner Roark)

deGrom has one more start with seven innings and no more than two earned runs allowed than Scherzer despite making one fewer start overall. Nola lags behind, but again, his home ballpark is pitcher unfriendly. It is worth noting these three have faced essentially the same caliber of competition. The aggregate batting line of their batters faced this year:

  • Jacob deGrom: .246/.316/.404 (.719 OPS)
  • Aaron Nola: .245/.315/.402 (.717 OPS)
  • Max Scherzer: .246/.314/.400 (.714 OPS)

Makes sense, right? They're all in the same division. deGrom has faced slightly better competition because he has to face Scherzer's Nationals and Nola's Phillies. Imagine how good deGrom's numbers would be if he got to face the Mets four or five times like Nola and Scherzer? Goodness.

Now, the elephant in the room here is the win-loss record. Wins are not a good way to evaluate pitchers at all, and there is no better example of that than deGrom. The Mets are very bad, so bad they are 10-14 in deGrom's 24 starts despite his brilliance. Here are the individual win-loss records:

  • Jacob deGrom: 7-7
  • Aaron Nola: 13-3
  • Max Scherzer: 15-5

The narrative is Cy Young voting changed once Felix Hernandez won the award with a 13-12 record in 2010, but the fact of the matter is 11 of the 14 Cy Young winners since then have been the league leader in wins. Maybe that is just a coincidence. I'm not 100 percent sure though. deGrom will be telling this year. His team's terrible play is dragging down his win-loss record, and if he doesn't finish near the top of the NL Cy Young voting, it'll be an indication win-loss record does still carry some weight.

This is just a snapshot in time at the NL Cy Young race, and, if the voting was held today, I believe deGrom and Scherzer would be 1-2 (in either order) on every ballot with Nola third. The voting will not be held today though. There are still six weeks and change for one of these three men to separate themselves from the other. They're neck and neck (and neck) right now.

Others to watch

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Patrick Corbin couldn't have asked for a better contract year. The Diamondbacks southpaw and impending free-agent starter is sitting on a 3.18 ERA (138 ERA+) and 190 strikeouts in 155 2/3 innings. FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, says Corbin (2.41 FIP) is right there with deGrom (2.13 FIP), Scherzer (2.63 FIP), and Nola (2.81 FIP) based on his strikeout, walk, and home run rates. He's been very good overall.

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Kyle Freeland COL • SP • 21
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What an incredible, under-the-radar season. Rockies lefty Kyle Freeland is sporting a 3.02 ERA -- 3.02 ERA! -- despite calling Coors Field home. Once adjusted for ballpark, his 156 ERA+ is in that second tier of NL pitchers behind deGrom, Nola, and Scherzer. Freeland sports a 21.1 percent soft contact rate, 15th best among all pitchers with another innings to qualify for the ERA title. The strikeouts (7.4 K/9) lag a little bit and he probably walks a few too many (3.2 BB/9) to rank among the league's truly elite, but a 3.02 ERA in 146 innings as a Rockies pitcher? Forget the Cy Young. Build the guy a statue on Blake Street.

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Zack Greinke ARI • SP • 21
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The only reason it's not really fair to call Corbin the D-Backs ace is the fact Zack Greinke exists. Greinke has been marvelous in his third season in the desert, throwing 156 innings with a 3.00 ERA on the nose. That's a 146 ERA+ once adjusted for ballpark. His strikeout (9.1 K/9) and walk (1.8 BB/9) rates are elite, and he has the Cy Young pedigree as well. A strong finish could make Greinke the leading candidate to finish fourth in the Cy Young voting behind deGrom, Nola, and Scherzer.

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Miles Mikolas STL • SP • 39
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Miles Mikolas, who returned to the big leagues after a three-year stretch in Japan, is a throwback. He's an old school pitch to contact guy with a low strikeout rate (6.1 K/9) and the league's lowest walk rate (1.5 BB/9). It works though. Mikolas has a 2.85 ERA (139 ERA+) in 151 1/3 innings. Give the Cardinals a truth serum, and I think they'd tell you they expected Mikolas to be good when they gave him two years and $15.5 million last offseason, but not this good.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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