(Disclaimer: This post was written last week and has not gone through my editor yet. I will likely re-post once the edits have been made, and all stats will be updated to reflect the most accurate information available.)
The 2015 race for the National League Cy Young award seems to be a three-horse race. The three main candidates this season are Jake Arrieta from the Chicago Cubs, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw, both from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Decent arguments could be made for Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom from the New York Mets, but in my opinion they haven't done quite as much to warrant the award as the aforementioned trio.
Arrieta and Greinke are having arguably the best seasons of their careers, and Kershaw is having yet another great season in what is shaping up to be a Hall of Fame-caliber career. So the question becomes, who's the favorite to win the award?
The Case for Jake Arrieta
Arrieta is the ace of the Cubs rotation, with an 18-6 record, including a no-hitter earlier this season. His Earned Run Average is ever-so-slightly above 2 runs per game (2.03 to be exact), and of the three main candidates for NL Cy Young, he has 3 more wins than Greinke and 6 more than Kershaw. That's not to say that wins should be the only determining factor, but it is an important one.
While the disparity in wins and the fact he does have a no-hitter under his belt weigh in his favor, his ERA is half a run more than his counterpart Zack Greinke, and his 197 strikeouts this season does fall 54 strikeouts short of Clayton Kershaw. He also has allowed more walks than Kershaw and Greinke (by 10 and 12 respectively).
The biggest argument for Arrieta is what he has meant to the Cubs. As it stands today, the Chicago Cubs are sitting at 21 games above .500, third place in the NL Central, and firmly in the hunt for the second Wild Card in the playoff race. Their 2015 success is due in large part to the emergence of RHP Jake Arrieta.
The Case for Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke is enjoying somewhat of a career resurgence for the Dodgers in the 2015 season. He's never had what anyone would call a “downswing” in his career, but his numbers this season are a significant improvement on the past few years.
With one more win, he'll equal the most wins of his career (16). He's most likely not going to come close to his career best in strikeouts (242 in 2009 as a member of the Kansas City Royals. He's at 169 so far this season), but he's making up for that with his Earned Run Average. So far in 2015, his ERA is a full half-run better than any other season in his career (his ERA in 2015 is a paltry 1.59. His previous best was again in 2009 with the Royals, at 2.14).
Where Greinke gets hurt in the Cy Young race is in the fact that he's going to have to split the votes with Clayton Kershaw, who is having a Cy Young-caliber season in his own right. Were Greinke playing for another playoff contender in the NL, I might just have him ahead of Arrieta in the race.
The Case for Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw isn't having a particularly strong season by his standards, and, oddly enough, that just might be the strongest case he has for the Cy Young award this season. Kershaw has previously won the Cy Young award three times, and in two of those three years, his stats were significantly better than the 2015 campaign thus far. In the third, however, his numbers were pretty similar to what they are now.
In the 2013 season, Kershaw took home his third NL Cy Young award. That season he had a 16-9 record with a 1.83 ERA and 232 strikeouts. So far in 2015, Kershaw is 12-6 with a 2.18 ERA and a career-high 251 strikeouts.
As with Greinke, Kershaw suffers from the problem of being on the same staff with someone who has, at the very least, as good a case for the award, if not slightly better. If past performance and name recognition factors into the voters’ minds, then Kershaw has a chance to take home his fourth trophy, but the way I see it, he has the weakest case of the three front-runners.
So Who Takes Home the Trophy?
In the end, I think the answer lies in how you look at the award and what the award means to you. If you look at the award as “Who is the best pitcher in the National League this season”, then I think you have to give the award to Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw has been nearly unhittable this season, and has the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio of the three candidates.
However, if you look at the award more as an MVP award for pitchers, then you have to give the award to Arrieta, almost by default. If you take Kershaw away from the Dodgers, they still have Greinke and would still be a good team. The same argument can be made in reverse for Greinke.
On the flip-side, if you take Arrieta and his 18 wins away from the Cubs, you get a team that, yet again, is a bottom-feeder in the NL Central, instead of a team that is well above .500 and fighting for a play-off spot. Couple that with the fact that Kershaw and Greinke are likely to split voters between them, and Arrieta seems to be the likely choice for the 2015 NL Cy Young award
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.