Ranking the Top 15 Candidates for the 2014 NL Cy Young Award
The Cy Young Award Remains a Premier Award in MLB
Unlike in other sports, the world of baseball is often dominated by the feats of a single individual, as opposed to what their team is accomplishing. After all, the numbers 300, 500 and 3,000 will always be tied to career wins, home runs and hits. After two decades of the history books being ransacked by steroid abusing stars this relevance has not changed, and in fact, it may have only been heightened.
Of course none of these numbers are accomplished by a one-year wonder, and MLB takes on a grueling 162 game schedule that ensures very few legitimate one-year wonders ever exist. The result of this is that the players who take home the top individual awards on a yearly basis are normally the best of the best in baseball, and maintains the beauty of single season awards much in the way the numbers 300, 500 and 3,000 are viewed.
When it comes to these single-season awards, none may be more important, and historically valued, than the Cy Young Award. The winner of this award almost always takes baseball by storm, as Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw did in winning the National League Cy Young Award in 2013 with a 16-9 record and a 1.83 ERA.
As the 2014 MLB season approaches, it can be assured that every top notch starter in the National League will be rearing to go, and will ensure that the race for the Cy Young Award is one to remember. Taking this fight for the premier pitching award and the upcoming season in mind, I have formed a list of the top 15 candidates for the National League Cy Young Award in 2014.
15. Jeff Samardzija
Jeff Samardzija continues to be a bit of an enigma, as teams line up for his four pitch array of power pitches, but he has yet to do anything special for the Chicago Cubs. In 2013, Samardzija compiled an 8-13 record with a 4.34 ERA in a career-high 213 2/3 innings pitched, although his 214 strikeouts do indicate that an ability to dominate is there. If Samardzija finally figures out the ability to decipher a lineup and get through opposing lineups with consistency, he could pop up as a top notch pitcher.
14. Michael Wacha
Michael Wacha was one of the biggest revelations of the 2013 postseason, as he helped lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series berth with a 4-1 record and a 2.64 ERA in the postseason. Pitching for an entire season will be an entirely different test, but when looking at Wacha's dominant fastball and adequate use of a cutter, changeup and curveball, the tools are all certainly there for a Cy Young run.
13. Gio Gonzalez
Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez saw a bit of a drop off in 2013, as his 11-8 record with a 3.36 ERA was a certain drop off from his 2012 season. Still, after looking at the fact that he did not see a real drop off in terms of overall stuff, and that the Nationals had a surprising down year as a team in 2013, it would not be hard to bet that each will rebound in 2014. Look for Gonzalez as a long shot Cy Young contender.
12. Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole played a huge part in the Pittsburgh Pirates finally making it back to the postseason in 2013, as he compiled a 10-7 record with a 3.22 ERA after being called up in June. The scary thing about his debut season was that Cole actually got better with time, and compiled a 4-0 record with a 1.69 ERA in September. Blessed with a mid-90s fastball, hard slider and good curveball and changeup, Cole will surely win close to 15 games in 2014, and has the potential to truly take baseball by storm.
11. Jordan Zimmermann
Jordan Zimmermann was the ace of a surprisingly weak Washington Nationals team in 2013, as he compiled a 19-9 record with a 3.25 ERA in 213 1/3 innings pitched. Still, Zimmermann looks likely to be overshadowed by Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez if the Nationals blast to the forefront of the National League East. Additionally, Zimmermann looks destined for a correction in his .271 BABIP in 2013, and likely will be more of a steady force for the Nationals, and not an entirely dominant figure.
10. Hyun-Jin Ryu
Hyun-Jin Ryu surprised a lot of people in 2013, as he compiled a 14-8 record with a 3.00 ERA in 192 innings pitched after moving to the Los Angeles Dodgers from Korea in the offseason. Blessed with good control, and an innate ability about how to locate pitches and get hitters out, Ryu will likely once again be a very steady force, and could win close to 20 games if the Dodgers dominate the NL West. Still, with Kershaw and Zack Greinke on the books it is hard to imagine him gaining much national press.
9. Stephen Strasburg
Some people may question placing Stephen Strasburg above two teammates on this list, but I remain high on the one-time phenom. In 2013, he compiled an impressive 3.00 ERA with 191 strikeouts and a 3.0 WAR total in 183 innings pitched, although his 8-9 record does not indicate this. At only 25 years of age, Strasburg is finally learning how to pitch, and after posting a career-high in groundball rate and low in line drive rate in 2013, I expect a huge season in 2014.
8. Mat Latos
Mat Latos has been exceptionally consistent since his first full season back in 2010, as he has compiled an ERA in between 2.92 and 3.48 while starting between 31-33 games each year. This practically ensures that Latos will not vary far from these totals for the Cincinnati Reds in 2014, and that a 17-win total and 2.50 ERA would be his absolute ceiling. These numbers would be impressive, but leave Latos needing an absolute stunner of a season to win the Cy Young Award.
7. Cole Hamels
An 8-14 record in 2013 certainly does not look good for Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, but a closer look at his performance shows he actually wasn't that bad. Hamels' velocity on his pitches practically stayed the same, he compiled a 4.6 WAR, threw 220 innings and had a BABIP of .295 that surely will go down. In 2014, I would expect Hamels to see his WAR go up, to compile a win total of 15 or better and an ERA right around 3.00, which may not win the Cy Young, but will place him in the conversation.
6. Zack Greinke
The only thing that holds Zack Greinke from being in the top five on this list is that he is teammates with Clayton Kershaw. In 2013, Greinke compiled a 15-4 record with a 2.63 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 3.9 WAR over 177 2/3 innings pitched, and likely would have been a genuine Cy Young contender if not for a broken collarbone at the start of the year. Greinke will likely again be dominant in 2014, although his prowess on the mound will surely be overshadowed by Kershaw.
5. Adam Wainwright
Adam Wainwright was magnificent in 2013. With 242 2/3 innings, he went 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA, 219 strikeouts and a 6.2 WAR. This season earned the St. Louis Cardinals ace a second place ranking in Cy Young voting, his second career runner up finish. At the age of 32 one would imagine things will eventually go downhill for Wainwright, and that 276 2/3 innings--when the postseason is combined--will ensure he won't get better, but it would be hard to bet against Wainwright just yet.
4. Madison Bumgarner
Madison Bumgarner established himself as the ace of the San Francisco Giants in 2013 via a 2.77 ERA, 3.9 WAR and 199 strikeouts over 201 1/3 innings pitched. Only 24 years old, Bumgarner has an unusual ability to dictate games, and his willingness to mix in his slider, curveball and changeup with great frequency make life miserable for opposing lineups. Expect Bumgarner to continue to improve in 2014, and to begin to challenge Kershaw as the best left-handed pitcher in the NL West.
3. Cliff Lee
Although he may not receive due credit, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee is an absolute stud, and will challenge for the Cy Young Award in 2014. During the 2013 season he went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA and 7.3 WAR in 222 2/3 inning pitched, which was unjustly overshadowed by a poor Phillies team. In 2014, it can be assured that Lee will again be one of the best pitchers in baseball, and it will be a wonder if he is not in the running for the Cy Young Award.
2. Jose Fernandez
Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez made some people mad with his on-field antics in 2013, but the 21-year-old can flat out pitch. In 2013, Fernandez went 12-6 with 0.98 WHIP and a 2.19 ERA, and many felt he should have actually won the National League Cy Young Award. Heading into 2014 it is hard to imagine the 21-year-old not again being one of the best pitchers in the world, and not being shut down in September could mean he walks home with the Cy Young Award.
1. Clayton Kershaw
After a season for the ages in 2013, it would be impossible not to put Clayton Kershaw as the leader of the pack for the 2014 National League Cy Young Award. Over the last three seasons Kershaw has been the dominant pitcher in baseball, as he has compiled an exceptional record of 51-23 and has won the ERA title in each season. The scary thing is that at 25 he may only be getting better, and a 20+ win season and sub-2 ERA in 2014 looks to be a lock.