Pitching in the National League normally looks a little better than it does in the American League. Replacing the pitcher with someone like David Ortiz will tend to do that league wide. That being said, the candidates in the National League are noticeably better than in the American League. The fifth best candidate shown in this article would likely win the honors in the American League.
That being said, we are using the same criteria we used in the American League. Essentially, this is the fantasy baseball Cy Young Award. We are using the five basic numbers (including quality starts) to grade out the pitchers in the National League. Obviously, the voters will be more sophisticated in their approach and we would certainly hope that is the case.
- Max Scherzer—Washington Nationals
A number of pundits laughed when the Nationals gave Scherzer all that cash, but he has arguably been one of the top three pitchers in the National League the past two seasons. He has an outside chance of getting to 300 strikeouts and 20 wins for the first time in his career. He should eclipse last season’s strikeout total in the very least.
As he demonstrated earlier in the season (with a 20 strikeout game), he is capable of completely shutting down an opponent. With the NL East firmly in hand, there will be some very entertaining matchups in the playoffs. Scherzer takes a backseat to no one as a starter and should give the Nationals a fighting chance of winning the pennant.
- Madison Bumgarner—San Francisco Giants
If we could include hitting then Bumgarner would be far and away the best pitcher in baseball. The remarkable thing about him is that his regular season numbers never seem to match his expectations. We are talking about a guy with a career 7-3 record with a 2.14 ERA in nearly 90 postseason innings. The Giants can be supremely confident going into the postseason with him and Johnny Cueto (a narrow cut from this list).
This season has arguably been the best season of Bumgarner’s career. He has the lowest ERA, highest strikeout total (on pace), and a competitive WHIP in comparison with his other top seasons. He is also in a virtual tie for the lead in quality starts in the big leagues with Justin Verlander. That’s not half bad.
- Jon Lester—Chicago Cubs
The only difference between Lester and Bumgarner are the strikeouts. Lester is ahead or even with Bumgarner in every other category. He represents the first from the Cubs rotation that has a remarkable three of the top five starters in the National League. Lester is coming on strong and could be a darkhorse for the award. Like Scherzer he has an outside chance of getting to 20 wins on the season.
Lester got off to a shaky start on the season, but has been excellent of late. Since the all-star game, he is 7-0 with a 1.65 ERA. You could even say his current run is reminiscent of Jake Arrieta’s second half run last season. Give him four more really good starts and it might be too much to overlook.
- Kyle Hendricks—Chicago Cubs
Who is the leader in the National League in ERA? If you said Kyle Hendricks then you would be right. That just doesn’t seem possible for a pitcher that had only 45 career starts coming into the season. His 8-7 mark in 2015 (with a 3.95 ERA) wouldn’t have predicted this kind of success. The Cubs came into the season hoping he would pitch every fifth day and keep them in games. He’s certainly done more than that.
Truly great teams get guys to have out of context great seasons. You simply can’t win 100 or more games without that. The Cubs have had excellent luck with their rotation this season, but they are also legitimately good. The lack of strikeouts (and innings) will likely keep Hendricks from getting the trophy, but he is the only pitcher in the league that has a legitimate chance of getting his ERA under two. At least he is the only one who will also qualify for the ERA title.
- Jake Arrieta—Chicago Cubs
The big difference between this year and last has been control. Arrieta is walking 3.5 guys per nine innings as compared to 1.9 last season. He still is the most difficult pitcher to hit off of in baseball. Some of that has come through better fielding behind him because his strikeouts are also down from a season ago. In other words, Arrieta has looked a lot more human this season and likely won’t win the award.
Yet, like any other pitcher on the list, he is capable of dominating another lineup at any time. We can expect a lot of low scoring games once the playoffs come. The lack of quality starts is disconcerting though. It means that he is either really good or shaky. So, he might be the most vulnerable of the top five pitchers in the league.