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NL Cy Young Award Rankings: Stephen Strasburg and the Top 5 Early Contenders

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 19, 2016

NL Cy Young Award Rankings: Stephen Strasburg and the Top 5 Early Contenders

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    Those who win the National League Cy Young award this season have a hard act to follow.

    Last season, Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young on the strength of a season that saw him go 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA and a grand total of 248 strikeouts. He had competition, but Kershaw was the easy choice for the award.

    So far this year, the Cy Young race in the National League is pretty wide open. Roughly 15 different pitchers have a legit shot at the award and narrowing down the favorite to win it is pretty difficult.

    But that's exactly what we're here to do. In order, here are the top five contenders for the NL Cy Young award.

5. Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves

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    Just off the top of my head, I'd say there are at least seven or eight different guys who could fit in at the No. 5 spot on this list. 

    I decided to go with Brandon Beachy, who has more than lived up to the positive buzz he generated last season. He's only 2-1 on the season, but his 1.38 ERA was good for fourth in the National League entering play on Thursday, and his 0.92 was good for ninth.

    Beachy has only had one start this season that didn't go so well, and that was his first start against the Houston Astros. He only gave up one earned run, but he struggled with his control and was gone after five innings.

    Since then, Beachy has pitched at least 6.1 innings in each of his four starts, and he's only allowed four earned runs, 19 hits and four walks.

    Beachy isn't striking hitters out like he was last year, but that's actually helped him. He's being more efficient with his pitches, and he's holding hitters to a .193 average despite the fact that he's pitching to contact more often than he did last year.

    For the season, Beachy's WAR is 0.9, just 0.4 points away from the top guy in the NL.

4. Joe Saunders, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Before the start of the season, pegging Joe Saunders as the best starting pitcher in Arizona's rotation was the last thing I was prepared to do.

    Yet Saunders has been Arizona's best starting pitcher. He's pitched at least 6.1 innings in all five of his starts, and he's lasted at least seven innings in four of them. His 1.24 ERA was good for third in the NL entering Thursday, and he was sixth in innings pitched.

    Saunders is not a guy who dazzles you when he's on the mound. He throws strikes, changes speeds and, when he's on, he's getting a ton of ground balls. It's not a mistake that he's only surrendered one home run this season.

    I won't be surprised if Saunders comes back down to earth as the season moves along, but at this point in the season Saunders deserves credit for what he's done. His 1.0 WAR says he's been just as valuable as aces like Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke, and more valuable than guys like Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto.

    So hats off, Mr. Saunders.

3. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

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    Gio Gonzalez's first start of the season didn't go so well. He lasted only 3.2 innings against the Chicago Cubs, giving up seven hits and four earned runs.

    Since then, Gonzalez has pitched 26 innings, and he's given up just nine hits and two earned runs. 

    His ERA is 1.82, which was good for 11th in the NL entering Thursday. Take his first start out of the equation, and Gonzalez's ERA is a razor-thin 0.69.

    For the most part, Gonzalez's control has been much better than it ever was in Oakland. His BB/9 is down to 3.64, and the only reason it's that high is because he got wild and walked five in his most recent start.

    Gonzalez has always been a strikeout artist, and so far this year he's maintaining a K/9 of 10.31. Increased fastball velocity has helped, and his hook has been filthy this season.

    Gonzalez's WAR is 1.1, placing him in the upper crust on NL hurlers.

2. Wandy Rodriguez, Houston Astros

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    I've written some mean things about Wandy Rodriguez in the past. I'm prepared to take them all back now. He's been remarkable this season.

    In six starts, Rodriguez has pitched 38.1 innings and put together an ERA of 1.64. His starts all look like carbon copies of one another, and that's not a bad thing. A typical Rodriguez start this season has consisted of six-plus innings, five or six hits allowed and one or two earned runs. He does it all in just about 100 pitches.

    Rodriguez is a lot like Joe Saunders. He changes speeds and pitches to contact, and he's going good when he's getting a lot of ground balls. Striking hitters out is not his forte.

    Typically, Rodriguez's stuff is hittable, resulting in a lot of baserunners and short evenings for him. That hasn't been the case this year, as he's consistently gotten the better of hitters despite the fact he hasn't changed his approach all that much. He's throwing his changeup more, but that's about it.

    Rodriguez's WAR is 1.2, a mark bettered by only one other pitcher in the NL.

1. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    Stephen Strasburg was named the NL Pitcher of the Month for April this week.

    Good choice. In the season's first month, no pitcher in the National League was better than him.

    In five starts, Strasburg has a 2-0 record, a 1.13 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. He ranked second in the NL in ERA and seventh in WHIP entering Thursday, and his 34 strikeouts were good for fifth.

    The Nats have been careful with Strasburg. He's only pitched more than six innings twice, and that's mainly because the Nats don't like to let him throw more than 100 pitches in any given start. The fact that he has still managed to pitch 32 innings with a limited pitch count is a testament to how dominant he has been.

    It's no secret how Strasburg is doing it. His fastball is averaging 96 miles per hour this season, and his secondary pitches look as filthy as they did in 2010 when he first broke into the league. And of course, he has excellent control of all his pitches.

    Strasburg leads the NL with a 1.3 WAR, and if the season ended today he would deserve the NL Cy Young.

    He won't win it, though. At some point, Strasburg will hit his innings limit and will be shut down. Enjoy it while it lasts, Nats fans.


    My guess is about 90 percent of you want to debate this list. If you do, try hitting me on Twitter.

    Follow zachrymer on Twitter

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