2013 MLB Cy Young Award: Top 10 Candidates at the Quarter Mark
The Cy Young field won't truly take shape until at least the second half of the season, but it's never too early to take a look at how things are shaking out so far.
Pitching generally reigns supreme in the early stages of the season, with hitters improving as they get more at-bats under their belt and the weather heats up.
This season has been no different, and a number of pitchers are enjoying some early-season dominance. A number of those thriving pitchers are the usual suspects, but there are a handful of surprises mixed in as well.
So here is a look at the top 10 Cy Young candidates, five from the NL and five from the AL, here at the first-quarter mark of the 2013 MLB season.
*Note: This article was written prior to Clayton Kershaw throwing 8.2 shutout innings and striking out 11 on Tuesday night against the Nationals. Prior to that start his numbers were very comparable to the guys I chose over him, but he now leads the MLB with a 1.40 ERA. Following that start, I would slide Kershaw up to No. 2 on the NL rankings and bump Madison Bumgarner off.
NL Cy Young Candidate No. 5: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Though he is still just 23 years old, Madison Bumgarner entered the season with 36 career wins and a 3.20 ERA under his belt in parts of four big league seasons.
With Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong struggling, the team has relied even more heavily on the young left-hander this season, and he's been more than up to the task.
You can make an argument that guys like Clayton Kershaw, Patrick Corbin and Travis Wood have slightly better numbers than him, but Bumgarner gets the nod based on what he's meant to his team's early-season success.
6. SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
7. SP Patrick Corbin, Arizona
8. RP Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh
9. SP A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh
10. SP Travis Wood, Chicago
NL Cy Young Candidate No. 4: Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals
Fresh off of a one-hit, 13-strikeout performance his last time out, 22-year-old Shelby Miller continues to exceed expectations in his rookie season.
His potential was a big reason why the Cardinals were so willing to let Kyle Lohse walk in free agency, and he has given the team a legitimate second ace alongside Adam Wainwright.
He currently ranks second in the NL in ERA, fourth in FIP (2.42) and eighth in WAR (1.2) among pitchers, and along with being the NL Rookie of the Year front-runner, he has a serious Cy Young candidate.
NL Cy Young Candidate No. 3: Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
While Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez got all of the attention last season, Jordan Zimmermann quietly turned in a fantastic season, going 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA.
This year, he's been by far the best of the trio, as he currently leads all of baseball with seven wins and is tied for the NL lead with 58.2 innings pitched.
The 26-year-old is just entering the prime of his career, and now that he's fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, there is no reason he shouldn't continue to climb the ranks of the game's elite.
NL Cy Young Candidate No. 2: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Not to be outdone by teammate and fellow Cy Young candidate Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright followed up his one-hit shutout last time out by throwing 7.1 no-hit innings and finishing with a two-hit shutout.
The gem was his second shutout of the season, and while his ERA is a bit higher than the rest of the guys on this list, he ranks first in FIP (1.89) and WAR (2.2) among NL pitchers.
The 31-year-old is now fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2011 season, as he is once again one of the game's top arms.
NL Cy Young Candidate No. 1: Matt Harvey, New York Mets
The breakout pitching star of 2013, Matt Harvey gave a taste of what he was capable of last season when he posted a 2.73 ERA and 10.6 K/9 over 10 starts as a rookie.
The 24-year-old has not only emerged as the ace of the Mets staff, but one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, turning in one stellar outing after another.
His .143 batting average against is by far the best in all of baseball, and his 0.728 WHIP is tops in the National League, as his stuff has been overpowering.
AL Cy Young Candidate No. 5: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
After going 24-5 and winning the AL MVP and Cy Young in 2011, Justin Verlander very well could have taken home Cy Young honors again last season when he finished a close second to David Price.
The 30-year-old is still in the prime of his career, and he's pitching atop a fantastic Tigers rotation that features four frontline arms.
He signed a record seven-year, $180 million deal in the offseason, and while he'll likely be overpaid come 2019, he's worth every penny right now.
6. SP Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle
7. SP Max Scherzer, Detroit
8. RP Jim Johnson, Baltimore
9. SP Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
10. RP Casey Janssen, Toronto
AL Cy Young Candidate No. 4: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Since breaking into the league as a 19-year-old phenom back in 2005, Felix Hernandez has established himself as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, consistently putting up terrific all-around numbers even when his win-loss record doesn't reflect it.
He currently leads the American League with a 1.53 ERA, and he's formed a dynamic one-two punch alongside Hisashi Iwakuma atop the Mariners rotation this season.
Still only 27, Hernandez recorded career win No. 100 earlier this season, and after signing a seven-year, $175 million deal in the offseason, he'll be in Seattle for the foreseeable future.
AL Cy Young Candidate No. 3: Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers
There were more than a few skeptics when the Tigers signed Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million contract this offseason, as he has never been a frontline starter, and that's a ton of money for a middle-of-the-rotation guy.
That is until this season, as he's out-pitched teammates Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer as the best pitcher on a fantastic Tigers starting rotation.
He turned in one of the best performances of the year when he struck out 17 against the Braves, and his 2.6 WAR is tops among all MLB pitchers so far this season.
AL Cy Young Candidate No. 2: Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox
Dating back to when he threw a no-hitter in his second career start, Clay Buchholz has always had ace-caliber stuff. It looked as though he turned a corner when he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in 2010, but he followed that up with back-to-back subpar seasons.
Like most of the Red Sox roster, he suffered through a long 2012, but he has bounced back in a big way this season and has been a big part of their early-season success.
He currently leads the AL in wins and ERA+, and alongside Jon Lester, he has helped give the Red Sox a formidable starting staff.
AL Cy Young Candidate No. 1: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Since coming one out away from a perfect game in his first start of the season, Yu Darvish has continued to dominate opposing hitters in 2013, leading all of baseball with 80 strikeouts in just 52.2 innings.
The Rangers spent a ton to sign him prior to last season, and he impressed as a rookie, going 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 191.1 innings.
After losing a sizable chunk of their offensive firepower in the offseason, the Rangers have relied more on pitching this season and Darvish is currently fronting one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball.