In the pre-season it was Roy Halladay. For the first three months of the year it was Ubaldo Jimenez. Josh Johnson took over for a little while, but as of now there can be no doubt.
The St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright is now your front-runner for the National League Cy Young Award.
Remember just under two months ago, when Jimenez won his 14th start of the season to run his record to 13-1 with a 1.15 ERA?
We were talking about Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA and Denny McLain's 31 wins and it looked like Ubaldo might be able to match both of those marks.
Nine starts later, Ubaldo has gone 4-2 with a 5.17 ERA in 54.0 innings pitched and his Cy Young hopes are all but over.
Johnson got off to a rough start to the season and had a 4.09 ERA after four starts, but he threw it into cruise control in May and his ERA has been under 2.00 since June 10th.
Johnson went a spectacular 13 starts without allowing more than two earned runs and allowing two runs only once.
On July 17th he was 10-3 with a 1.62 ERA and looked to be in the driver's seat for the Cy Young.
Unfortunately for Johnson, he hasn't won a game in four starts, and wins still count in the Cy Young race, as much as they probably shouldn't. Not to mention the fact that his ERA has "ballooned" (I use the word loosely) to 1.97.
Get this: he has allowed more earned runs in his last three starts (10) than he had in his previous 13 starts combined.
Halladay got off to a great start to the season, and is still having a great season. Despite a hard-luck season which has been devoid of run-support, Halladay has a respectable 14-8 record and a league-leading 168 strikeouts.
He also leads the league with eight complete games, three shutouts, 185 innings pitched and 735 batters faced.
More importantly, Halladay has given up only 22 walks this season and leads the NL in both walks allowed per nine innings (1.1) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (an astonishing 7.64).
Nevertheless, Halladay's 2.34 ERA, while great, isn't elite by "Year of the Pitcher" standards, and his 8.2 hits allowed per nine innings and 14 home runs allowed overall are both kind of mundane.
At this point, neither Ubaldo, Johnson, nor Halladay is putting it all together the way Wainwright is:
- On June 17th Ubaldo was 13-1 while Wainwright was 9-4; both pitchers now have 17 wins;
- On June 24th, Johnson had a 1.80 ERA and Wainwright had a 2.47 ERA; Johnson now leads 1.97 to 1.99;
- While Halladay leads the NL in strikeouts, Wainwright is neck-and-neck with Halladay in K/9IP (8.2 vs. 8.1) and despite Halladay's paucity of bases on balls Wainwright actually has a far better WHIP (1.032 vs. 0.970) which leads the league.
And finally, in a "What have you done for me lately?" league, Wainwright is the hottest pitcher in the NL right now, having gone 7-1 with a 1.14 ERA in his last nine starts.
Compare that to Jimenez (above), Johnson (3-2, 2.14) and Halladay (6-2, 2.19), and a picture of a pitcher pitching above an incredible class emerges.
Now, Wainwright is not without marks against him.
Chiefly, the complaint against Wainwright is that he is a hometown hero.
This is true: he has gone a remarkable 11-0 with a 1.22 ERA in St. Louis this season, while only going 6-6 with a 2.76 ERA away from home.
There are two responses to this, however.
First, take the numbers as they are: those home numbers are not just "better at home"; they are unbelievable. Plus, it isn't as though a 2.76 ERA on the road is bad.
And second, Wainwright isn't the only hometown hero in this group. Compare:
Wainwright: home (11-0, 1.22) road (6-6, 2.76)
Johnson: home (7-2, 1.48) road (3-2, 2.81)
Halladay: home (9-4, 1.95) road (5-4, 2.91)
Ubaldo: home (8-0, 3.06) road (9-3, 2.16)
Frankly, Wainwright is better on the road than both Halladay and Johnson, so the fact that he is great at home doesn't exactly hold water.
As between Wainwright and Ubaldo, well, obviously there is no comparison between pitching home games at Coors Field and pitching anywhere else in the National League.
Nevertheless, as Ubaldo returned to earth in July and August, he has done so both at home and on the road.
It would be disingenuous to assume that Ubaldo is only pitching poorly at home in 2010, just as it would be disingenuous to assume that Wainwright's 2010 season has been purely a product of his home field.
So there you have it: on Friday, August 13, 2010, the National League officially has its fourth Cy Young Award front-runner of the season.
Will the lead change hands one more time before the season ends?
Will Ubaldo, Josh Johnson, or Roy Halladay be able to wrestle the lead back from Wainwright?
Will a new front-runner emerge from the pack?
Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com.