Through nearly the first half of the season, Max Scherzer has gained the attention of eyes across the league and has been picked by many to be the early frontrunner for the National League Cy Young. After a one hitter, a no-hitter, and five innings of a perfect game in his next start, people were ready to crown Scherzer not only the NL Cy Young but also the National League All Star starter. This all may have happened if it were not for Zack Greinke and his stellar performance through the first half of the season.
Max Scherzer is in his 8th season in the Major Leagues and has really just entered his prime at 30 years old. He is just coming off his signing of what was one of the largest free agent contracts for a pitcher in baseball history at 7 years, 210 million dollars with a 50 million dollar signing bonus and deferred money for seven years after the contract expires. What this essentially amounts to is a pay-day of 15 million a year for the next 14 years; and for 7 of those years Scherzer will be getting paid even if he is no longer pitching for the Nationals or in the league at all. In comparison Greinke is a little older at 31, and in his thirteenth season, and is on the 3rd year of a 6 year contract with the Dodgers for 147 million. This contract nets him a total salary of 25 million this year and an average salary of 24.5 million. One interesting thing about the Greinke contract is he has an opt out after the 2015 season. So these guys, despite similar large contracts, are really at a bit of different spots in their respective careers.
Lets compare the stats of Scherzer and Greinke in order to draw a better picture of who has really best the best starter in the National League. Max Scherzer has an ERA of 1.79 with a FIP of 2.03 and a WHIP of 0.789. In comparison Zack Greinke has an ERA of 1.70 with a FIP 2.92 and a WHIP of 0.934. These numbers seem to show Scherzer with better peripheral numbers but over his dominant stretch over the last three games Greinke has actually been even better. In his last three starts Greinke has given up zero earned runs in twenty and two-thirds innings of work. This is compared to Scherzer who has given up two earned runs in twenty-six innings in the same three game span.
In terms of other stats it is a lot of give and take. Scherzer has more strikeouts, fewer hits given up and less walks than Greinke but Greinke has a higher ERA+ and less earned runs and total runs given up. It seems that Scherzer owns the advantage in many of the newer categories that are considered during balloting, such as FIP and WHIP but Greinke holds the advantage in old school categories such as W-L record, ERA, and ERA adjusted for the league average. Another category Greinke holds the lead in is percentage of runners left on base with a whopping 89% on top of a ground ball percentage of nearly 50% (47.8) compared to Scherzer’s 34%. These numbers show that Greinke has left more runners on base and has been more dominant getting a higher ratio of ground balls to fly balls than Scherzer. Greinke also held the edge in Defensive Runs Saved with a score of 4 compared to -10 for Max Scherzer.
On the year, Greinke has been more consistently dominant giving up only 2 earned runs or fewer in 13 out of 16 starts. Two of the other starts he gave up only three earned runs while he gave up five earned runs in one start. In comparison Scherzer has given up 2 earned runs or fewer in 12 out of 15 starts. In the other three starts he was tagged for 5 earned runs once and 4 earned runs twice. By these numbers Greinke has been more consistent overall than Scherzer. Another amazing stat is that both pitchers have gone at least six innings in every single one of their starts so far this year. This shows just how good both pitchers have been all season long.
Both players have struggled with low run support in games and Scherzer has been dealt five losses despite his usually strong performances. In comparison Greinke also has struggled with run support but has so far only suffered two losses nearing the half way point of the season. Both men are former Cy Young award winners and both are definitely making their cases for another trophy this year. What remains to be seen is who will take the Cy Young crown but what is certain is that Scherzer has not quite run away with the win yet and Greinke will certainly have no problem giving Scherzer a run for his money throughout the year. Names like Kershaw, Cole, deGrom, Burnett, and Arrieta wil all keep themselves in the Cy Young race as well.l With that being said, if I had to vote today, I would give my vote to Greinke over Scherzer, or any of those other pitchers, in what is a very close race nearing the half way point of the season.