Phillies ace Aaron Nola may not win this year’s NL Cy Young Award. Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals seems like the current frontrunner. And hard-luck Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets could draw sympathy votes in a season where he’s 5-7 despite a 1.85 ERA.
But Nola still may need to prep an acceptance speech for Major League Baseball’s post-season awards banquet. Because no NL player has proven more worthy this season of the Most Valuable Player Award.
After the Phils’ Sunday win over Miami – in which he threw six solid innings – Nola is now 12-3 with a 2.37 ERA. His .800 winning percentage is best in the NL, as is his stinginess allowing home runs (0.5 per nine innings). He whiffs 3.6 batters for each one he walks. And with a WHIP of 0.993, Nola projects to become the first-ever Phillies starter with at least a strikeout per inning and a WHIP under 1.000.
Here’s one more stat: The team is 16-7 in games Nola started.
The Phillies entire rotation has been a revelation for the youngest team in baseball. But it’s obvious to say that without Aaron Nola, these surprise contenders aren’t leading the NL East. They aren’t even in the playoff hunt.
That’s why I take those two other pitchers out of this contest. As brilliant as deGrom is, his Mets are buried in the standings. The Nats – despite Scherzer – currently own the NL’s ninth-best record. (Here’s hoping I get to write that again in another month.)
And the MVP Award, by definition, should go to the player who most contributes to a winning team, right?
Well, uh . . . not exactly. The Baseball Writers Association of America, which governs the award, has no hard criteria for what defines the MVP. The BBWWA states that the winner need not come from a playoff team; that pitchers and designated hitters are eligible, and that voters should consider every aspect of a player, including character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
It’s all pretty hazy.
Note, however, that the criterion specifically includes pitchers, a guideline that has eluded voters. Just two pitchers (Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw) have polished their own MVP Award in the past 25 years, largely because voters regard the Cy Young as pitchers’ separate-but-equal reward.
It shouldn’t be. This is about “most valuable.” And, on that front this season, Nola shines as much as any position player.
For starters, Aaron Nola’s WAR (wins above replacement) stands at 6.7. By contrast, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman is at 4.7, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado is at 4.5 and Chicago’s Javier Baez (the best player no one talks about) is at 4.6. The position player closest to Nola in WAR is Milwaukee center fielder Lorenzo Cain at 5.3.
Spoiler alert: Cain will not win the MVP.
Hey, there’s still a third of a season to go. Nola should get another 10 starts, which will end up defining his year. We’ve never seen this 25-year-old pitch in critical September contests.
However, more dazzling performances down the stretch, and Aaron Nola could solidify his chances for honorary hardware.
More importantly, with enough of those great outings, he’ll pitch the Phils into the postseason. And then he’ll get the chance to earn the same honors that then-24-year-old Cole Hamels earned for this franchise back in 2008. If you recall, that turned out pretty well.