The average starting pitcher has started about four games at the moment and around 24 innings. By the end of the season, many -- barring injury -- will have started 32 games and pitched 200 innings. That means pitchers have accrued about 12 percent of their season-long workload already.
That also means it's time to take a look at a few pitchers who have put themselves into the Cy Young conversation early. With such a small sample, it's still anyone's race. But it's still fun to recklessly assign favorites based on small samples. So let's take a look at the National League front-runners:
With only 20 innings over three starts, Syndergaard has the least amount of work on his resume this season of any of the listed candidates. However, he's been unbelievably dominant. He's faced 77 total batters -- that's only 17 over the minimum -- and has struck out 29 of them. He's given up 15 hits and four walks for a WHIP of 0.95.
It gets better. Syndergaard's ERA is 0.90. By ERA-, that's 76 percent better than the league average. By FIP, Syndergaard has actually been ever-so-slightly unlucky, and has been expected to finish with an ERA of 0.79.
We should expect some regression however. Syndergaard hasn't allowed a home run yet and has an otherworldly strand rate of 89.5 percent. Regardless, I'd expect Syndergaard to stick around in the Cy Young conversation all season long.
The incumbent! It would be unfair to expect any pitcher to just repeat a Cy Young season with yet another. However, Arrieta has quickly put himself in just that spot. After 31 innings over four starts, Arrieta already has a no-hitter.
In his three starts that weren't no-hitters, Arrieta has faced 13 over the minimum, struck out 20 batters over 22 innings pitched, allowed 17 batters to reach base at all, and allowed only three of them to score.
Arrieta is currently stranding 98.9 percent of runners, so that can't be sustained. However, he's also allowed two home runs, which represent 66 percent of his total runs allowed this season. If Arrieta's strikeout rate can return to 2015 norms -- which are only down three percent -- he could be a legitimate contender to repeat.
Nothing quite like moving to a new country and dominating a whole new league of foes. At least, that's what I assume Maeda is thinking.
In his first four starts -- first ever -- Maeda has allowed one run: a solo homer. Over 25.1 innings pitched, Maeda has allowed 22 players to reach base and has struck out 25. Expecting Maeda to allow one run every three or four starts would be ludicrous. However, he has put his name in the record books already with one of the most dominant debuts by a rookie ever.
Furthermore, Maeda has actually contributed as much offense as he has given up. While this won't amount to any Cy Young favoritism, Maeda has hit as many homers as he's given up. While his FIP indicates some regression, at 2.50, he should remain in the Cy Young conversation.
As our Matt Goldman recently wrote, Strasburg is having himself a brilliant -- though for some reason quiet -- start. Perhaps it's quiet because he hasn't thrown a no-hitter like Arrieta. He isn't striking guys out at the rate of Syndergaard. And he isn't stranding runners at a lucky rate like Maeda. That all being said, it only builds Strasburg's Cy Young case.
After going first overall in the 2009 MLB Draft, Strasburg hasn't really lived up to the unfairly high expectations. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and has been one of the most reliable starters in baseball ever since.
Still only 27, Strasburg seems to have put it together early this season. He's getting more groundballs than ever before, striking out slightly fewer batters, but still stranding them at the same rate and his BABIP doesn't indicate a whole lot of regression either. While his home run per flyball rate seems like a bit of an outlier through his four starts, it might finally be time for Strasburg to get some serious Cy Young consideration.
A pair of honorable mentions go to Jaime Garcia and Vincent Velasquez who have given us the two most dominant starts of the season so far. Garcia went nine innings, allowed one hit, one walk, and struck out 13 batters en route to a complete game shutout. On the same day, Velasquez went the distance in a shutout as well, giving up three hits and striking out 16 batters.
Both Garcia and Velasquez come with reasons to discount their performances. The former hasn't put together a full season of work since 2011. The latter is a rookie that plays for the Philadelphia Phillies. While wins should actually matter in Cy Young voting, Velasquez may have trouble getting the same run support as Arrieta or Maeda.
Both Garcia and Velasquez rank in the top four in FIP at the moment though, and could definitely have their presence felt in a Cy Young race.
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