Photo by Reggie Hildred for The Sports Capitol

Scherzer, Nola and deGrom carving way to Cy Young chance


NATIONALS PARK — Freddie Freeman suggested Monday the National League East is the toughest division. The idea is standard among those who have to compete so often against each other. In this case, 18 times annually, flying up or down the East Coast to New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta or Miami.

Part of Freeman’s belief is backed by fact this season. Long weeks come when Aaron Nola pitches on Tuesday before a series shifts to New York and Jacob deGrom pitches on Thursday. A similar mix is possible with Max Scherzer on a getaway day and Mike Foltynewicz the next night. The aces outside of Miami are high-end trouble coming multiple times per month. In the case of deGrom, Nola and Scherzer, they are also a clear 1-2-3 — in some order — for the National League Cy Young Award during the All-Star break.

Their repertoire and paths are varied. Scherzer is the old man, relative to the group. He’s 33, has consecutive NL Cy Young Awards banked and is in his 11th season. DeGrom is 30, in his fifth season and possibly going to be traded by the Mets. Nola is just 25 years old. This season is his fourth, by far his best and the third consecutive one that has produced an ERA dip of more than a run.

They are working through the National League with wicked efficiency. Pick a category, they show up in the top four if not the top three spots. The group is 1-2-3 in WHIP, ERA, innings pitched, adjusted ERA+ and WAR among pitchers. They hold three of the top four spots in strikeouts and batting average against. That they work in the same division is why Freeman shudders.

“Don’t want to ever face them,” he said.

The pleasure here is in the diversity of carving. Nola carries a curveball the other two would beg for. Scherzer is able to drive cutters and sliders inside to left-handed hitters. DeGrom is hammering hard stuff at hitters over and over. He has the highest average fastball velocity of the group at 95.5 mph, according to Fangraphs, as well as the most zip on his changeup at 88.7 mph.

Their pitching hand puts them in a category together. The way they pitch splits them off, especially Nola from the other two. Scherzer explains.

“DeGrom, what he does so well, is his fastball has so much life he can pitch up in the zone so well,” Scherzer told The Sports Capitol. “Everything plays off of his fastball. And the way he can get down the mound and use that length to create that ride, that makes him literally one of the best pitchers in the game.

“Nola he does a great job of using his two-seamer and sunk the ball. It’s kind of the opposite. The way he can pitch with his curveball. He can change speed throughout the at-bat between sinking the ball, his curveball and his changeup, that’s what allows him to be such a talented  pitcher.

“I think my stuff lines up closer to deGrom than Nola simply from the fact that deGrom is more of a four-seam, ride the ball, that’s what I do. Nola’s breaking ball is a curveball, whereas my main breaking ball is a slider. That’s where we’re actually very different. I can probably gain more from watching deGrom starts on how he attacks hitters.”

There is one distinction for Scherzer: his overall fastball usage has gone up year over year. This is uncommon. Both Nola and deGrom are working in line with the league-wide premise that softer is better to counter the launch angle era. Their overall fastball usage is down; more than three percent for Nola and just short of three percent for deGrom, according to Fangrpahs. Though, four-seam fastball usage is up for both since both have turned away from their sinker. Take a look:

Otherwise, as Scherzer mentioned he matches up quite a bit with deGrom in usage. Especially if his cutter, which he calls a “power slider,” is moved into the slider category. That would mean Scherzer uses a slider 25 percent of the time. DeGrom throws his 24.6 percent of the time.

It’s Nola that is constantly bending his pitches for success. His curveball is the best of the bunch. Batters have just a .187 average against the pitch. Freeman tries to hit it. He can’t.

“He’s a lot of two-seam, front-hip guy,” Freeman said. “DeGrom is all downhill with everything and Scherzer just knows how to pitch. I feel like they’re all different. Nola’s curveball is something special. You feel like you’re going to hit it, then you don’t, every single time. Then he can front hip you with two strikes. You give up on it. Scherzer’s got that cutter. Degrom is just power, power, power.”

About four months from now, one will likely be the Cy Young winner. It would be the fourth overall and third consecutive in the National League for Scherzer. Nola and deGrom would be first-timers. Hitters working through the National League East will be tormented until then.

Todd Dybas is the managing editor and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. He has spent 17 years in the sports editorial industry, working as a writer and layout editor, winning multiple awards in both positions. He has been an NFL beat writer, has worked as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for seven years, and is a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association.

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