By Matt Citak
Winning a Most Valuable Player Award is quite an impressive feat. By definition, the award is given to the most outstanding player from each league.
Since the award was created in 1931, only 25 pitchers have received the honor. The most recent National League pitcher to take home the title of MVP was Clayton Kershaw in 2014, while Justin Verlander was the last to do it in the American League in 2011.
Prior to Verlander receiving the award, no pitcher had won the MVP award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. In fact, you have to go back all the way to 1968 to find the last National League pitcher to receive the award prior to Kershaw (Bob Gibson).
But as we sit just about 40 percent of the way through the season, it looks as if another elite pitcher may soon join the prestigious club.
Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer has been outstanding in 2018. In 14 starts, the soon-to-be 34-year-old is tied for the Major League lead with 10 wins to go along with just two losses.
Scherzer’s 2.00 ERA is fourth in all of baseball and second in the National League, trailing only Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom’s 1.55 ERA. However his 0.85 WHIP leads the NL and has him ranked fourth in MLB.
But the right-hander’s success goes even further than those stats. The Washington Nationals, who enter play on June 14 one-and-a-half games behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL East lead, are 11-3 in games started by Scherzer.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner has gone at least 6.0 innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in all but one of his starts this year, thus giving the Nationals a good chance of winning every time he steps onto the mound.
But the most remarkable statistic of all is the amount of strikeouts Scherzer has been able to compile thus far.
In his 94.2 innings this season, Scherzer, who has led the National League in strikeouts in each of the last two years, has accumulated a whopping 142 strikeouts. That number leads all of MLB by 18 strikeouts and the NL by 29.
Not only does his 38 percent strikeout rate lead the entire league, but it would also set the all-time record for starting pitchers in a season.
Not too bad for a 33-year-old.
Scherzer has struck out 10 or more batters in nine of his 14 starts. To put that into perspective, deGrom, who as of now is Scherzer’s biggest competition for the NL Cy Young, has hit double-digit strikeouts in just four of his 14 starts.
Now there’s no doubt that the National League has several position players enjoying great seasons. For example, Freddie Freeman is batting .344 with 14 home runs and 48 RBI, and has been a very big reason for Atlanta’s early-season success.
But even with his superb stats, Freeman’s Wins Above Replacement comes in at 3.4, according to fangraphs.com.
While still very impressive, Freeman’s WAR pales in comparison to Scherzer’s, who currently leads all pitchers and ranks fourth in all of baseball with a 3.9 WAR.
The season is young, and there is still a ton of baseball left to be played. But if Scherzer continues to perform like he has through the first few months of the season, and especially if he can continue to strike batters out at a historic rate, then it will be hard to argue against him taking home his first National League MVP Award.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.