NL Cy Young favorites will pitch amid debate over credentials

The Nationals’ series with the Mets, which begins Thursday in D.C., doesn’t have any meaning for the division race, but the two National League Cy Young candidates are pitching and there’s an interesting question in that debate:

Does New York’s Jacob deGrom need at least 10 wins to take the award from the favorite, Washington’s Max Scherzer?

Scherzer, eyeing his third consecutive Cy Young, pitches Thursday night with deGrom going Friday night. The Phillies’ Aaron Nola is also a candidate, but given his September slide, it’s likely Scherzer and deGrom will be the top two choices among the 30 voters - two from each NL city - from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Ballots are due by the final out of the regular season Sept. 30. The announcement comes in November.

Scherzer and deGrom are in a virtual statistical dead heat when it comes to starts, innings, WHIP and walks. Scherzer has 277 strikeouts, 26 more than deGrom.

deGrom has allowed 147 hits, seven more than Scherzer, but he’s allowed 10 home runs, 11 fewer than Scherzer.

The glaring difference is that Scherzer is 17-7 with 2.53 ERA, deGrom 8-9 with a league-best 1.78 ERA.

The vote will hinge on how BBWAA voters value a pitcher’s win total, a concept that’s been on the decline for the last 10 years.

In an era of new-age analytics, voters could give deGrom the award, thinking that a pitcher’s job is to prevent runs without judging a pitcher by wins or run support, two statistics that are out of a pitcher’s control.

If the voters skew younger, that could give deGrom an advantage, similar to 2010, when Seattle’s Felix Hernandez won the American League Cy Young after he had the most innings (249 2/3) and lowest ERA (2.27) in the AL, despite a 13-12 record.

King Felix beat second-place David Price of Tampa Bay and New York’s CC Sabathia.

Price had 19 wins and a 2.72 ERA, Sabathia had 21 wins and a 3.18 ERA. Price and Sabathia were pitching meaningful games down the stretch. Hernandez and the Mariners were out of the race.

The BBWAA established the Cy Young Award in 1956 and for the most part, pitchers with high win totals win the award. In 1982, Milwaukee’s Pete Vuckovich was the American League Cy Young winner, going 18-6. Never mind that he’d given up more hits (234) than innings pitched (223 2/3).

Vuckovich had a 3.34 ERA.

The second-place pitcher in 1982 was the Orioles’ Jim Palmer, who was 15-5 with a 3.13 ERA. Palmer had 39 fewer walks than Vuckovich and allowed 195 hits in 227 innings.

If the Vuckovich-Palmer debate were today, Palmer would win.

Hernandez’s win in 2010 was a turning point in the thought process of evaluating pitchers.

Now, we’ll see how extreme that evaluation will be when the BBWAA considers Scherzer and deGrom.