While the Rookie of the Year Award was a foregone conclusion and the Manager of the Year Awards a subjective, data-free tossup, the Cy Young Award finalists all have a good case for taking home the hardware, making predicting the winners pretty darn tough.
Chris Sale of the Red Sox looked like the easy choice for most of the season, and he finished the season leading all of Major League Baseball with 308 strikeouts and a 12.93 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio. He likewise led the American League in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which measures a pitcher’s ability to limit home runs, walks and hit-by-pitches while maximizing strikeouts. He was second in ERA and one win behind the league leaders (three AL pitchers tied with 18 wins to Sale’s 17). The only blemish on Sale’s record is one that often skews the perception of voters: he finished relatively poorly, with a 4.38 ERA in August and a 3.72 ERA in September, posting a 4-4 record over that span. In five of Sale’s 11 starts over those two months, he allowed four or more runs, including allowing five runs in his last start of the season, which is the day before most voters fill out their ballots and drop them in the mail.
Sale’s late stumbles opened the door for Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, who finished much more strongly and, as a result, ended the season with a higher win total (18 to 17) and better ERA (2.25 to 2.90) than Sale, leading all of baseball in the latter category and tying for the MLB lead in the former. Kluber also led the AL in complete games, shutouts, WHIP, hits-per-nine innings, walks-per-nine-innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He trails Sale in strikeouts and innings, as well as the rate stats mentioned above.
The third finalist, Luis Severino, doesn’t have much of a statistical case versus these two, but he did have a very nice breakout season and will no doubt be in the Cy Young conversation in the years to come. There’s no shame in being a distant third behind Chris Sale and Corey Kluber.
So who should win it? I’m going to give the edge to Kluber. Sale’s strikeout totals were impressive indeed, but Kluber was the better overall pitcher in my mind. It’s pretty hard for me to shake that poor finish as well. The Red Sox only won their division by two games. If he hadn’t run out of gas in the season’s final two months, the Red Sox’ margin in the division would’ve been higher. Obviously you don’t blame your team’s best players for the team’s shortcomings, but I think it’s fair to take that into account when it comes to postseason awards.
As for who will win: I think the voters will pound Sale harder for his slow finish more than even I am. Kluber put the pedal to the floor just as the Indians were captivating baseball with their long, late-season winning streak and he’ll get a lot of the credit for it. I suspect Kluber will take home his second Cy Young Award.
For the second straight year, Clayton Kershaw‘s time on the disabled list makes pulling the lever for him a bit more difficult than it otherwise would’ve been. Kersahw led the league in wins with 18 and ERA with a mark of 2.31, edging out Max Scherzer, who had 16 wins and a 2.51 ERA, in both categories. Kershaw also led the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.73). When he took the mound, he almost always looked like the best pitcher in baseball.
That may have been enough to carry the day several years ago, when wins, ERA and style points were the alpha and omega for most Cy Young voters, but it’s going to be difficult for many voters to overlook the fact that Kershaw missed a month on the disabled list. As a result of that, Scherzer has the edge in innings (200.2 to 175) and strikeouts (268 to 202). Not that it was all about raw total stats, as Scherzer also led the NL in WHIP (0.902) and hits allowed per nine innings (5.7).
The third finalist, Stephen Strasburg, turned in his best season, logging 175 innings, winning 15 games and posting a 2.52 ERA. While each of those traditional stats is equal or lower than his two rivals for the award, Strasburg was the stingiest in the NL in allowing homers (0.7 per nine innings) and led the league in FIP. Take away each of these guy’s defenders and Strasburg was, on balance, better.
So who should win it? Man, it’s a tough choice. I think we can put Strasburg third as, FIP and homer totals aside, he was a tick lower than each of the other two by most measures. Kershaw and Strasburg were otherwise extraordinarily close, with one’s decision necessarily hinging on the innings/starts factor. Kershaw, generally, felt like the better pitcher on a start-per-start basis, but Scherzer was almost his equal, while showing up to work more often, provideding value to his team four more times during the season than did Kershaw. My heart says Kershaw because I simply liked his pitching better, but my head says Scherzer will repeat, because quantity and quality matter.
I think the voters will agree with that assessment, though it’s coin toss, frankly.