Three months into the season, we explore the chances of Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and others in the 2017 Cy Young Award races.
The Cy Young Award is an individual, single-season achievement, but the 2017 race also has a historical significance.
Two of the top candidates in the National League through the first three months of the season, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, are among the small group of 18 pitchers in MLB history to win more than one trophy. Corey Kluber, Zack Greinke and Dallas Keuchel could join them with a win this year.
Scherzer, the 2016 NL winner, also won an AL plaque, making him the sixth pitcher ever to win the honor in both leagues. Another Cy Young would make him the tenth to win three. Kershaw is already part of that elite group of three-time winners, and could become the fifth MLB pitcher to win No. 4 this season.
Of course, there are several candidates in both leagues working to win their first Cy Young Award. Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Carlos Martinez, Michael Fulmer, Lance McCullers and Stephen Strasburg all rank among the top 10 among pitchers in Wins Above Replacement, and Jason Vargas leads the AL with 11 wins and has a 2.29 ERA – a healthy traditional résumé. There are even a couple of dominant relief pitchers worthy of consideration.
Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote on the Cy Young. Though the organization includes many forward-thinking writers that take the modern statistics and trends into account when voting, many also rely on the traditional Triple Crown categories of wins, earned run average and strikeouts to drive their decisions.
As we near the half way point of the season, we explore five Cy Young Award candidates in each league using all metrics available to us in an attempt to predict how BWAA members would vote if asked today.
5. Lance McCullers, Houston Astros
Despite very good results during his first two major league seasons, including a 3.22 ERA in 206.2 innings combined, most fans didn’t expect Lance McCullers to pitch like a Cy Young Award candidate as a 23-year-old this season. Nevertheless, after a posting a 7-1 record with a 2.53 ERA in his first 14 starts for the team with the best record in baseball, McCullers is squarely in the mix to win the hardware.
A big part of McCullers’ success this season has been his ability to miss bats. He has struck out 97 of the 330 batters he has faced, which gives him a 29.4 percent strikeout rate that ranks fifth among big league starters with at least 70 innings pitched. The right-hander has struck out 10.69 hitters per nine innings, which ranks sixth. His xFIP (2.66) is second, and he ranks third in SIERA (2.95).
Though some strikeout pitchers can be victimized by bouts of wildness, McCullers has also done a solid job limiting base runners. McCullers has a 7.0 percent walk rate, and has limited hitters to a .205 batting average, which as helped him to post a solid 1.04 WHIP that ranks fifth among starters with 70 innings pitched. Only Max Scherzer, Dallas Keuchel, Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw have been better at keeping hitters off base.
However, like several of the pitchers on this list, McCullers has already spent time on the disabled list. He’ll need to stay healthy, as well as productive, to climb up the list of Cy Young candidates over the final three months of the season.