With less than three weeks remaining in the 2016 Major League Baseball regular season, it is a good time to check on the races for the top pitching awards in the American and National Leagues, the Cy Young Awards.
If the annual recognition was decided by algorithms instead of via the votes of selected members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, what we might get is results similar to a tool that runs on ESPN’s website.
The “MLB Cy Young Predictor” formula, borrowed from sabermetric pioneer Bill James and Rob Neyer, includes innings pitched, earned runs, strikeouts, walks, saves, shutouts, wins, losses and provides bonus points for a division title. The intent is not to determine the best pitcher, but instead to most accurately predict where the voters will land.
It seems to work pretty well, with nine of the last 10 winners over the most recent five years correctly predicted by the formula. The one miss was a second-place finisher in the real voting.
Here in 2016 in the Senior Circuit, three-time winner Clayton Kershaw is out of the race, having missed over two months before returning this past Friday. That leaves a scrum among six players, all within eight points on a basis of 165.
Half of them are employed by the Chicago Cubs, with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, currently ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively. In reality, winning could be a challenge for any of these three. All are worthy, but with none of them standing out over the others, votes could be split.
The current leader, Max Scherzer of Washington, was the 2013 American League winner while with Detroit and also has another pair of top-five finishes. He is closely followed by Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, just 1.8 points behind.
Scherzer is on track to make four more starts. If he continues his most recent success, he could solidify his lead. Over his last four outings totaling 29 1/3 innings, the 32-year-old right-hander has allowed just four runs for a 1.21 ERA. Scherzer fanned 34 against just four walks.
Jansen isn’t about to concede, however. Since allowing a run on August 26, the right-hander has fired off eight straight scoreless appearances with six saves on just two hits and no walks to go with 13 punchouts. Simply dominating.
I would still make this a clear call for Scherzer except for one thing. His final start would be in Game 162. However, the Nats will have the East Division and the second NL post-season seed locked up long before then. Instead, manager Dusty Baker may rest Scherzer for part or all of the game, or even rejuggle his rotation to maximize his ace’s post-season starts.
While the NL race may go down to the wire, any intrigue over the identity of the American League winner appears to be over.
Ironically, the clear leader is Scherzer’s former Tigers rotation mate, Rick Porcello. The rub for Detroit is neither 2016 Cy Young Award leader is still with the team. They traded Porcello to Boston in the Yoenis Cespedes deal prior to the 2015 season, during the same winter that Scherzer departed as a free agent.
Already logging 20 wins in his first 30 starts, Porcello has a dominating 25 1/3-point lead over Corey Kluber in the projected Cy Young Award race. Cleveland’s Kluber, the 2014 winner, seems too far behind at this late date to make an effective charge. In other words, Porcello would need to pull a colossal collapse to lose his edge.
Who knows? Perhaps the former Detroit teammates could meet on the game’s biggest stage in late October before taking home the top pitching awards the next month.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.