With two weeks remaining in the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season, it seems 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 best predict where the voters will land.
In all fairness, the formula seems to work pretty well compared to the human vote. In fact, nine of the last 10 winners over the last five years were correctly predicted. The one miss was a second-place finisher.
Here in 2017 in the Junior Circuit, 2014 winner and 2016 third-place finisher Corey Kluber of Cleveland has a sizeable lead over Boston teammates Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel. Interestingly, those same two clubs have all top five spots locked down, with Carlos Carrasco (CLE) fourth and Drew Pomeranz (BOS) fifth.
It may be painful for San Diego fans to be reminded that both Kluber and Pomeranz were dealt away by the Padres, though in all fairness, the trades were six years apart.
Fame can be fleeting, as Boston’s Rick Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner, is not among the current top 10.
In the National League, the picture is also very different from a year ago, yet in a way quite familiar. In 2016, Clayton Kershaw was out of the race, having missed over two months due to injury before a September return. That cleared the way for Max Scherzer of Washington, who was also the 2013 American League winner while with Detroit and has another pair of top-five finishes.
In 2017, Scherzer is again among the favorites, though clustered with my bounceback player of the year, Arizona’s Zack Greinke, at third and fourth, respectively. Given the gap between these two and the top pair, their chances have to be considered slim.
It is almost a dead heat at the top of the NL Predictor list between three-time winner Kershaw and his club’s closer, Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers’ ninth-inning man was also close to Scherzer a year ago in the ESPN formula, but finished a distant third in the sportswriter voting, with the Cubs’ Jon Lester also slipping by.
History suggests a reliever would need help (in terms of less-dominating starters) to win, with the last bullpenner to take home the hardware being another Dodger, Eric Gagne in 2003. In the baseball circle of life, it seems fitting that Gagne attempted a comeback this very spring, with success in the World Baseball Classic for Team Canada, followed by a less-positive and career-ending (again) stint with the independent Long Island Ducks.
An AL closer hasn’t won since Dennis Eckersley in 1992, back when he had Prince Albert hair. (Never mind. Strike that last comment!)
Another more tangible reason Jansen should not be counted out is a recent turn of events during which Kershaw has suggested he is mortal. The lefty was charged with four earned runs allowed in two of his last three starts while taking his third and fourth losses of the season to go with 17 wins. The latter is tied with Greinke and Kluber for the MLB lead. Kershaw’s ERA is “up” to 2.26, still the best among all contending starters.
However, one reliever has an especially low ERA of 1.27 – Kershaw’s teammate Jansen.
The Curacao native continues to be the best lockdown closer in the game. Since his last blown save two months ago, Jansen has one win and 13 saves. In that time, he has tossed 21 1/3 innings, yielding just two earned runs, for an 0.84 ERA. The 29-year old fanned 32 against just five walks and 15 hits allowed.
While any intrigue over the identity of the American League winner appears to be over, the NL race may go down to the wire.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-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. Follow Brian on Twitter.