On the 150th anniversary of Cy Young’s birthday and with under 100 hours to go until Opening Day, it’s time to take a look around the league at which starting pitchers are likeliest to bring home the prized Cy Young Award in 2017.
If the American League in ‘17 is anything like ‘15 and ‘16, when Dallas Keuchel and Rick Porcello earned the honors, this year's eventual winner’s name is not on the list. Nevertheless, this crop of top-tier arms will at least be in the running. Here’s the AL contenders followed by the NL’s:
Chris Sale -- Boston Red Sox
We’re about to find out what happens when Chris Sale’s arsenal gets combined with (1) a lot of run support; (2) a much better defensive squad; and (3) a welcomed change of scenery and probably throwback jerseys (if any) that suit his sartorial taste. Oh, and he’ll be chilling alongside the reigning AL Cy Young winner (Rick Porcello) and the 2012 winner (David Price).
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox
Yu Darvish -- Texas Rangers
The human strikeout machine got back up to speed after missing all of ‘15 following Tommy John surgery. In 17 starts and 100.1 innings (11.8 K/9) upon returning in late May, Darvish struck out 132 batters and registered a 3.09 FIP last season. Coming off a normal offseason and a successful spring training, the the 30-year-old should pick up where he left off – and that’s near the front of the Cy Young pack.
Corey Kluber -- Cleveland Indians
After falling short in a bid to go full Madison Bumgarner in the '16 World Series, the '14 AL Cy Young winner is primed for another big campaign. Kluber has averaged 224 innings pitched over the past three seasons and finished third in the voting last year after recording an AL-leading 3.26 FIP and striking out 9.5 batters per nine innings. He trailed only Justin Verlander with 6.5 WAR for pitchers.
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Carlos Carrasco -- Cleveland Indians
Last year, injuries to his hand and hamstring sapped his season. And contrasting with the workhorse Kluber, Carrasco has turned in just an average of 155 innings over the past three seasons. A slight velocity decline from 2015 is a bit concerning but his stuff is still great and he’ll be in the hunt if, of course, he can stay healthy.
Chris Archer -- Tampa Bay Rays
After a superb 2015, Archer suffered from a bad case of Gopheritis (1.34 HR/9 on the season) and some control issues in the first half of the '16 season before settling in mowing hitters down to the tune of 10.4 K/9. The Rays stunk last season and won’t content in the AL East in ‘17, but Archer’s stuff is still great, particularly his devastating slider. At age 28 he’s right in his prime.
Justin Verlander -- Detroit Tigers
The baseball world figured that the massive amount of innings and pitches tolled on the 34-year-old’s arm over his first 10 seasons had finally caught up to him. But the big righty struck back with regained velocity on his fastball and slider and turned in a stellar 227.2-inning, 3.04 ERA campaign, leading the AL in strikeouts (254) and WHIP (1.001), finishing second in the Cy Young voting. Father Time is undefeated, but there’s little reason to doubt Verlander has fuel in the tank for one or a few more seasons like it.
Clayton Kershaw -- Los Angeles Dodgers
The big lefty was cruising toward Clemens, Maddux, Johnson and Steve Carlton territory with a fourth Cy Young Award in ‘16 before he got shelved with a back injury. At that time, Kershaw boasted an unfathomable 16.1 K/BB ratio (145/9) and 1.79 ERA through his 16 starts. Yes, he’d like to boost his postseason resume, but he’s the guy all the pitchers will be chasing when the season opens.
Getty ImagesHarry How
Max Scherzer -- Washington Nationals
The “benefactor” of Kershaw’s misfortune, Mad Max picked up the 2016 NL Cy Young to keep his 2013 AL Cy Young some company, thanks to his NL-leading 228.1 innings pitched, MLB-leading 284 strikeouts with a 2.96 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 11.2 K/9. Not bad. He’s overcoming a finger injury of his own right now. Scherzer did serve up a lot of dingers (31) last season but remains a brainy workhorse who could seize another trophy if nobody can outdo his his steady production in this range.
Stephen Strasburg -- Washington Nationals
Can Strasburg can pull it off? Like Carrasco, he’s just got to stay healthy and upright. Arm, shoulder and back injuries have marred the ace’s career but when he’s on, he’s on. Strasburg has averaged 138 innings pitched over the past two seasons and 11.1 K/9. He’s now experimenting with throwing from the stretch and throwing fewer cutters and sliders to ease the burden on his elbow and reduce wear and tear to prevent another injury.
USA TODAY SportsJasen Vinlove
Noah Syndergaard -- New York Mets
The towering Norse god of fastballs registered a 2.60 ERA (2.29 FIP) with 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings in ‘16 and yielded only 2.1 walks per nine. He throws a nearly unhittable 91-mph slider and can touch 100 on his fastball, mixing in a nice changeup and curveball. He’s still just 24 years old and will get to feast on some rebuilding NL East teams for many of his starts. This could be the year for Thor.
Madison Bumgarner -- San Francisco Giants
The 27-year-old lefty has averaged 213 innings, a 3.00 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 over the past six seasons and has made at least 31 starts in each of those years. But he hasn’t finished higher than fourth in the voting in any season. MadBum has saved his best for October, which is nice, but he certainly can make a bid for the regular-season honor as well.
David Kohl-USA TODAY SportsDavid Kohl
Jake Arrieta -- Chicago Cubs
If you believe in “contract years,” Arrieta might be your horse in this Cy Young race. He’s working on a 1-year, $15.6 million deal with Chicago and will probably be seeking David Price-/Zack Grienke-type money come free agency after the 2017 season. His 2015 Cy Young campaign was a tough act to follow as the fitness freak saw his ERA climb to 3.10. He probably peaked in ‘15, but his stuff is still excellent and he’s a strong contender for the hardware.
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Johnny Cueto -- San Francisco Giants
Back to the Bay, where Cueto is coming off an 18-5 campaign in which he hurled 5 complete games and 2 shutouts with a 2.79 ERA and 198 strikeouts. The AT&T Park confines helped Cueto limit the longballs and the excellent defense behind him (and the plate) certainly helps, plus he doesn’t walk many batters. Expect a similar performance in ‘17, which would put the 31-year-old right back in the running.