It’s almost June and you can stuff your “small sample size” retorts in a sack, mister. Nearly 40 games into the 2017 MLB season, starters have about eight appearances under their belt and we can begin to ID the contenders for baseball’s biggest hardware: the Esurance Best Social Media Personality award.
Actually, let’s look at the Cy Young instead.
A lot has changed since the last time we checked in, which was uber-early in the season. In the NL, Noah Syndergaard is injured; Chase Anderson has fallen off; and Mike Leake has, surprisingly, gotten even better.
It’s a similar story in the AL. Injuries to James Paxton and Corey Kluber have shifted everyone else’s odds upwards, while Jason Vargas and Ervin Santana are continuing their sprint out of the gate.
2017 Cy Young Odds: Quarter-Pole1 Edition
Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 9/5
Another edition, another instance of Kershaw being at the top. He doesn’t have the very best numbers in the NL right now; his 0.95 WHIP is only tied for first and his 2.43 ERA is a brutal second.
With a sub-two ERA in three of his last four seasons and three Cy Youngs already on his mantle, expect him to add to his trophy case as long as he stays healthy.
Max Scherzer (Nationals): 5/2
The only (healthy) pitcher who can challenge Kershaw’s best over the course of a full season is Max Scherzer. The reigning champ also has a 0.95 WHIP and is fanning batters at a better rate than his rival (11.5 SO9 versus 9.2 SO9 for Kershaw). His 1.98 is second in the league, trailing only Miami’s Dan Strailey (1.60).
Scherzers’s 2.80 ERA is only sixth in the NL, but that’s good enough to win the award if he can top Kershaw in WHIP, wins, and opponent average.
Zack Greinke (Diamondbacks): 9/1
The D-Backs’ ace is top ten in ERA (3.09), WHIP (1.03), and strikeouts (66 total, 10.2 SO9). If he gets a bit better, Arizona stays in the playoff race, and Kershaw and Scherzer underperform, Greinke could slide in and claim his first award. But don’t dank on him recreating his magical 2015 run, which saw him go 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA and 0.84 WHIP.
Mike Leake (Cardinals): 9/1
If the season ended today, Leake (1.94 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, .211 AVG) would win the award. Unfortunately for the journeyman, he has to keep this up for four more months. He’s never posted an ERA below 3.3, and his career average is close to four (3.92). He only averages 6.2 SO9, so a lot more balls will be in play compared to Kershaw and Scherzer. Expect his numbers to regress toward his career averages as the season goes on.
Jon Lester (Cubs): 25/1
Lester has been the best of an underperforming Cub rotation this year, and he’s posted an ERA of 2.52 or lower in four of the last five years. But his numbers don’t put him in contention right now: 3.45 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .261 AVG.
The main reason for optimism? He’s making guys whiff (9.4 SO9), and he should start to rack up wins when the Cubs’ order finds its groove.
Chris Sale (Red Sox): 5/2
Amazingly, five-time All-Star Chris Sale (2.96 career ERA, 1.05 career WHIP) has never won the Cy Young. He’s pitching as well as he ever has this year with a 2.15 ERA and MLB-leading 0.77 WHIP and 85 Ks. He’ll also have the backing of a strong Boston offense to keep his W/L record shiny.
If not this year, then when?
Dallas Keuchel (Astros): 3/1
… Perhaps when Dallas Keuchel doesn’t pitch like he’s Sandy Koufax. His 1.84 ERA is a tad lower than Sale’s as is his spotless 7-0 record. If he and Sale stay on top of their games all season, this will be a neck-and-neck race the whole way.
Sale gets the early edge because he’s been consistently great throughout his career. Keuchel has been up and down. He followed up a 2015 Cy Young season with a miserable 2016 (9-12 W/L record with a 4.55 ERA).
Jason Vargas (Royals): 8/1
Vargas is a feel-good story, coming back from Tommy John surgery that cost him almost all of 2016. Apparently doctors put some sort of rocket in his shoulder because he’s returned far better than when he left. The 12-year vet, who’s never had an ERA below 3.71, leads the entire majors at 1.01. He’s surrendered just six runs and one homer in seven starts.
Like Leake in the NL, his strikeout numbers cause concern (39 total, 7.9 SO9), and he isn’t pitching deep into games (6.3 innings per start).
Before this season, his claim to fame was finishing eighth in Rookie of the Year voting back in 2005. So yeah, his odds are still pretty long.
Ervin Santana (Twins): 11/1
Santana is Vargas-light. His numbers to-date are exceptional (1.50 ERA; 0.81 WHIP, ). But he’s never done this over the course of a full season and he’s not making guys miss like a truly elite pitcher (6.8 SO9). I’m selling on his stock while it’s high.
Michael Fulmer (Tigers): 12/1
Fulmer, the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, is improving on his standout rookie season, lowering his ERA by half a point to 2.54 and increasing his Ks from 7.5 SO9 to 8.2. He’s 4-1 and should keep getting wins. Offensive production isn’t the issue for the mediocre Tigers.
Let's have fun and keep it civil.