And the winner is...
On Wednesday evening, Major League Baseball will announce the winner of the 2017 NL Cy Young Award as voted by the Baseball Writers Association of America. While you can make a case for all three finalists (Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Stephen Strasburg), the vote will likely come down to either Scherzer or Kershaw. The two pitchers have combined to win 4 of the last 6 NL Cy Young Awards, with Max Scherzer winning the AL Cy Young in 2013.
As the debate as to who's the best pitcher in baseball between Scherzer and Kershaw continues, let's look at the resumes of the NL Cy Young Award finalists as we try to predict the winner.
Scherzer followed up his Cy Young Award winning campaign in 2016, with a 2017 season that might have been just a little bit better. The Nationals' pitcher started 3 fewer games than in 2016, and had 4 fewer win. But his stats were up this past season in most categories. Scherzer averaged 12.02 strikeouts per nine innings this past season. In 206, his strikeouts were 11.19 per nine innings. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner also had an ERA that was 0.45 lower in 2017 (2.51 vs, 2.96). Also, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Scherzer had the lowest batting average against at .178 since 1920. The biggest advantage Scherzer has over the other two finalists is that he put up these numbers while pitching more innings (200.2) than Kershaw (175.0) and Strasburg (175.1).
The Dodgers ace also had a strong 2016 season, and might have won last year's NL Cy Young Award had he not missed two months with a back injury. This year, a stint on the disabled list back in August might once again cost him the award. Kershaw won 18 games this past season, and had an ERA of 2.31 which was 0.20 lower than Scherzer's. But his strikeouts per nine innings was 10.39 (1.63 fewer than Scherzer's). Opponents were hitting .212 against the Dodgers' ace, which was 34 points higher than Max Scherzer. It should be noted that no pitcher has ever won the Cy Young Award in a non-strike shortened year while pitching 175 or fewer innings.
Unfortunately for Strasburg, he looks like he will be the also-ran in this race. The Nationals righty had a breakout year this past season. Strasburg had a career-low 2.52 ERA, and surpassed 200 strikeouts for the second time in his career. Between the three finalists, Strasburg was the only one to pitch a shutout in 2017. Like Kershaw, Strasburg saw time on the disabled list. Stephen Strasburg pitched 175.1 innings in 2017, the most since he pitched 215.0 innings back in 2014.
Based on sample size, it's easier to compare Strasburg vs. Kershaw. And Clayton Kershaw was just a little bit better in most categories than Stephen Strasburg.
Where it gets tough is comparing the two best pitchers in baseball. Sure Kershaw had the lower ERA, but he was actually more hittable than Scherzer. It should be noted that the Dodgers were voted the Defensive Team of the Year. So while Clayton Kershaw allowed more runners to reach base, he had a better defensive team behind him to limit the damage. Also, Max Scherzer pitched over 25 more innings than Clayton Kershaw, and the voters tend to reward longer sustained success.
Max Scherzer will repeat as the NL Cy Young Award winner. He would become just the tenth three-time winner, and the second active pitcher to do so (Kershaw is seeking his fourth Cy Young Award.) Last week, Scherzer was announced as the 2017 NL Oustanding Pitcher as voted by the players. And while that does not necessarily mean he will win the Cy Young Award (the last two NL Outstanding Pitchers did not complete the double), I do think Max Scherzer will follow up last week's award with his second straight Cy Young Award.