Baseball is almost back. Who else is more excited than Tom Brady was when his companion Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election?
With the season about to start, it's a popular time to forecast what will go down in 2017. Since baseball is more about great pitching than great hitting these days, I thought it'd be an opportune time to take a look at the best pitchers in the majors and see how they'll perform. More specifically, if they have a chance at winning the Cy Young Award or not. Rick Porcello shocked the world with a breakout year in 2016 that saw him take home the AL Cy Young, but nobody was shocked to see Washington Nationals star Max Scherzer take the NL Cy Young home.
Looking ahead in 2017, there's a wide open race for both the AL and NL Cy Young. But which pitchers have a realistic shot at winning it, and which pitchers are pretenders? We take a look at 10 Cy Young contenders and 10 great pitchers who won't win it.
*Note, for balance sake, I included 10 from the American League and 10 from the National League. Also, all advanced stats are courtesy of FanGraphs*
20 Could: Rick Porcello
After a miserable first season in Beantown, Rick Porcello shocked the world by putting up a Cy Young-winning season in 2016. This came after the Boston Red Sox signed David Price to a seven-year deal worth $217 million to be their REAL ace. Porcello narrowly took home the title over Justin Verlander -- going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 189 strikeouts.
That effort brought Boston from worst to first within one season. Though Boston added Chris Sale in a blockbuster trade, there's no reason to believe Porcello can't win it again. Porcello had a stronger command and better delivery in 2016. He's not going to lose that over night. He has a real solid chance of winning the Cy Young once again.
19 Won't: David Price
Speaking of the Red Sox...
David Price was supposed to be Boston's real number one pitcher last year, but he struggled through most of the season. Don't let his 17-9 record fool you, because Price's stats suggested the 31-year-old is going to start slowing down.
FanGraphs shows that Price's fastball was at 92.9 miles per hour. That's extremely alarming, considering it was at 94.2 mph in 2015. He relies a lot on his velocity and with Price a sure bet to hit 200 innings a season, you can expect his fastball to lose even more speed. Price's 3.99 ERA was his worst since 2009. Furthermore, the 30 home runs allowed by Price were a career-worst.
Batters also hit .258 against Price last year -- far and away the worst of his career. There's no sugarcoating that we're slowly seeing a regression from the former Cy Young winner. Don't expect Boston's number two or three starter to win another award in 2017.
18 Could: Jon Lester
The only reason Jon Lester could have troubles winning the Cy Young in 2017 is because he's part of the best rotation in the majors -- but that's a good thing. The Chicago Cubs rotation also includes Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks. That being said, Lester was the best of the bunch in 2016 and should have another Jon Lester-like campaign in 2017.
Lester tied a career-high with 19 wins last season and lost just five decisions. He notched 207 strikeouts and a 2.44 ERA -- good for second in the league. Lester is 33 years old, but only seems to get better with age. He's going to remain the key part of Chicago's stacked rotation. Until we see a regression (we won't in 2017), then expect Lester to contend for the NL Cy Young Award.
17 Won't: Jake Arrieta
Jake Arrieta was a huge reason the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, though he did regress slightly from his 2015 NL Cy Young season. Arrieta went 18-8 last season with a 3.10 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 190 strikeouts. Though that season certainly screams "Cy Young caliber", it's not even close to the 2015 Cy Young season Arrieta posted.
That year, he went 22-6 with an INSANE 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 236 strikeouts, with opponents batting just .185 off of him. Though Arrieta should have another All-Star season, expecting him to stand out over the other big arms in the National League may be a stretch. FanGraphs noted last year that Arrieta was unusually walking more left handed hitters, and his ground ball percentage reduced by 3.6 last season. After posting a 2.35 FIP in 2016, Arrieta's went up to 3.52.
Arrieta will continue to be a big part of Chicago's success, but it's hard to ignore the "regression" in 2016. Expect him to win 15-plus games again, but another Cy Young won't take place in 2017.
16 Could: Justin Verlander
The 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young winner looked like he was finished after frustrating 2013, 2014 and 2015 campaigns. But Kate Upton's man had a bounce back year for the ages in 2017, going 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 254 strikeouts -- which was the second highest total of his career.
Justin Verlander probably should have won the Cy Young in 2016, but Upton made it clear on Twitter how screwed over he was. Verlander had a better season by far than Rick Porcello (and didn't have the league's best offence backing him up), but he's in position to win his second Cy Young in 2017. Verlander's fastball percentage in 2016 was 93.5 -- his highest since 2012. His slider also reached 88 miles per hour, the fastest of his career.
Some may believe it was one good comeback season for Verlander, but the data from our friends at FanGraphs suggests he's once again back in business.
15 Won't: Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka had arguably his best season in the majors last year, going 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA and 4.06 WAR. He was the lone standout on a very mediocre New York Yankees rotation, but was able to help them secure yet another winning season. One might believe that he's a candidate to win the AL Cy Young in 2017, but I'm not buying it.
Was 2016 a sign that Tanaka is turning it around? The stats don't exactly say so. His 20.5 strikeout percentage in 2016 was well below his career total of 22.8 percent. He also allowed career-highs in home runs (22), hits (179), earned runs (68), and walks (36). His fastball also hit 90.6 in 2016 -- the lowest of Tanaka's young MLB career. He's a great pitcher, but the stats suggest he's not going to be good out-do the other pitchers in the A.L. to win the Cy Young.
14 Could: Madison Bumgarner
Like Lester, Madison Bumgarner is on a loaded rotation that could make it tough to stand out and garner the Cy Young votes. This loaded pitching staff also includes Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore. However, Bumgarner simply is the best of the best on the Giants, and should be considered an ultra to win the National League Cy Young -- something he surprisingly hasn't taken home yet.
Bumgarner went 15-9 last season and had a career-best 2.74 ERA -- good for fourth in the league. He also set career-highs in innings pitched with 226.2 and strikeouts with 251. Bumgarner is already a big name because of his heroics during the 2014 World Series, but he could stand out even more if he wins his first Cy Young Award. Judging by an impressive 2016 season, we strongly believe he has a great chance to win it.
13 Won't: Julio Teheran
The 26-year-old is one of the top young pitchers in the National League, and he entered 2016 as a darkhorse to win the Cy Young. But Julio Teheran struggled at times, finishing with a 7-10 record after going 11-8 in 2015 and winning 14 games in each of the two seasons prior.
Teheran's 3.21 ERA was impressive, considering he was on one of the league's worst teams in the Atlanta Braves last year. But Teheran's 167 strikeouts were inferior to the totals he posted from 2013 to 2015. What's also worth noting is the Braves added veterans Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey in free agency, so Teheran may not even be their full-time "ace".
Either way, Teheran is a very good pitcher, but 2017 won't be the year he takes it to the next level. Being on a team that's a while away from contending won't help his chances, either.
12 Could: Corey Kluber
The 2014 AL Cy Young winner made his case to win it again in 2016, going 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA, 3.26 wHIP, 1.056 WHIP and 227 strikeouts. His strikeout percentage has also been 26.4 percent or better in the last three seasons.What's amazing is how Corey Kluber held the near the end of 2016 (and in the playoffs), while the Cleveland Indians had to roll with a three-man rotation.
Kluber is among the most dominant pitchers in baseball and has as good of a chance as anyone else to win the American League Cy Young. Now that Cleveland gets to go with a five-man rotation for 2017, Kluber will earn more rest and should continue to shut down the opposition's top pitchers.
No reason to believe the 2016 AL Champion will regress in 2017.
11 Won't: J.A. Happ
The Toronto Blue Jays replaced David Price in the 2015 offseason by signing old friend J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million. Happ had a career year with 20 wins and career highs in innings pitched (195), ERA (3.18), strikeouts (163), and WHIP (1.169). Had it not been for Porcello or Verlander, Happ could have won his very first Cy Young award.
Happ had a breakout year at the unusual age of 33, but it's hard to believe that he's going to sustain that success as he approaches his mid-30s. Happ was able to get better movement on his fastball in 2016, and that's a huge reason why he turned his career around. But will that fastball continue to be unhittable?
Happ could prove me wrong and win the Cy Young in 2017, but I'm just wary of choosing him. Plus, you could make a case that he's the third-best pitcher on Toronto, which doesn't put him in a great situation to out-perform the others in the American League.
10 Could: Noah Syndergaard
'Thor' build off of a solid 2015 rookie season and was one of the biggest flame-throwing pitchers of 2016. Noah Syndergaard, or the guy that the Toronto Blue Jays gave up for a 38-year-old R.A. Dickey (sorry, I'm a bitter Jays fan), went 14-9 last season with a 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 218 strikeouts. The man is only 24 years of age and hasn't even come close to reaching his prime yet. Isn't that kind of scary for opponents?
Syndergaard's fastball is in the high 90s and can exceed over 100 miles per hour. By the way, he added 17 more pounds in the offseason to get even more heat on his already lightning-quick fastball. He has all of the mechanics down, and the only way he won't win the Cy Young is if somebody in the National League is better. In other words, you know Syndergaard is going to have another Cy Young-caliber season in 2016.
9 Won't: Adam Wainwright
The 35-year-old is one of the best pitchers who's yet to win a Cy Young award. Unfortunately, it's tough to see how Adam Wainwright wins one, given his age, mileage and injury woes over the years. He missed most of 2015 and suffering a ruptured Achilles Tendon, and the injury surely impacted how Wainwright performed in 2016.
He had a woeful 4.62 ERA, the worst of his career since becoming a starter. Wainwright 19 percent strikeout rate was fairly below the 20.5 rate he's posted in his career. He's also lost a decent amount of velocity on his fastball, and there's no reason to believe it's going to come back at the age of 35.
It's been a great career for Wainwright, but the two-time World Series champion isn't going to win a Cy Young Award. It's a shame that health and age caught up quickly to the St. Louis Cardinals long-time star.
8 Could: Aaron Sanchez
I may come off as a major Blue Jays homer for putting Aaron Sanchez on this list, but the guy is incredibly talented. He did take home the 2016 American League ERA title -- finishing at 3.00. Considering it was Sanchez's first full season as a starter in the majors, it makes those numbers all the more impressive.
Sanchez, the Blue Jays best pitcher in 2016, is also just 24 years of age and was held to an innings limit last season. It's crazy to think that Sanchez could have done even better. He compiled a 15-2 record with a 7.55 K/9 and 3.55 FIP.
Sanchez has a great fastball that can reach the mid-90s, but his slick changeup and slider that can reach the high 80s also makes him a tough pitcher to read. With a full season under his belt and no inning limits in 2017, Sanchez has plenty of room to get better, and more time to strike out more batters. He is in line for another Cy Young-caliber season.
7 Won't: Chris Tillman
After seven up-and-down seasons in the majors, Chris Tillman broke out in 2016 and became the ace of the Baltimore Orioles rotation. He went 16-6 with a 3.77 ERA and struck out 140 batters. Tillman helped the O's reach the 2016 postseason and started for them in the Wild Card Game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
That being said, Tillman's record shouldn't fool you. He's a good, but not great pitcher -- and certainly not a pitcher who's great enough to win a Cy Young. Baltimore's productive offence -- led by Mark Trumbo and Manny Machado -- also provided Tillman with plenty of run support.
This isn't to take anything away from Tillman, who should be a quality ace for the Orioles. There are just better pitchers with more consistency and better delivery than him. As such, don't expect him to be a Cy Young candidate in 2017.
6 Could: Max Scherzer
The $210 million dollar man has earned every penny in his first two years with the Washington Nationals. Max Scherzer has been arguably the top pitcher in the majors over the last four seasons.
He's coming off of a Cy Young-winning season, in which Scherzer won a career-best 20 games while posting an excellent 2.96 ERA. Scherzer also set a career-high in strikeouts with 284 and was 0.1 innings away from matching his career-best in IP. Scherzer is far-and-away one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, and you have every reason to believe he's capable of winning it again in 2017.
Another key that Scherzer has is consistency -- His ERA has been below 3.00 in the last two seasons, and he's racked up over 230 strikeouts every year since 2012. He's once again a favourite to win the Cy Young in 2017.
5 Won't: Bartolo Colon
When I was playing Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey Jr. back in 2002 (the game came out in 1998), Bartolo Colon was a player that appeared in the video game. Here we are 19 years later and he remains a very solid starter at the age of 43. As a member of the New York Mets, Colon went 15-8 in 2016 with a 3.43 ERA and 128 strikeouts. Everyone loves Colon, because who doesn't love a fairly dominant 43-year-old.
That being said, there are no sentiments here in saying that Colon will not be winning the Cy Young in 2017. The man with 233 career wins and 2,365 strikeouts did win the AL Cy Young in 2005 with the Angels, but that was when he was just 34 years of age! Colon is a serviceable number two or three starter, but he's not going to defy father time as a Cy Young winner in 2017. That's asking for way too much.
4 Could Win: Chris Sale
The Boston Red Sox gave up a hefty price to acquire the American League's best pitcher. But the Chicago White Sox couldn't pass up on the chance to land star prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech -- who have been compared to Robinson Cano and Max Scherzer, respectively.
Chris Sale joins a stacked Red Sox rotation that has reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and former Cy Young winner, David Price. Sale is coming off a remarkable season that saw him go 17-10 with a 3.34 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 233 strikeouts. Sale has pitched 200-plus innings in three of the past four seasons. He's also racked up over 200 strikeouts in the last four campaigns. Joining a Boston team that had the top offence in the majors last year bodes well for Sale. He's going to get a ton of run support -- meaning he could escape with some wins even if he has off nights.
Sale's my pick to win the American League Cy Young, and it's not easy saying that as a Jays fan. Life was easier when the arch rival Red Sox "only" had Porcello and Price.
3 Won't Win: Felix Hernandez
The 2010 AL Cy Young winner was heralded as the top pitcher in the league for a number of seasons, but the 30-year-old has seen an unexplained regression in his game. 'King Felix' went 11-8 in 2016 with a 3.82 ERA. Those are suitable numbers for a number three or four starter, but Hernandez is supposed to be the ace of the Seattle Mariners' pitching staff.
The 3.83 ERA was Hernandez's worst since 2007; this came after posting a 2.14 ERA in 2014. Hernandez's 11 wins were the fewest as a regular starter since 2009 as well. 2016 was also the first time Hernandez failed to reach at least 200 innings pitched since 2007.
It was a very off year for Felix Hernandez, and though he is more than capable of rebounding in 2017, it's tough to see him becoming the top pitcher in the American League again. Those days are long gone.
2 Could Win: Clayton Kershaw
What can we say about the best pitcher in baseball that hasn't already been said? The three-time NL Cy Young winner who's guided the Los Angeles Dodgers to four-straight NL West titles is once again in line to win his fourth Cy Young Award. He's coming off of a 12-4 season and had a 1.69 ERA -- the best of his career.
Injuries limited Clayton Kershaw to 21 starts in 2016 after making 33 the year before. As such, he didn't reach his usual 200 innings and strikeouts. Kershaw is also just two seasons removed from racking up 301 strikeouts (!).
Kershaw could have won the Cy Young if he didn't miss time in 2016. Nonetheless, nobody has such command and accuracy the day Kershaw does. He's undoubtedly the top pitcher in the majors and should be able to win another Cy Young before too long. Perhaps it'll happen in 2017.
1 Zack Greinke
After an impressive 2015 campaign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Zack Greinke joined the Arizona Diamondbacks on a six-year deal worth $206.5 million. The Diamondbacks really are regretting that mega contract right now.
Greinke was coming off of a ridiculous 2015 campaign: A 19-3 record, 200 strikeouts and 1.66 ERA. But as it turns out (so far), playing indoors in the hot Arizona weather is less than ideal for Greinke. His 13-7 record in 2016 doesn't seem so bad, but his 4.37 ERA was awful for a guy whose career ERA is 3.42.
He also allowed 23 home runs -- the most surrendered by Greinke since 2005. Also, Greinke's 134 strikeouts were his fewest since 2007. At 33 years of age, it's reasonable to believe we're witnessing the decline of the former Cy Young winner.
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