Did you know that Cy Young holds the record for most wins AND most losses in a career? Cy Young’s 511 wins is 94 more than second place pitcher Walter Johnson’s 417, but his 316 losses are only 8 more than the second worst pitcher, but also best/worst name, Pud Galvin’s 308.
How did Cy Young find his way to dominance on both ends of the pitching spectrum? Easy. CY Young started 815 games in his career, more than any other pitcher to take the mound. Cy Young may very well be the most overworked pitcher of all time, but that also means he was the most dominant. Seriously. For a guy who has 511 career wins in 815 starts, you’d expect him to get tired. NOPE. Of those 815 games, Young went the distance 749 times. In his career, Cy Young pitched 7,356 innings. To put that in perspective, in his 10 year MLB career Max Scherzer has pitched 1,589 innings or 21.6% of Cy Young’s total.
All the while putting up a 2.63 ERA.
We now honor his memory by awarding the best pitcher in each league with a plaque named after him. The award is given to the most outstanding pitcher in each league, and this year we have some extraordinary pitchers on the mix.
14-6 – 2.98 ERA, 193.1 IP, 203 Ks, 1.040 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 4.51 K/BB.
If you had told me at the beginning of the season that Luis Severino was a going to be a Cy Young finalist, I would have laughed in your face. There was no way. If there was a pitcher on the Yankees staff I thought could make a run for it, it was Pineda. Big Mike had all the potential in the world and we definitely saw glimpses of it before he was shut down for the season. That’s when Severino stepped up to the plate and helped propel the Yankees into the Postseason.
Seriously. Severino’s second half was statistically immaculate. In the first half of he season, through his 17 starts, Severino went 5-4, with a 3.54 ERA, with a 1.116 WHIP. Not terrible. In fact this seemed very much on the right track for Severino, considering his career ERA as a starter is 3.34.
It was the second half that Severino turned it on. In his 14 starts, he earned a 9-2 record and lowered his WHIP to .0946. His ERA also dipped by a full 1.26, dropping from 3.56 to 2.28. The strikeouts were coming easier and more frequent, as he averaged another .5 strikeouts through 9 innings in the second half. You could also see Severino’s demeanor shift. He was vibrant and expressive on the mound, pounding his glove after getting a swing and a miss for strike three. He was the exuberant young pitcher the Yankees could rally around. He was electric.
So can he win the Cy Young? No.
Severino has the highest ERA of any Cy Young finalist this year, and while that doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from winning, it does raise some eyebrows. I should also point out that he does have the third lowest ERA in the American League, but his 2.98 ERA lands him 7th in the MLB. If his dominant second half had started a month or two earlier, then he’s definitely in the conversation, but this nomination feels more like a hat-tip to a young guy who had one hell of a second half.
17-8 – 2.90 ERA, 214.1 IP, 308 Ks, 0.970 WHIP, 12.9 K/9, 7.16 K/BB.
Let’s for a moment pretend that August 1st to October 2nd didn’t happen. If that’s the case then Chris Sale is your American League Cy Young winner. Hands down. Easily. At that point, Sale has a 13-4 record, that included an 8-Game 10K+ streak, and saw him inch closer to 1500 strikeouts, which he would reach faster than any other pitcher in history. Sale was the picture of dominance in the first half of the season. 178 strikeouts in 18 games. Every night he had the ball felt like you were watching Pedro during his Cy Young reign. The guy was pitching at the highest level. He was otherworldly.
Do you want a single stat that sums up the end of Sale’s season? In the last month of the season, Sale gave up 9 home runs, the same amount he gave up in the first 3 months of the season. Chris Sale STUNK in August and September. Hitters against Sale saw a 55 point increase in batting average from August to September. Here’s another weird one, Chris Sale gave up 2 doubles in 5 starts in September. Still gave up the same amount of earned runs as he did in August. Sale was throwing beach balls in September.
I wouldn’t normally blame the team for a pitcher’s woes, but in this case, I’m going to make an exception. The Red Sox were playing for their lives for the latter part of the season. Once the other AL races seemed to produce a strong front-runner, it was Sox v. Yankees for the rest of the way, which meant that August games were important. If there’s a weakness on this Red Sox squad this year it was pitching. Yes, the offense wasn’t there, but Rick Porcello won a Cy Young last year and he was so bad that Dumbrowski had to rely on DOUG FISTER to put in some good appearances. That’s like when Sandy Alderson signed Tommy Milone to replace Noah Syndergaard. Those are Apples and Oranges.
If the Sox had a firm grip on the AL East, I’m sure Sale would have been afforded some time to get his game back on point. Instead, Chris Sale throws 214.1 Innings, the most in the majors. The guy got tired. Plain and simple.
18-4 – 2.25 ERA, 203.2 IP, 265 Ks, 0.869 WHIP, 11.7 K/9, 7.36 K/BB.
If you take Chris Sale’s season and turn it upside down, you’d get Corey Kluber’s 2017. When the season first started it appeared as though Kluber was suffering from a World Series hangover. In April and May, through 6 starts, had a 5.04 ERA and a 3-2 record. Not very Kluber-like numbers from Cleveland’s Ace. The root of the problem was lower back pain and the Indians put Kluber on the disabled list. When he came back, Kluber was right as rain.
The second half of the season for Kluber was phenomenal. The Indians Ace went 11-1 in 15 starts, posting a 1.77 ERA and a 0.770 WHIP. Batters facing Kluber after the All-Star break were hitting .185 against the right-hander, and were striking out almost every other at-bat.
The Indians incredible winning streak was not magic, it was predictable. When a team with a pitching staff as dominant as theirs and an offense as powerful as theirs, there’s no reason why they can’t be successful. Winning 20+ games in a row is certainly a successful season, but when you look at the second half numbers of Kluber and this staff it’s no wonder they were lights out. Having an Ace like Kluber is a luxury, but having an Ace like Kluber set the bar high for the rest of you rotation is a godsend. Corey Kluber is the crown jewel of the Indians franchise and will be for the near future.
So who wins?
Which is more damning: a poor first half or a poor second half? Like I said, Severino doesn’t stand a chance to win this award, so it’s down to Sale and Kluber. If Sale was able to settle down into the end of the season, I think he takes it handily. If Kluber doesn’t turn on the jets and right the ship in June, then he’s barely a footnote. It comes down to what’s more important. Season totals or actually showing up when you’re needed?
I’m leaning Kluber, but I’ll be interested to see if this year is one of those odd years where a pitcher with a 300+ strikeout season walks away empty handed. It’s gonna be close, y’all.