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Top 10 pitchers who could be in Cy Young mix

By Scott Mitchell, Toronto Sun

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez throws a bullpen session during spring training in Dunedin on Feb. 17, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez throws a bullpen session during spring training in Dunedin on Feb. 17, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

An elite pitcher is worth his weight in gold.

That’s why they’re handed contracts like the $215 million Clayton Kershaw got from the Los Angeles Dodgers and the $210 Max Scherzer will be paid by the Washington Nationals.

Not bad for seven years of throwing baseballs, but it almost seems like a bargain when you consider they’ve accounted for four of the last six National League Cy Young Awards and are generally considered to be two of the small handful of legitimate aces in baseball.

Headlined by Kershaw and Scherzer, here are 10 pitchers who could be in the Cy Young mix this season:

10. RHP Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

The NL race isn’t exactly wide open with Scherzer and Kershaw around, but this burgeoning 25-year-old gets the nod for the final spot over three Chicago Cubs with legitimate Cy hopes in lefty Jon Lester, 2015 winner Jake Arrieta, and 2016 NL ERA champion Kyle Hendricks. Martinez, who went 16-9 last season, will get enough wins on a solid Cards team to impress voters, while a repeat of his 3.04 ERA will do just fine, too. If he can bump his strikeout rate (8.02 K/9), he might find himself near the top of the ballot.

9. RHP Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

The longtime Tigers ace actually had more first-place votes last year than winner Rick Porcello — 14-8 — but he fell a few points short of his second AL Cy Young. After a couple years of dealing with declining velocity and strikeout numbers, Verlander was vintage in 2016, posting a 16-9 record, a 3.04 ERA and 10.04 K/9, his best campaign since 2012.


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8. RHP Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays

If Martinez is the NL longshot on this list, Sanchez is the AL version. Heading into his second full season as a starter, the 24-year-old has everything going for him: Health, filthy stuff, and a good ballclub behind him. With no innings restrictions to worry about in 2017, the reins are off the sinkerballer, but now he’ll work towards the tough step of going from really good to ace. Similar to Martinez, that will probably happen with additional command improvements and a few more whiffs (7.55 K/9).

7. RHP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

Since the Nats made him the top pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, the only problem has been getting Strasburg on the mound every fifth day. After throwing just 127.1 frames in 2015, Strasburg was terrific again last season … for about four months. A flexor mass strain in his elbow ruined the rest of his 2016 campaign, and he finished with a 15-4 record and a 3.60 ERA, despite 11.15 K/9 and 3.9 wins above replacement.

6. RHP Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

After a truncated 2016 summer due to Tommy John surgery in March of 2015, Darvish is ready to reassume his position in the upper-echelon of American League starters. Prior to the injury, Darvish seemed poised to contend for Cy Youngs on an annual basis, and nothing had changed when he returned last year. In 17 starts, the 30-year-old struck out 31.7% of the hitters he faced, also pairing that with a career-low 2.78 walk rate.

5. RHP Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

What a whirlwind it’s been for Kluber over the past few years. He took home the AL Cy Young in 2014, pitching to a 2.44 ERA, an 18-9 record and elite peripheral numbers. Then in 2015, Kluber was the unluckiest man on a mound, almost matching those peripherals, but seeing his ERA jump to 3.49 and his record fall to 9-16. By now, we know that Kluber was still a top-of-the-rotation starter in 2015, and he bounced back last season, putting an exclamation point on everything with a dominating post-season.

4. RHP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

Blue Jays fans don’t need to hear much more about this towering right-hander with the flowing locks and the power arsenal, but Thor’s first full season in 2016 was nothing short of off the charts. In 30 starts and 183.2 innings, Syndergaard spun a 2.60 ERA to accumulate 6.5 WAR, the most of any MLB pitcher. Syndergaard’s success isn’t a secret, either, as his fastball averaged an MLB-best 97.9 mph, despite a bone spur in his elbow that limited him in the second half.

3. RHP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

Over the past seven seasons, Scherzer has never made less than 31 starts. Over the past five seasons, he hasn’t struck out less than 10.08 hitters every nine innings, peaking at 11.19 K/9 last year. Over the past four seasons, Scherzer’s highest ERA is 3.15. Dominance and consistency — you can’t ask for much more. That (and Kershaw’s back injury) earned Scherzer his first Cy Young last year, something the Nationals likely expected when they inked him to a seven-year, $210-million deal prior to the 2015 season. Can he double down?

2. LHP Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner is alongside him in the Red Sox rotation, as is 2012 recipient David Price. But despite Porcello’s current hold on the honour, and Price’s previous grasp, Sale is by far the best bet to be in the mix in 2017. Working on a string of five-straight elite seasons — he went 17-10 with 233 strikeouts and a 3.34 ERA in 2016 — Sale’s sixth might be the best of them all now that he has a championship-calibre team around him, not to mention the hype machine that is the Boston spotlight.

1. LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

A back injury stole a good chunk of his season, but when Kershaw took the hill, he was as close to unhittable as it gets. In 149 innings, the southpaw finished with a 1.69 ERA, 6.9 WAR, and a 12-4 record. He struck out a boatload, didn’t walk anyone, and would’ve sauntered off with his fourth Cy Young Award had he pitched a full season. Expect more of the same for the newly-minted 29-year-old, who’s still the best pitcher in baseball.