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Making the case for the 3 NL Cy Young finalists

NL Cy Young finalists, USA TODAY Sports photos
USA TODAY Sports photos

Home runs were flying out of the ballparks at a historical rate in 2017, but that didn’t stop the most dominant starting pitchers from doing what they do best. In the National League, the Cy Young award has been narrowed down to the top three, and unlike recent years there is no consensus.

So who is it going to be? Here is the case for each pitcher.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw had yet another excellent season, albeit a shortened one. Kershaw made just 27 starts, totaling 175 innings. Here is how Kershaw stacked up in the National League in several major categories:

Category

Innings

ERA

FIP

K%

BB%

WAR

Rank

21st

1st

4th

3rd

2nd

5th

The 30 year old had a few other pretty interesting numbers. In 20 of his 27 starts, Kershaw allowed two or less earned runs. As a result, the Dodgers had a chance to win practically every game when their ace was on the mound. In addition to leading the league in ERA, he also was first in K/BB.

On the flip side, Kershaw allowed a career-worst 23 home runs this season. His WHIP was the highest he has had since 2011 and his H/9 the highest since his rookie year. That said, even in a slight decline, Kershaw’s numbers are still excellent. He had a 2.31 ERA, 3.07 FIP and 10.4 K/9 to just 1.5 BB/9.

There is a strong case to be made for him winning the Cy Young, which would be the fourth of his career. As it stands, this will be his sixth top-three finish in the voting.

Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

For all the promise and talent, Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg has never finished in the top five in the Cy Young voting. That’s often because of injury, as Strasburg has only thrown more than 200 innings once in his career – finishing ninth in the voting back in 2014.

Here are Strasburg’s rankings in 2017:

Category

Innings

ERA

FIP

K%

BB%

WAR

Rank

18th

3rd

1st

4th

7th

2nd

Not that postseason numbers matter for awards voting, but Strasburg did everything he could to help the Nats finally get out of the NLDS: 14 innings, six hits, three walks, 22 strikeouts and just two runs – both unearned. Of course, Washington still lost the series to the Chicago Cubs in five games, but you really can’t blame that on Strasburg’s effort.

Like Kershaw, the 28 year old wasn’t near the top of the league in innings thrown. While he posted an excellent 2.52 ERA and an NL-best 2.72 FIP, Strasburg only made 28 starts and tossed 175.1 innings. Still, there were only two starters in the National League that allowed less hard contact, and Strasburg finished with just 6.7 H/9 and a league-leading 0.7 HR/9.

Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

One of the starters that allowed less hard contact than Strasburg? His teammate, Max Scherzer. In fact, Scherzer was No. 1 in hard contact percentage at 26.5. Here is where he stacked up in the other pertinent categories:

Category

Innings

ERA

FIP

K%

BB%

WAR

Rank

7th

2nd

2nd

1st

11th

1st

Among the three, Scherzer is the only one to top 200 innings at 200.2. Not only was he first in K%, but he was comfortably ahead of the other two. Strasburg came in at 29.1, Kershaw at 29.8, and Scherzer at 34.4 percent. The difference in ERA (2.51) and FIP (2.90) are pretty nominal when compared with the leaders, and the only category you could make a major argument against Scherzer is the walks.

Still, Scherzer’s 7.1 percent walk rate and 2.5 BB/9 aren’t exactly bad. And when you add in the fact that he led the league in WHIP, the walks really didn’t hurt Scherzer in 2017.

You can see that serious arguments can be made for all three pitchers. Kershaw is a generational talent, and even a “down year” in a few categories for him qualifies as extraordinary. Strasburg was finally healthy enough to provide a complete season worth of production, and he met his promise. Scherzer, the reigning NL Cy Young award winner, was the hardest to square up, accumulated the most swings and misses, and had a career year in most categories at the age of 32.

If only one of these excellent three could be picked — and that is how it works — Scherzer makes sense to win his second Cy Young in a row for all the reasons stated above. Kershaw is pretty close at No. 2, with Strasburg coming in third.

But each pitcher is extremely deserving, and it’s a shame that we can only pick one.

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