Yesterday I wrote about my top five picks in each league for the first half MVPs. In this post I write about my choices for the first half Cy Young winners.
2017 First Half Cy Young Winners
2017 American League First Half Cy Young – Chris Sale – 11-4 2.75 ERA 2.09 FIP and 5.3 fWAR in 127.2 IP
This last off-season, the Boston Red Sox traded the top prospect in baseball Yoan Moncada as well as other valuable prospects to the Chicago White Sox for left hander Chris Sale. Sale has been top 6 in the Cy Young voting for the last five seasons, but has never won the award.
This season Sale seems to have finally hit his massive potential and has been the best pitcher in all of the MLB. He is striking out more batters than he ever has, as well as walking as few as he ever has. Combining that with allowing less home runs than his career average and he has been absolutely phenomenal. His 2.06 FIP leads the MLB by a wide margin.
2. Corey Kluber – 7-3 2.80 ERA 2.43 FIP and 3.4 fWAR n 93.1 IP
Corey Kluber has been one of the top pitchers in the sport since 2014 when he won his first Cy Young award. He has had a little trouble with the home run ball since then, but has been great at striking out hitters, not allowing a lot of walks, and eating a ton of innings.
Although Kluber has around 20-30 less innings than some other top AL pitchers this season, what he has done in less time has been very impressive. With minimum 70 IP, Kluber is fourth in the AL in ERA, but second in FIP as well as fWAR. For me Sale is the clear number one starter in the AL, as well as the MLB, but Kluber is the number two AL starting pitcher by a good margin.
3. Lance McCullers – 7-2 3.05 ERA 2.73 FIP and 2.7 fWAR in 91.1 IP
In a similar case to Kluber, Lance McCullers has missed some time and has only around 90 innings or so, but has made up for the lack of innings with dominance in the time played. McCullers ranks sixth in the AL in ERA and fWAR, but third in FIP.
McCullers also seems to be pitching with a chip on his shoulder and has supreme confidence in his ability based on his response to a Keith Law tweet from 6/15/16:
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) July 3, 2017
As The Ace of Spaeder tweeted, McCullers has a 2.55 ERA and 165 K in 23 starters and 134 1/3 IP since that tweet. He has electric stuff, and I would not be surprised to see him pitch as well as Sale in the second half.
Also, Ryan Spaeder of the same wonderful Ace Of Spaeder twitter account picked McCullers as his 2017 AL Cy Young winner, for whatever that is worth.
4. Craig Kimbrel – 2-0 23 S 1.19 ERA 0.78 FIP and 2.3 fWAR in 37.2 IP
For me to pick a reliever as the Cy Young winner, it would take a season like Eric Gagne’s 2003 season to even consider a closer for the Cy Young award. Even then, Mark Prior, Jason Schmidt, Kevin Brown and possibly a couple of other pitchers deserved the award more.
But to pick a completely dominant closer in the bottom of the top five? I don’t have too much of a problem with that if you are as dominant as Craig Kimbrel has been in 2017. Despite being just a closer with only 37 2/3 IP, Kimbrel is ninth in fWAR at 2.3, has just over a 1.00 ERA, and UNDER a 1.00 FIP to this point. Since 2000, Kimbrel’s 0.78 FIP is tied for the best FIP for a reliever with himself in his excellent 2012 season. You could not ask for a better season from a closer than what Kimbrel has done in the first half of 2017.
5. Chris Archer – 7-5 3.95 ERA 3.16 FIP 3.44 FIP and 3.2 fWAR in 123 IP
2016 was a rough year for Chris Archer. Despite a similar K/9 and BB/9 to his very good 2015, Archer had the highest HR/9 of his career all the way up to 1.34 and recorded 19 losses. Things are back to pre-2016 levels now and Archer is looking like the young stud he was in 2015.
Despite a near 4.00 ERA, Archer has a low 3’s FIP at 3.16 and is striking out nearly 11 per 9 innings. Overall his stats may not look as appealing as say Michael Fulmer or Luis Severino, but I believe he is a more dominant pitcher than those two, capable of much better results in most games.
Honorable Mentions: Michael Fulmer, Luis Severino, Carlos Carrasco, James Paxton, and Roberto Osuna.
2017 National League First Half Cy Young Winner – Max Scherzer – 10-5 2.10 ERA 2.61 FIP and 4.4 fWAR in 128.1 IP
The NL Cy Young race in the first half has actually been exciting and with some questions, unlike the top spot in the AL. Between Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Alex Wood, you have three pitchers who have pitched unbelievably well.
With Wood, you have an undefeated pitcher with double digit wins, a sub 2.00 ERA, and just about 2.00 FIP. With Kershaw, you have the best pitcher in baseball since 2011 sporting 14 wins by the All-Star break with a low 2 ERA and about a 3.00 FIP. But if we are talking about the best so far, with minimum 80 innings pitched, Scherzer has the second best ERA, second best FIP, and has the innings over Wood (128.1 to 80.2) to give him the huge advantage in overall value leading the NL in fWAR at 4.4.
At the moment, Scherzer has his lowest ERA of any season by nearly 0.60 points, his best FIP by 0.13 points, and already is just 2.0 fWAR from his highest career total in just 18 starts. The biggest thing in his favor might just be his insane .162 opponent batting average allowed, currently the lowest ever allowed by a starting pitcher. There are other arguments to be made, but the strongest has got to be for Scherzer as the first half NL Cy Young.
2. Clayton Kershaw – 14-2 2.18 ERA 3.01 FIP and 3.7 fWAR in 132.1 IP
The first thing that may catch the eye of anyone looking to build a Cy Young case for Clayton Kershaw is his 14-2 record. Most times a pitcher’s record can be incidental, and not a true record of their talent. For Kershaw however, just watching his starts you can see everything he does to earn those victories, even more so in the times when the offense just doesn’t seem to show up.
The biggest thing that has held Kershaw back this season is his massive HR rate. His 1.22 HR/9 is by far the highest he has ever allowed. Kershaw’s career HR/9 is just 0.58, with 0.92 in his rookie year being his previous career high. Otherwise, the 10.81 K/9 is his third highest of his career and his 1.50 BB/9 would be the same. Kershaw isn’t quite on the level of Scherzer as far as opponent batting average, but his .194 allowed his quite excellent, and that 0.88 WHIP is in the top 30 ever allowed as well.
The funny thing about Kershaw, is that no matter how great he has been in the first half, he has never in his career had a higher ERA in the second half than he has in the first half. If that trend continues, then Max Scherzer will have to have the second half of his life to hold onto the top spot in the NL.
3. Alex Wood – 10-0 1.67 ERA 2.03 FIP and 3.2 fWAR in 80.2 IP
Alex Wood is not a name you would expect to be this high when talking about the Cy Young award. He is a pitcher who has never pitched more than 200 innings in a season, won more than 12 games, or had an fWAR above 2.6 until this season.
Currently Wood sits just two wins from his career high, has his ERA nearly half of his career average of 3.12, and his FIP a full point lower than his career 3.14 FIP. The biggest obstacle facing Wood is his ability to stay healthy, as he’s had some healthy problems since becoming a Dodger, highlighted by pitching only 60 innings last season.
Still, even with all of that, Wood sits third in the NL in fWAR amassing quite a bit of value in just those 80 innings. To become a real threat in the second half for Cy Young consideration, he will need to pitch deeper into some games and make around 12-14 more starts to try to get himself into the qualified leader-boards. But to this point, even lacking the innings, I see no one more deserving of the third spot than Wood.
4. Zack Greinke – 11-4 2.86 ERA 3.16 FIP and 3.1 fWAR in 116.1 IP
After a rough first season in Arizona, Zack Greinke was the talk of trade rumors and many people had started to write him off. It was obvious that when Greinke was signed to his massive free agent deal, he was incredibly unlikely to ever get close to his 2015 historic 1.66 ERA again. Despite that fact, Greinke was still a great pitcher and could be the ace of the Diamondbacks’ staff for the next few years.
2017 has been a great bounce back season for Greinke, with his FIP of 3.16 much more in line with his 2.76 FIP of his 2015 season. He is striking out more batters than he has going all the way back to his 2011 season with the Brewers, sitting at 10.13 K/9. He has also lowered his BB/9 back under 2 where he sat from 2014-2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His HR rate remains a problem at 1.16 HR/9, but he’s making it work by limiting the amount of hits given up with just a .214 opponent batting average allowed.
Even with Greinke having such an excellent season, I would say he is at the start of the second tier of pitchers considered for the NL Cy Young to this point, just because the first three are just that impressive. That is not to take anything away from Greinke, but he certainly has time to catch up and surpass some of the pitchers above him if he keeps it up.
5. Jimmy Nelson – 8-4 3.30 ERA 3.17 FIP and 2.9 fWAR in 109 IP/Stephen Strasburg – 9-3 3.43 ERA 3.13 FIP and 2.9 fWAR in 112.2 IP
This spot could have been a literal coin flip between Jimmy Nelson and Stephen Strasburg. Both pitcher’s numbers are so identical that you could not go wrong with either choice, and that’s why they have both earned this spot for me.
When comparing ERA (3.30 for Nelson, 3.43 for Strasburg), FIP (3.17 for Nelson, 3.13 for Strasburg), and fWAR (2.9 for both), they are virtually identical. They even are just separated by 3.2 IP in the same number of starts.
If I were to look at this tomorrow there is a good chance I could think back to Strasburg’s start I saw in person against Kershaw in Los Angeles. I could think how unhittable he looked for the first five innings until his catcher possible cost him some runs in the sixth inning.
Or I could think of Nelson and Kershaw’s matchup in Milwaukee five days earlier where both pitchers looked like they couldn’t be touched and struck out at least 11 batters each.
But for now, I believe both pitchers deserve it.
Honorable Mentions: Kenley Jansen, Robbie Ray, and Carlos Martinez