While some say Mookie Betts is the AL MVP, others lean toward Mike Trout, and a few would make the case for David Ortiz. Meanwhile, the NL MVP chase is led by the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, but there are several Nationals hot on his heels. Dave McCullough takes a look at the landscape for the 2016 AL Cy Young award to see if there is a clear-cut winner or if it will come down to the wire.
The astoundingly hot start from Gary Sanchez of the Yankees has threatened to put the AL Rookie of the Year award back in play, while Corey Seager of the Dodgers has the NL award sewn up and an outside shot at the NL MVP. The NL Cy Young race was a classic, with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw taking home the award on McCullough’s ballot. The candidates for AL Cy Young below are presented in no particular order.
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
The venerable Tigers flamethrower has his Cy Young (and MVP) awards on the mantle, and it was presumed that he was headed onto the back-9 of his career after his 2014 and 2015 seasons featured subpar performances and injuries. However, the 33-year-old stormed back to form in 2016, leading the AL in strikeouts (254) while posting personal-bests in almost every category since 2012. Verlander also recorded the best WHIP in the AL at 1.001, while winning 16 games, and notching 227 2/3 innings for the Tigers.
Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Tanaka was a workhorse for the Yankees, especially down the stretch, eventually logging 199 ⅔ innings on the year, and picking up 14 victories. The 27-year-old seems to have completed his transition to Major League Baseball, having adjusted to the workload and the differences in the strike zone.
Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox lefty is getting some Cy Young attention for the first time in his career because he finally has posted more wins than losses (13-12 in 2016) while continuing to show the underlying component stats that makes him a favorite of the statistically-inclined crowd. Quintana’s FIP this season (3.56) was not close to his high-water mark (2.81) in 2014, but he did toss more than 200 innings for the fifth consecutive season while also setting a career-best mark for strikeouts (181).
J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays
The 33-year-old Happ was having a rather undistinguished career until 2016, when he suddenly found all the luck and “put it all together” for a 20-win season that will garner him significant attention in the Cy Young balloting. His 3.18 ERA outperforms his 3.96 FIP by a healthy margin, while none of his other component stats show a clear reason for his tremendous performance in the win-loss column this year. Congrats, J.A. Happ – you are our “least likely to repeat this performance” nominee for 2017.
Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
Kluber won the 2014 AL Cy Young with an 18-9 record – a mark he matched in 2016, albeit in fewer innings (235 ⅔ then, 215 now). His 3.26 FIP led the AL this season, tracking tightly with his 3.14 ERA. He also led the AL in qualified ERA+, with a 160 mark. His statistics suggest he will get many 2nd and 3rd place votes, but unlike 2014, he does not have a glittering, league-leading stat like a 2.35 FIP to hang his hat on.
Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox hurler suffered through a dismal 2015 but rebounded in 2016 to post personal bests in innings pitched (223), victories (22), ERA (3.15), strikeouts (189), FIP (3.40), strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.9:1), and ERA+ (145). It is usually hard for voters to resist the siren call of wins, especially when the margin of victory over the other quality competitors is so large, but Porcello’s emergence as the “best pitcher on the best team” – especially in a September stretch drive – will be very hard for voters to overlook.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
The 27-year-old has garnered Cy Young votes in each of the last four seasons, and his 2016 effort was in line with the rest of his thus-far brilliant major league career. Sale racked up 17 wins with a 3.34 ERA and 233 strikeouts in 226 ⅔ innings. His FIP clocked in at a very respectable 3.46, while his ERA+ of 120 was also above average. Sale had better underlying component stats last season – his FIP, K/9, and SO/W were all much better last season, but his performance this season was still very good – it just wasn’t as great as his league leading marks in those categories a season ago.
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Closers usually have to have exceptionally good seasons to earn Cy Young votes, and Britton’s 2016 certainly qualifies: he gave up a grand total of four earned runs all year. Granted, he only pitched 67 total innings, but he was downright filthy – his ERA clocked in at a microscopic 0.54, while his ERA+ was an astronomic 827. Britton’s incredibly consistent effectiveness in the late innings led the Orioles to a 21-16 record in one-run games, and into playoff contention. Britton’s 47 saves led the AL.
David Price, Boston Red Sox
The expensive free agent struggled to settle in during his first season in Boston, but despite his Jekyll-and-Hyde performances for the Red Sox, the lefty still managed to lead the AL in games started (35), innings pitched (230), batters faced (951), and – unfortunately for him, hits allowed (227). He ended up notching 17 wins for a division winner. Because of his contract, Boston’s notoriously picky fans, and his up-and-down performances, he arguably faced more scrutiny than anyone else on this list. Despite all that Price still delivered the wins and quality innings to lead Boston’s staff.
Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays
The AL’s leader in earned run average (3.00), the 24-year-old righty with the blazing fastball emerged as a force to be reckoned with in his third major league season. He also led the AL in HR allowed, yielding just 0.70 per 9 innings this season while notching 15 victories. Assuming he stays healthy, his fastball will have him garnering votes for many years to come: