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#pounditFriday, January 22, 2021

Top 10 favorites to win MLB Cy Young awards

Clayton Kershaw no-hitter

Spring Training has kicked into high gear, with batters getting ready for the season and pitchers rounding into shape. Before we know it, the World Baseball Classic and spring ball will come to an end, and MLB games that actually count will begin.

Already this spring, we’ve taken a look at some early favorites to win Rookie of the Year awards. Continuing along those lines, we’ll move onto the pitchers.

Here’s a look at the top 10 favorites to win the Cy Young awards — five from each league.

American League

5. Aaron Sanchez (Toronto Blue Jays)

Aaron Sanchez has established himself as the ace of Toronto’s starting staff, but 2017 will represent the year he truly breaks out and becomes a legitimate AL Cy Young candidate.

In his first full season as a starter, Sanchez finished with a 15-2 record, sporting an even 3.00 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, while striking out 161 batters in 192 innings pitched. And while he’s not exactly a strikeout king, his 7.5 SO/9 was also a substantial improvement over his numbers as a reliever.

With some experience now under his belt, Sanchez can settle into the always dangerous AL East and work on the few hiccups to his game. Chief among them is gaining more control over his pitches and limiting his walks, which topped out at 63 in 2016.

But with his innings limit likely to be removed — a limit that really hurt him down the stretch last season when his play become more inconsistent — we’ll get to see exactly who this budding superstar really is. And if his 2016 is any indication, we’re all in for a show.

4. Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers)

In 2011, Justin Verlander won the AL Cy Young award going away, and many anticipated that he’d become a regular candidate to take home the honor. The following season, he finished second in Cy Young voting and that line of thinking was cemented.

Unfortunately for both Verlander and the Tigers, the next three years were different. No longer was he a regular Cy Young candidate. Instead, we watched his win totals dwindle, his losses pile up, and his ERA bloat. He appeared in only one All Star Game and many began to wonder if he was on the downside of his career.

But Verlander, shaking off some injuries, reminded everyone how dominant he can be in 2016. He posted a 16-9 record with a 3.04 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, while striking out 254 batters over 227.2 innings pitched. His 254 strikeouts were the second-most of his career and the most since he struck out since recording 269 in 2009.

Verlander ultimately finished second in AL Cy Young voting behind Rick Porcello, who posted a 22-4 record, and his famous girlfriend, Kate Upton, wasn’t exactly pleased with that.

Despite a couple rough spring outings, Verlander will look to continue his resurgence in 2017 and, ideally, bring home another AL Cy Young award.

3. Chris Archer (Tampa Bay Rays)

Chris Archer was not great in 2016. There’s really no way around that. He wasn’t terrible, but he was a far cry from his 2015 campaign that saw him finish fifth in AL Cy Young voting.

On a struggling team, Archer finished with a 9-19 record a season ago, posting a 4.02 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 3.81 FIP, while striking out 233 batters in 201.1 innings pitched. In fact, since the 2015 All-Star break, Archer has compiled a record of 12-26 and has not managed to sustain an ERA below 3.85.

But a new year breeds new opportunity and Archer, who is currently pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, has looked dominant early this spring. He’s not yet allowed a single run and his WHIP rests at 0.40. And while that may be a very small sample size, his fastball has been routinely clocked in the upper 90s and his slider, as it’s always been, is dominant (a 19.0 whiff rate over his career).

If Archer can improve with his four-seam fastball and keep his speeds up around 96 MPH, he’ll thrust himself back into the Cy Young race and erase the memories of an underwhelming 2016 season.

2. Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox)

Each year for the past five years, Chris Sale has been in the thick of the AL Cy Young race. An All Star in each of those five seasons, he’s finished no lower than sixth in the voting and as high as third in the voting.

Going from the Chicago White Sox and the AL Central to the Boston Red Sox and the AL East is a tough transition, but as many in the division are currently rebuilding, 2017 represents the perfect opportunity for Sale to get over that hump and net himself some personal hardware.

Sale finished 17-10 a season ago, posting a 3.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a 3.46 FIP, while striking out 233 batters in 226.2 innings. And while those numbers are impressive, they aren’t entirely representative of Sale’s potential.

The reality is that Sale is a better pitcher than the one we saw a year ago, and he now finds himself in the perfect situation to prove that. And early expectations are that Sale will slow the recent rise of his ERA, which has ballooned a bit over the last three years, and return to throwing fire as he had in 2015 when he struck out 274 batters in 208.2 innings.

1. Corey Kluber (Cleveland Indians)

Two years removed from his first AL Cy Young award, Indians starter Corey Kluber will be looking to repeat that success following an 18-9 record in 2016 that landed him third in the Cy Young voting and 19th in MVP voting.

Although Kluber hasn’t come close to replicating his dominant 2014 season, which was followed up with a 9-16 campaign in 2015, he did demonstrate what Cleveland hopes is the beginning of a rebound last season. In addition to his 18-9 record, Kluber posted a 3.14 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, while striking out 227 batters in 215 innings pitched.

The one concern for Kluber last year, which is why Chris Sale is hot on his trail as an early favorite for the AL Cy Young award, was his 3.26 FIP, which was not only above his career average, but also the highest it’s been since 2013.

Kluber has also seen his inning pitched decrease each of the last three years, as well as his his SO/9. But in the same breath, he’s also allowed fewer hits in each of the last three seasons, and if he can trim down on the number of home runs allowed, he stands a good chance at a season-ending line closer to 2014 than 2015 or 2016.

See the National League contenders on Page 2

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