An Early Look at the Top 2015 Cy Young Candidates: Who Are the Favorites?
In recent years, we have seen a drastic increase in the quality of pitching in the MLB.
Last year the league-average ERA was 3.74. Just 10 years prior to that season, in 2004, that average stood at 4.46. Thank the end of the steroid era, or chalk it up to just an increase in arm talent, but it is undeniable that we are in the midst of something of a pitcher’s renaissance.
Baseball’s MVP voters have taken notice too, as, in the past four seasons, there have been two starting pitchers awarded baseball’s most prestigious single-season award (Justin Verlander in 2011, and Clayton Kershaw in 2014). Prior to Verlander’s win in 2011, no pitcher had received the honor since Dennis Eckersley back in 1992. Even then, Eckersley was a reliever, and you have to flip back to 1986 to find the last time a starter won MVP (Roger Clemens).
With so much dominant talent floating around the league, the Cy Young race will undoubtedly be one to watch in 2015. Corey Kluber won a close contest in the AL last year after rising from relative anonymity to join the league’s elite hurlers.
What do our projections have to say about the Cy Young race this year?
The list that follows in the top four projected pitchers in both the AL and NL based on “numberFire score,” a signature metric that takes into account each player’s projected production across standard categories and adjusts the value based on fielding position. numberFire score is a fantasy-centric measure, but for the purposes here, it acts as a catch-all number that quantifies a player's production for sake of debate.
The statistics shown are numberFire’s projections for each player based on our algorithms.
Let’s get into it!
1. Felix Hernandez
Few pitchers can match the consistency King Felix has portrayed over the last several seasons. He has not posted a season with a sub-4.7 WAR since 2009 and has given the Mariners at least 190 innings on the mound dating back to 2006. Given the multitude of serious arm injuries that have been sustained by premium starters during the past few seasons, his durability is nothing short of remarkable. We have Hernandez pegged to turn in another sterling season as we have come accustomed to, projecting him to have another season with an ERA under 3.00 and 200-plus punch-outs.
2. Chris Sale
If not for some missed starts due to injury last year, the AL would have had a legitimate three-headed monster in the Cy Young race. Despite pitching only 174 innings, Sale wound up a relatively distant third in the Cy Young voting last season after putting together a dominant campaign. Already established as a bona fide ace, Sale upped the ante by posting a 2.17 ERA to go along with a crazy 10.76 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014. If Sale can reach the 200-plus innings we have him projected for in 2015, his filthy arsenal may be enough to push him atop the pack of AL starting pitchers.
3. David Price
The Tigers acquired Price in a mid-season blockbuster last year, and while he was not at his very best for them during the second half of the season, expect a monstrous campaign for him as he prepares to enter free-agency. No long-term deal seems pending between Price and the Tigers, and he could command a deal approaching the $210 million Max Scherzer was handed by the Nationals in January. Only Hernandez is projected to go more innings in 2015 than Price, which would go a long way in Price's locking down a massive contract and perhaps a Cy Young to boot.
4. Corey Kluber
Last year’s winner comes in only fourth in our projections of AL pitchers. What is more, we have Kluber ranked just 10th among all starters league-wide. While some regression for Kluber is expected, his peripherals indicate that he is very much a top-flight pitcher. He posted an xFIP of 3.10 and 2.57 in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and has very sustainable batting average on balls in play numbers. Kluber is one of the biggest bargains of any MLB player, as he will be paid just $601,000 in 2015 and will not be a free agent until 2019. The possibility of a back-to-back Cy Young winner with career earnings under $2 million is very real and has to have Indians fans thrilled.
1. Clayton Kershaw
Surprise, surprise. The greatest pitcher on planet earth, and almost assuredly on any other planets where baseball is played, is our projected NL Cy Young winner for 2015. Kershaw has won three of the last four Cy Young awards in the NL and took home MVP honors in 2014 as well. The man can downright pitch, and if our projections are a good indication, then 2015 will be no different for the Dodger ace. His 1.77 ERA from last year is something out of the deadball era, and it is scary to consider that the 2.15 ERA we have him projected for would be his worst since 2012. The only player in the entire league, batter or pitcher, to have a higher numberFire score than Kershaw is Mr. Mike Trout. Forget the possibility of Kershaw three-peating on Cy Youngs; could we see him double up on MVP trophies in 2015? You bet.
2. Max Scherzer
The Nationals paid heavily for Scherzer’s services this offseason, and he joins what is likely to be the top rotation in the MLB. Scherzer has been a top strikeout pitcher for a few years now, and we have him projected to top his career high of 252 as he makes the jump back to the NL. Some may question the number of years and dollars on his contract, but nobody doubts that the man can flat out pitch. A Cy Young Award would be an auspicious start to Scherzer’s Nats career.
3. Adam Wainwright
Just the other day, Wainwright explained that he feels he is the top pitcher in baseball. If it weren’t for the existence of Clayton Kershaw, he would have a case. Regardless, it is hard to blame a guy with his resume for having a confident mindset. While his trophy case lacks a Cy Young award, in part due to his middling strikeout numbers, he has won two World Series rings with the Cardinals, and aside from a 2011 season lost to injury, he has been a model of good health. He won’t post the gaudy K-numbers of a guy like Scherzer or Kershaw, but he is good for 200-plus innings of baseball every season.
4. Madison Bumgarner
If Bumgarner pitched like he did in the 2014 World Series every time he toed the rubber, we would have to re-name the Cy Young trophy after him. In 21 World Series innings, he let 10 men reach base with only one of them scoring a run. That is absolutely bonkers. He reached the 200-strikeout plateau for the first time last season and could finally be ready to put together his first Cy Young worthy season in 2015. If the postseason magic carries over, the sky is the limit for Bumgarner.