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History in making? Breaking down Cy Young field

November 14, 2017

The 2017 season marked the Year of the Home Run, but it was an excellent year for strikeout artists, too.The three finalists for both the American League (Corey Kluber, Chris Sale and Luis Severino) and National League (Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg) Cy Young Awards separated themselves from

The 2017 season marked the Year of the Home Run, but it was an excellent year for strikeout artists, too.
The three finalists for both the American League (Corey Kluber, Chris Sale and Luis Severino) and National League (Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg) Cy Young Awards separated themselves from the pack with plenty of punchouts. Together they combined for 1,477 strikeouts, to be exact, whiffing 32.3 percent of the total batters they faced. Even aside from the swings and misses, these moundsmen recorded six of the top eight ERAs and all finished within the top 20 win totals among qualified starting pitchers.
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There's plenty on the line for each finalist, from an early feather in the cap for Severino to long-awaited first Cy Young Awards for Sale and Strasburg. Kershaw, Kluber and Scherzer can add to their legacies by adding another piece of hardware to their mantles.
Before we find out the latest winners of baseball's oldest pitching award on Wednesday (6 p.m. ET on MLB Network), here is everything you need to know about how these six pitchers got to this point -- as well as the history they could make.
Complete 2017 Awards coverage
Kluber is attempting to become the 18th pitcher in history to win multiple Cy Young Awards, while Kershaw and Scherzer will try to make even more exclusive history of their own.

Scherzer looks to join a select group of nine pitchers who have won the Cy Young at least three times in their careers. That includes Kershaw, now aiming for his fourth Cy Young that would tie him with Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux for the third most all time. Only Roger Clemens (seven) and Randy Johnson (five) have taken home more. Kershaw would also join Clemens as the only pitchers in history with at least five ERA titles and four Cy Young Awards.
Pitchers who won at least three Cy Young Awards

  1. Clemens (7)
  2. Johnson (5)
    3-T. Carlton (4)
    3-T. Maddux (4)
    5-T. Kershaw (3)
    5-T. Sandy Koufax (3)
    5-T. Pedro Martinez (3)
    5-T. Jim Palmer (3)
    5-T. Tom Seaver (3)
    A 2017 Cy Young Award for Scherzer would mark his second consecutive honor, which would make him just the 10th pitcher to win the Cy Young in back-to-back seasons.
    Pitchers who won the Cy Young Award in consecutive seasons
    Koufax (1965-66)
    Denny McLain (1968-69)
    Palmer (1975-76)
    Clemens (1986-87, 1997-98)
    Maddux (1992-95)
    Martinez (1999-2000)
    Johnson (1999-2002)
    Timothy Lincecum (2008-09)
    Kershaw (2013-14)
    A win for Kershaw would further add to the Dodgers' mystique when it comes to pitching. The franchise's 12 Cy Young Award winners, dating back to its days in Brooklyn, are far and away the most of any club. Kershaw has already contributed three of those, of course, along with three by Koufax in 1963, '65 and '66, and one each by Don Newcombe ('56), Don Drysdale ('62), Mike Marshall ('74), Fernando Valenzuela ('81), Orel Hershiser ('88) and Eric Gagne (2003).

The four franchises who have never featured a Cy Young Award winner -- the Marlins, Rangers, Rockies and Reds -- will remain that way for at least another year.
Franchises with most Cy Young Award winners

  1. Dodgers: 12
    2-T. Braves: 7
    2-T. Phillies: 7
    2-T. Red Sox: 7
  2. Orioles: 6
    Scherzer and Strasburg teamed up to dominate opponents for much of the season, and they could pair up to make some rare history should they finish in the top two slots in the NL race. Teammates have finished first and second in Cy Young voting only four times previously, with the last occurrence coming when D-backs aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling finished 1-2 on the NL side in 2002.

Teammates who finished first and second in Cy Young voting
2002 NL: Johnson and Schilling (D-backs)
2001 NL: Johnson and Schilling (D-backs)
1974 NL: Marshall and Andy Messersmith (Dodgers)
1956 MLB: Newcombe and Sal Maglie* (Dodgers)
*Maglie was traded from Cleveland to Brooklyn in middle of 1956 season
Winning a Cy Young Award, as one would expect, is a decent stepping stone toward achieving the ultimate honor for any player -- election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Twenty Hall of Famers in all earned at least one Cy Young Award, including 18 of the 26 Hall of Fame pitchers whose playing careers began in the year 1980 or later.
Those 20 esteemed pitchers, in order of the first Cy Young they received: Warren Spahn (1957), Early Wynn ('59), Whitey Ford ('61), Drysdale ('62), Koufax ('63), Bob Gibson ('68), Seaver ('69), Ferguson Jenkins ('71), Carlton ('72), Gaylord Perry ('72), Palmer ('73), Catfish Hunter ('74), Bruce Sutter ('79), Rollie Fingers ('81), Tom Glavine ('91), Dennis Eckersley ('92), Maddux ('92), Johnson ('95), John Smoltz ('96) and Martinez ('97).

If Sale or Strasburg picks up his first Cy Young Award trophy this week, he would become the 28th winner to be drafted from a college or university. That's the most popular route to an eventual Cy Young among the winners who signed in 1965, the first year of the MLB Draft, or later. Twenty-one other winners, including Kershaw, were drafted out of high school. Severino, a native of the Dominican Republic, would be only the seventh international free agent to eventually take home the Cy Young, with the most recent being Felix Hernandez (Venezuela) back in 2010.
Paths to Major Leagues for Cy Young Award winners (signed in 1965 or later)
Drafted out of college: 27
Drafted out of high school: 21
Signed as international free agent: 6
Drafted out of junior/community college: 1
It's certainly no guarantee that a pitcher will win the Cy Young with his original club, but that has shown to be the most popular route. Sixty-two Cy Young Awards have been given to pitchers in recognition of a season in which they pitched for the same team they made their Major League debuts for, before any trades or free-agent deals made with competing clubs. That includes Kershaw and Kluber, who debuted for the Dodgers and Indians, respectively.
Sale would be the eighth pitcher to win a Cy Young in the year directly following an offseason team switch via trade or free agency. The last pitcher to do that was the late Roy Halladay, who was traded from the Blue Jays to the Phillies in December 2009 before claiming the 2010 NL Cy Young.

How Cy Young Award winners were acquired by teams with which they won
Won with team they originally debuted for: 62
Won with team they were traded to: 34
Won with team they signed with as a free agent: 16
We all know Kershaw is building a case as one of the greatest pitchers to ever take a Major League mound, but one more way we can quantify his dominance is by looking at Cy Young Award shares. Award shares are a statistic that calculates a player's dominance over time by measuring a percentage of the maximum allowable vote points he could have received during the course of his career, with a maximum of one award share per person each season. So, for instance, when Kershaw received every first-place vote in the 2014 NL Cy Young race, he added a perfect 1.0 award share to his career total.
Kershaw enters the 2017 Cy Young vote with a career 3.96 award share that already ranks sixth all time. The lefty figures to have a strong showing again this week, even if he doesn't win, that could move him further up this list of legends.
Highest Cy Young Award share totals in history

  1. Clemens: 7.66
  2. Johnson: 6.50
  3. Maddux: 4.92
  4. Carlton: 4.29
  5. Martinez: 4.26
  6. Kershaw: 3.96

No pitcher reached the 20-win plateau this season, guaranteeing that 2017 will be the first time since '09 that neither Cy Young Award winner had at least 20 victories. The two winners' combined victory total will be 36 -- at the most -- which would be fourth lowest for a non-strike year in which two starters won the award.
In recent years, voters have shown that a high win total is not necessarily required for a Cy Young winner. The best example came in 2010, when Hernandez took AL honors despite going 13-12 (with a 2.27 ERA). Nonetheless, that remains the exception to the rule.
Since Dodgers closer Gagne won the NL Cy Young Award in 2003, a pair of starters have triumphed in each of the past 13 seasons. Of those 26 winners, 15 notched at least 20 victories -- including 10 of 12 since '11. Meanwhile, 16 of those 26 winners finished first or tied for first in his league in victories, including all six since 2014.
This year, Sale (T-4th AL), Scherzer (T-4th NL), Strasburg (T-6th NL) or Severino (T-9th AL) could become the first Cy Young winner to have finished outside the top three in his league in victories since Hernandez in 2010. The last time both Cy Young winners did that was in '09, with the Giants' Lincecum (T-4th NL) and Royals' Zack Greinke (T-7th AL).
Lowest combined win total for Cy Young-winning SP*

  1. 2009: 31 (Greinke/Lincecum)
  2. 2010: 34 (Halladay/Hernandez)
  3. 2006: 35 (Brandon Webb/Johan Santana)
    4-T. 1995: 37 (Maddux/Johnson)
    4-T. 2000: 37 (Johnson/Martinez)
    4-T. 2013: 37 (Kershaw/Scherzer)
    * Non-strike year

Matt Kelly is a reporter for based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. Andrew Simon is a research analyst for Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSimonMLB.