The American League and National League Cy Young Awards, which will be handed out by the Baseball Writers' Association of America tonight (6 p.m. ET, MLB Network), are more than just a coronation of the most prominent pitching arms in 2017, in particular. They are a celebration of some of the best pitchers of a generation.
Between the four of them, the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, the Nationals' Max Scherzer, the Indians' Corey Kluber and the Red Sox's Chris Sale have combined for six Cy Young Award victories and 10 additional top-five finishes, dating back to 2011. All four pitchers are finalists this year, along with Stephen Strasburg of the Nats in the NL and Luis Severino of the Yankees in the AL.
Following the announcement, make your voice heard by voting for Best Pitcher in the Esurance MLB Awards, where baseball legends, media, front-office personnel and fans come together to pick the winners, with postseason accomplishments factored in. Then tune in Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.com as this year's best stars and moments are revealed.
Though Strasburg had a season worthy of some close Cy Young Award scrutiny (he had a ridiculous 0.86 ERA in 10 starts after the All-Star break) and the 23-year-old Severino was one of the sport's biggest breakout stars in '17, the prevailing wisdom is that the voting here will come down to Kershaw vs. Scherzer in the NL and Kluber vs. Sale in the AL.
• Complete awards coverage
So while there are no games on the Major League docket, the pitching probables are still pretty stellar.
Kershaw vs. Scherzer works as both a 2017 NL Cy Young Award debate and a "greatest pitcher in the game" discussion. Whoever wins it this year will put himself in some rare company.
If Kershaw, who won the NL Cy Young Award in 2011, '13 and '14, wins it for a fourth time, he will tie Steve Carlton (1972, '77, '80, '82), Greg Maddux (1992-95) and Randy Johnson (1999-2002) for the most in the Senior Circuit (Johnson has five total, having won the award in the AL with Seattle in 1995, and Roger Clemens has the most total Cy Young Awards, with seven).
If the NL Cy Young Award goes to Scherzer, he'll become just the sixth pitcher to win it back-to-back in the NL, joining Sandy Koufax (1965-66), Maddux (1992-95), Johnson (1999-02), Timothy Lincecum (2008-09) and, yes, Kershaw (2013-14). Last year, Scherzer became just the sixth pitcher to win the award in both leagues.
The NL decision will be dependent on how much stock the voters put in volume when they cast their ballots at the end of the regular season. Scherzer pitched 200 2/3 innings -- more than 25 more than either Kershaw (175) or Strasburg (175 1/3). The fewest innings ever by a Cy Young Award winner in a non-strike year were Kershaw's 198 2/3 in 2014, so workload has traditionally mattered greatly in past votes. But Kershaw had the best ERA in the NL by 0.2 points, with a 2.31 mark to Scherzer's 2.51.
Kershaw led the NL not only in ERA but in wins (18), strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.73) and adjusted ERA+ (180). Scherzer, meanwhile, led in strikeouts (268), WHIP (0.90) and hits allowed per nine (5.7). Strasburg had the NL's best Fielding Independent Pitching mark (2.72).
In the AL, Sale seemingly had a strong hold on the Cy Young Award conversation for much of the year. After four straight top-five finishes, as well as a sixth overall finish in his first season as a starter in 2012, Sale looked like he was finally headed for the hardware.
Then a funny thing happened. Kluber basically stopped allowing runs. Though saddled with a 5.06 ERA and bum back in May, Kluber came off the disabled list on June 1 and put on a pitching clinic from that point forward. In his final 23 starts, Kluber posted a 1.62 ERA and .175/.213/.283 opponents' slash. It was in August, when Kluber's Tribe teammates hung seven runs on Sale in each of two separate starts, that the Cy Young Award conversation seemed to turn in Kluber's favor. In the last two months of the season, Sale had a 4.09 ERA in 11 starts, while Kluber had a 1.42 mark in 12.
When all was said and done, Kluber, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2014 and finished third last year, led all Major League qualified starters in ERA (2.25, or 65 points better than that of Sale), complete games (five), shutouts (three), ERA+ (202), WHIP (0.87) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.36) while tying for the lead in wins (18).
Sale's strongest AL Cy Young Award case rested in his Major League-best 214 1/3 innings, 2.45 FIP and, most notably, 308 strikeouts. Sale joined Kershaw (300 in 2015) as the only two pitchers to reach 300 Ks in the last 15 seasons.
Severino was a worthy entrant in the finalist field, having put together a 14-6 record and 2.98 ERA in 193 1/3 innings over 31 starts, and that will earn him a third-place finish.
Kluber, Sale, Scherzer and Kershaw are no strangers to the Cy Young Award voting scene. They've all figured prominently in past ballots. But on Wednesday night, only two of them will come out on top.