Cy Young Award competitions too close to call

With evenly matched finalists in each league, there are no clear-cut favorites

November 15th, 2016

Raise your hand if you know who's going to win a Cy Young Award? Not so fast, anyone.

In what was a good season for many pitchers already considered elite, as well as a breakthrough campaign for at least a few who started 2016 toward the back of their team's rotation, there's no consensus on what is going to happen when Cy Young Award votes are counted. Results in the voting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will be announced tonight beginning at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

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Esurance MLB Awards week concludes Friday on MLB Network and at 8 p.m. ET with the MLB Awards. Categories include Best Major Leaguer, Hitter, Pitcher, Rookie, Executive and Manager.

The only one thing we know is that the winners will be starters. The Orioles' Zach Britton, who went 47-for-47 in save opportunities with an 0.54 ERA, isn't among the American League's three finalists, which surprised Baltimore manager Buck Showalter.

Closers and versatile relievers like the Indians' are being valued highly in trades and contract signings. But too many starters turned in outstanding work for Britton to break through pitching's glass ceiling of the award season.

Had Britton been named a finalist, it would have made a wide-open Cy Young Award picture even more difficult to unravel. Rarely, if ever, have we seen as tight races as these in both leagues in the same year.

Digging deep into stats of Cy Young races

AL finalists , and were 1-2-3 in FanGraphs' WAR rankings, but the margin between them was tiny. Porcello, who led the Major Leagues with 22 wins, registered 5.2 fWAR -- the same as Verlander. Kluber, who finished third at 5.1, would have been the first horse eliminated in the photo finish, but only by the length of a nose.

National League finalists , and might be just as tough for voters to separate. You also have to wonder how much separation they achieved from the Mets' and late Marlins starter , who ranked 1-2 in the Major Leagues in fWAR.

It's worth noting that seemed to be rolling toward his fourth NL Cy Young Award before being sidelined with back problems that limited him to 149 innings.

The last time there were three strong candidates in the same league was the NL race in 2009, when the Giants' just nipped St. Louis teammates and . The trio divided the 32 first-place votes almost as evenly as possible -- 12 to Wainwright, 11 to Lincecum and nine to Carpenter.

With strong candidacies from Britton, Syndergaard and Fernandez also in play, it's possible there could be even less separation between the top three in either league this year.

Here's your voter's guide to the top three in the AL:

Kluber: For starters, forget his dogged brilliance in carrying the injury-depleted Indians to Game 7 of the World Series. Voting was done between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason, so that doesn't matter. What does is that Kluber used his wipeout slider to go 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA, finishing in the top five in the AL in wins (third), ERA (fourth), innings (fifth) and strikeouts (fifth).

• Porcello: Like Scherzer and before him, Porcello turned a corner in his career in his age-27 season. The right-hander was 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA for the Red Sox in 2015, but he lost only four games this season while compiling a 3.15 ERA over 223 innings. His 1.01 WHIP was the second-best mark in the AL, behind Verlander's 1.00. Porcello is not as much of a strikeout pitcher as the other two finalists, however, with only 189. That could hurt him.

• Verlander: Remember when he was considered damaged goods because of his heavy workload in his first decade as a starter? The 33-year-old got himself pointed in the right direction in the second half of 2015, and he was arguably the most reliable starter in the AL this season. The veteran right-hander went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA while leading the AL with 254 strikeouts in 227 2/3 innings. Verander was second in the AL in both innings and ERA.

Here are the finalists in the NL:

• Hendricks: The first Cubs pitcher to lead the NL in ERA since 1945, he's part of the best-team-in-the-Majors narrative. A fifth starter for Joe Maddon when the season began, Hendricks used his command and wicked changeup to draw comparisons to Greg Maddux and jump past Arrieta in Maddon's postseason rotation. Hendricks was 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA, never allowing more than four earned runs in any of his 30 starts. But like AL ERA leader , Hendricks didn't distinguish himself in counting statistics, finishing 13th in the NL in innings (190) and 17th in strikeouts (170). He was the Major League ERA leader by a long margin -- Kershaw had a 1.69 ERA, but he was 13 innings short of the qualifying standard. However, like Lester, Hendricks benefitted greatly from the Cubs' fielding -- arguably the best in more than three decades.

• Lester: At 32, he's the anchor of a rotation that saw Arrieta emerge as the NL Cy Young Award winner in 2015 and Hendricks win an ERA title this season. Much is made of Lester's troubles throwing the ball in the infield, yet he was 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA in his 32 starts. Maddon limited the southpaw's workload to keep him fresh for October, and while that strategy paid off in the seven-game World Series, it could hurt Lester in the Cy Young Award voting. He was sixth in the NL in innings (202 2/3) and seventh in strikeouts (197), with both totals having dropped in each of the past two years.

• Scherzer: While not as consistent as either of the two Cubs finalists, the Nationals' ace moved ahead of Syndergaard and Fernandez to be the NL's most dominating starter. He showed that on May 11, with his 20-strikeout game against the Tigers, which was one of his 13 double-digit strikeout games. He wound up 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA while leading the Major Leagues with 284 strikeouts and the NL with 228 1/3 innings (behind only Boston's ). The knock on Scherzer is an ERA that ranked only eighth in the NL.

Esurance MLB Awards week concludes Friday on MLB Network and at 8 p.m. ET with the MLB Awards. Categories include Best Major Leaguer, Hitter, Pitcher, Rookie, Executive and Manager.