Despite missing the 2018 Cy Young, Scherzer, Kluber and Verlander will remain strong candidates in their 30s
The trio combined to win six of the 14 Cy Youngs between 2011 and 2017
Wednesday night MLB and the BBWAA announced Mets righty Jacob deGrom and Rays lefty Blake Snell have . DeGrom was simply incredible. His 2018 was one of the best pitching seasons in recent memory. All Snell did was become the first AL starter with a sub-2.00 ERA since Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez in 2000.
Both deGrom and Snell took home their first career Cy Young Awards and were deserving winners, through and through. DeGrom beat out Nationals righty Max Scherzer and Phillies righty Aaron Nola for the NL award. Snell beat out Cy Young veterans Justin Verlander of the Astros and Corey Kluber of the Indians for the AL award. The full voting results are at the BBWAA's site.
Scherzer, Kluber and Verlander were all looking to add another Cy Young to their trophy case. Those three combined to win six of the 14 Cy Youngs from 2011-17, with Verlander winning one (2011), Kluber winning two (2014, 2017) and Scherzer winning three (2013, 2016, 2017). Scherzer is one of only six pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues.
Even beyond the hardware Scherzer, Verlander and Kluber have a lot in common. They're all strikeout machines, finishing first, second and tenth in MLB in strikeouts in 2018, respectively. They were third, seventh and eighth in WAR. They were all among the league ERA leaders. They all went to the All-Star Game this summer. Quite simply, they're all on the very short list of the best pitchers in the game.
There's also this: They're all kind of old. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. In baseball years, they're kind of old. All three are over 30 and coming up on what would normally be considered their decline years. Verlander is the elder statesman of the trio. He'll turn 36 in February. Scherzer, his former rotation-mate in Detroit, will turn 35 in July. Kluber will turn 33 shortly after opening day.
In baseball years, these dudes are over the hill or close to it. They're either in or approaching their mid-30s and, over the last five years, they're all among the top six in innings pitched. That's a lot of wear-and-tear on guys who would normally be at the point of their careers where decline would be expected. Instead, they're all Cy Young finalists. I mean:
They're not just good, they're great, and that's why missing out on the 2018 Cy Young Award doesn't close the book on the Cy Young chapter of their careers. Verlander has enjoyed a resurgence with the Astros while Scherzer and Kluber are showing no signs of slowing down. They're as good as ever. Heck, you could argue they're better than ever.
There are two key reasons why these three stand a good chance to contend for Cy Youngs in the future despite being well into their 30s. For starters, they're all very durable. Scherzer and Kluber rank 1-2 in innings the last five years and Verlander isn't too far behind in sixth. Injuries happen, especially with pitchers in their 30s, but these three haven't had any arm trouble and they've all demonstrated the ability to stay on the field. Health is a skill and these three have it.
Secondly, all three generate favorable contact. We all know about the big strikeout totals. Scherzer struck out 300 batters on the nose this season and Verlander wasn't too far behind with 290. Strikeouts are great, but so is the ability to avoid the barrel, and these three still do it as well as anyone. Check it their expected weighted on-base averages, or xwOBA:
Scaled to regular old on-base percentage, xwOBA tells us what sort of damage a pitcher is expected to give up based on exit velocity and launch angle, things like that. The harder the pitcher gets hit, the more damage he's be expected to give up, and thus the higher the xwOBA. Scherzer, Kluber, and Verlander have all been comfortably better than the league average the last four years, dating back to the start of the Statcast era. They have consistently limited hard contact.
We tend to see generations of Cy Young contenders. For years in the AL it was Verlander up against Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez while Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, and Johnny Cueto ruled the NL. Year after year, those guys finished high in the Cy Young voting. Young pitchers like Snell, Nola, Luis Severino, Walker Buehler and Noah Syndergaard all appear poised to be the next generation of perennial Cy Young contenders. Perhaps the 2018 Cy Young voting represents a changing of the guard from the Scherzer/Kluber/Verlander era to the Snell et al era. That would be sort of neat, actually.
That said, the Cy Young voting process has changed in recent years -- deGrom's victory tells you what voters think about pitcher wins -- and Scherzer, Kluber and Verlander all do three things Cy Young voters love. They throw a ton of innings, they rack up strikeouts and they limit hard contact. The latter two generally lead to strong run prevention numbers and it all adds up to a towering wins above replacement total. If these three keep doing those things, they'll continue to contend for Cy Youngs in the future, even as their 30th birthday gets further away in the rear-view mirror.
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