MLB.com Columnist

Mike Petriello

Scherzer, Kluber slight favorites for Cy Young Awards

Tango's prediction tool shows tight competition in both AL, NL

Scherzer, Kluber slight favorites for Cy Young Awards

When it comes to the races for the American League Cy Young Award and the National League Cy Young Award, the only thing we know for certain is that we know nothing for certain. Thanks to the back injury that sidetracked Clayton Kershaw's historic season for more than two months and the lack of any true standout candidate in a crowded AL field, we head into the final two weeks of the regular season without any real conviction about who will come out ahead when the ballots are cast.

That being the case, there are really two ways to look at this. Fans and analysts alike can argue endlessly about which pitchers should win, weighing all the factors involved in trying to figure out who really deserves the award. But it's also just as interesting to look at which guys will likely win -- that is, looking at the recent voting patterns and reverse-engineering a tool that predicts what voters tend to value and how they may cast their ballots.

So that's exactly what MLB.com's Tom Tango has done, looking at how the voting has gone since 2010, and using that behavior to create a points system. Why since 2010? Because that year seemed to represent a sea change in the balloting. It was the year Felix Hernandez famously won with a 13-12 record, as voters showed pitcher wins and losses no longer mattered like they used to. It was also the year that the ballot expanded from three names to five, the importance of which was explained in our recent look at Zach Britton's slim chances. 

The formula for Cy Young Award points is simple: (IP/2 - ER) + SO/10 + W, with a player automatically rising up if he has more wins and a better ERA than the player above him. Again, that's based on recent voter behavior, and that's both a good thing and a bad thing -- ideally, voters would take into account more than just innings pitched, ERA, strikeouts and walks. You would hope some voters add some nuance to consider how important the elite Cubs defense has been in keeping their pichers' ERAs low, or that studies have shown that poor catcher framing alone may have cost White Sox pitchers a dozen runs or more that Giants pitchers were spared thanks to Buster Posey.

The formula doesn't account for any of that, yet in 2015, it predicted not only winners Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel, but each of the top five names in both leagues -- in the right order. So that's perhaps some evidence that as far as voters have come, there's still a reliance on many of the "traditional" stats. Of course, the unknown selection of the electorate plays a big role here, because only 30 of the hundreds of eligible Baseball Writers' Association of America members will get votes, and the differences in outlook of those voters could play a large role here.

Got all that? Good. Let's take a look at the five leading candidates in each league as of Friday morning:

AL
1. Corey Kluber, 69 points (197 2/3 IP, 3.05 ERA, 16 wins, 208 K)
2. (tie) Chris Sale, 68 points (201 2/3 IP, 3.03 ERA, 15 wins, 205 K)
2. (tie) Rick Porcello, 68 points (201 2/3 IP, 3.12 ERA, 20 wins, 167 K)
4. (tie) Justin Verlander, 62 points (200 IP, 3.33 ERA, 14 wins, 216 K)
4. (tie) Masahiro Tanaka, 62 points (193 2/3 IP, 2.97 ERA, 13 wins, 160 K)

NL
1. Max Scherzer, 80 points (203 2/3 IP, 2.78 ERA, 16 wins, 251 K)
2. Madison Bumgarner, 79 points (206 1/3 IP, 2.66 ERA, 14 wins, 231 K)
3. (tie) Jon Lester, 78 points (184 IP, 2.40 ERA, 17 wins, 179 K)
3. (tie) Kyle Hendricks, 78 points (173 IP, 2.03 ERA, 15 wins, 152 K)
5. Noah Syndergaard, 74 points (174 IP, 2.43 ERA, 13 wins, 205 K)

Max Scherzer K reel

You'll probably notice immediately just how tight of a race this is. There's no one close in either league to running away with the award, like Kershaw did when he was the unanimous NL selection in 2014. That being the case, these standings willl change on a start-by-start basis. Scherzer, for example, has added on average just under three Cy points per start each time he goes out. A truly great start, like an eight-inning outing with 10 strikeouts, one earned run allowed and a win, could be worth five points. So while we have Kluber and Scherzer as the favorites right now, it's by the slimmest of margins -- and this is truly a snapshot in time, one that could easily change by the time these pitchers make their next starts.

Now, you may be asking where Kershaw and Britton are, and the answers are simple. As we examined with Britton, closers just don't win Cy Young Awards any longer, and none have even finished in the top three since 2008, so the tool doesn't consider him, though he'll likely collect some token fifth-place votes anyway. As for Kershaw, his elite performance over only 129 innings places him 10th in the NL so far, behind the five names listed above, as well as Tanner Roark, Jose Fernandez, Johnny Cueto and Arrieta. Three more six-inning starts would only get him to 147 innings, a relatively low number for a starter.

Of course, for all of our reliance on numbers, the voters remain human, and late-season narratives could sway some votes. If Kershaw rips off three great starts to end the year and the Dodgers win the NL West, and his ERA remains around his current 1.81, voters may look past his limited innings total. If the Yankees complete a miraculous comeback and win a playoff spot as Tanaka finishes off a solid season by throwing a gem on the final day of the year, that might earn him some additional credit, too.

The one thing we know for sure is that fans outside of Cleveland and Washington will look at the ace of their team and loudly make the case for why their pitcher should be on top. A few days from now, or at the end of the season, perhaps they will be. It's one of the tightest races on both sides in recent memory. It's what makes this award season so entertaining and so difficult, all at the same time.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.