The Cy Young announcements have us thinking about the next generation. Does Luis Severino have the potential to become an all-time great?
Sale: 13-4, 2.37 ERA, 148.1 IP, 103 H, 27 BB, 211 SO
Kluber: 8-3, 2.90 ERA, 114.2 IP, 87 H, 27 BB, 161 SO
Barring injury, Sale was in excellent position to win his first Cy Young Award. Instead, Kluber had one of the greatest stretch runs you’ll ever see, somewhat reminiscent of Jake Arrieta in 2015. Over the final two months, Kluber went 10-1 with a 1.42 ERA, striking out 104 in 89 innings with just nine walks while allowing more than two runs in a start just one time. Sale, meanwhile, tired a bit, going 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA over the final two months and twice allowed seven runs in a game — both times to Kluber’s Cleveland Indians. In Sale’s final regular-season start, he allowed four home runs in a loss to the Blue Jays.
Sale became the first American League pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1999 to strike out 300 batters, but in the end, Kluber closed the gap in innings and strikeouts and comfortably led in ERA — 2.25 to 2.90 — and he’ll end up winning Cy Young honors for the second time.
For Sale, it will be his sixth straight season receiving Cy Young votes — he’ll have finished sixth, fifth, third, fourth, fifth and second — making him one of the top pitchers to never win top honors.
Here are the pitchers with the most Cy Young Award shares (award points won by the player divided by the maximum number of award points) without winning:
Adam Wainwright: 1.97
Curt Schilling: 1.85
Dan Quisenberry: 1.49
Nolan Ryan: 1.48
Jimmy Key: 1.25
Dave Stewart: 1.22
Kevin Brown: 1.20
Trevor Hoffman: 1.07
Mariano Rivera: 1.04
Chris Sale: 1.00
Sale will climb on that list after this vote. If he finishes second on every ballot, that’s 120 points out of a maximum of 210, or 0.57 award shares, which would put him third behind Wainwright and Schilling.
Anyway, the Cy Young announcements have me thinking of this: Who will be the game’s next superace?
This is a short list. I think there are five guys currently in this category: Kluber, Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (who has bounced back the past two seasons after a couple of down years). Stephen Strasburg, an NL finalist this season, is a consideration for this group as well, and maybe Zack Greinke, although he had a mediocre 2016 sandwiched around two superb seasons.
What’s interesting is that all those guys have been around a while now. Kluber was the late bloomer, with his breakout season coming in 2014 at age 28. Sale is actually the youngest in the group at 28, but he joined the White Sox rotation in 2012.
The next generation of superaces didn’t quite develop for various reasons. Jose Fernandez died. Gerrit Cole has flatlined as a good-not-dominant starter. Julio Urias’ career is in jeopardy after shoulder surgery. Dylan Bundy battled years of injuries before finally making it through a full season in the rotation in 2017. Matt Moore had Tommy John surgery and consistency issues. Tyler Glasnow may end up as a reliever. Archie Bradley ended up in the Arizona bullpen. Those guys were all top-10 overall prospects at some point since 2012.
So who is the next Kluber or Sale? Here are 10 guys to consider:
Luis Severino, New York Yankees: This is the obvious guy given he’ll finish third in the AL Cy Young voting this year. Severino’s breakout was just as important to the Yankees’ playoff push as Aaron Judge’s rookie campaign, and just as surprising, given Severino’s struggles in 2016. He pitches off his upper-90s fastball — he was the hardest-throwing starter in the majors in 2017 — but it was the improvement on his changeup that keyed his performance, giving him a third weapon against lefties (batters hit just .158 against his changeup) to go with his fastball and slider.
Most impressively, Severino pitched 193 innings in his first full season in the rotation and showed no signs of fatigue with a 1.99 ERA over his final eight starts. He has the build to have that kind of durability. Look at him from behind and you realize how broad he is across his back, similar to Roger Clemens or Schilling. This is a strong kid. There are some concerns whether his delivery will bode well for his long-term health — he throws off a stiff front leg, whipping his arm across his body — but if he does stay healthy, he has a Cy Young Award in his future.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets: It was a lost season for Syndergaard, who made five starts before going down with a lat tear (he returned to make two abbreviated appearances at the end of the season). He has said he learned a lesson from getting too muscular in his offseason workouts heading into 2017 and will scale back this winter. We know the upside: A 2.60 ERA over 183 innings in 2016 with a league-leading 2.29 FIP. In the 30 innings he did pitch this year, he fanned 34 and didn’t allow a home run. Aside from the raw stuff, his ability to limit home runs is a huge positive in this new era of home runs.
Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals: Reyes may have topped this list a year ago, when he entered spring training as Keith Law’s No. 10 overall prospect and No. 2 pitching prospect. Reyes had dominated in a late-season call-up in 2016 and was ready for the rotation, but Tommy John surgery in February wiped out his season. We’ll see if he still has that power 94-98 fastball when he returns, which he mixes in with a plus changeup and hard curveball.
Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks: Did Ray have a breakthrough? His ERA dropped from 4.90 to 2.89 as he led the NL in strikeouts per nine innings (12.11). His strikeout, walk and home run numbers, however, were identical to 2016 (one fewer home run in 12 fewer innings), so his FIP remained the same at 3.76 compared to 3.72. The difference was all in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP): .355 in 2016, .270 in 2017. Now, he wasn’t the same pitcher as 2016: He threw fewer fastballs and more curveballs while keeping his slider rate at 18 percent. His exit velocities allowed were basically the same. So, was he simply smarter and better in 2017, or maybe more fortunate? Probably a little of both, but there’s reason to believe he hasn’t hit his ceiling just yet. He’s one of the hardest-throwing lefty starters in the game, and if he can cut down on his walks — 71 in 162 innings — he can become a guy who consistently posts sub-3.00 ERAs.
Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds: The Reds haven’t exactly been known for pitcher development in recent years as they allowed the most runs in the NL in 2017. Castillo may break that trend, posting a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts as a rookie with 98 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings. He’s a little older for a first-year starter — he turns 25 in December — and remarkably has already been traded four times in his career: from the Giants to the Marlins, the Marlins to the Padres, the Padres back to the Marlins (when Colin Rea showed up injured in Miami and Castillo was sent back to the Marlins), and then from the Marlins to the Reds for Dan Straily. That’s a strange list of transactions for a guy who averaged 97.7 mph with his fastball. He improved his changeup in 2017, and he can afford to add a little weight as he matures. The delivery isn’t picture-perfect with the way his arm sort of sling-shots back after release, so like Severino, if you combine the velocity with the delivery, the injury concern may be higher than with others.
Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox: If there’s one minor leaguer I’d bet on, this would be the guy. The Red Sox drafted him 33rd overall in 2014, and he gained notoriety for reportedly hitting 105 mph in the minors in 2016 (as well as for a PED suspension in 2015 and breaking his hand in 2016 after an altercation with a teammate). He was part of the Sale trade, and he has everything you like in a pitching prospect: big-time velocity, good size and excellent numbers (172 strikeouts in 134 innings between Double-A and Triple-A while holding batters to a .193 average). He needs to improve his command but should see the majors sometime in 2018.
A.J. Puk, Oakland Athletics: Note that of the seven superaces or near-superaces we listed — Kluber, Sale, Kershaw, Scherzer, Verlander, Strasburg and Greinke — six were first-round picks. Kluber was the one sleeper in the group. Puk has the first-round pedigree, drafted sixth overall in 2016, and in his first full season in the minors, he reached Double-A while striking out 184 in 125 innings.
Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins: After getting hammered for an unsightly 8.02 ERA in 14 starts as a rookie in 2016, the Twins played it cautiously in 2017 and started Berrios in the minors. Upon his return, he pitched like the top prospect he was coming up through the system and went 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA. The stuff is absolutely electric at times, especially that wiffle ball-like curveball that batters hit .220/.254/.306 against. I like his willingness to go 96 up in the zone to change the eye level of the hitters. He needs to work on his changeup, as lefties hit .260/.357/.427 off him.
Lance McCullers, Houston Astros: I think he’s a bit of a reach for this list given some injuries and his reliance on one pitch. Yes, that curveball is something from an alien universe, but he’ll need to develop a third pitch and improve his fastball command. Still, I love the arm and the swagger.
James Paxton, Seattle Mariners: Paxton has spent part of five seasons in the majors, but his 136 innings in 2017 were a career high. He has had minor injuries throughout his career; in 2017, it was a forearm strain in May and a pectoral injury in August. He’s also 29 now, but he has proven he can pitch at a high level: Over his past 35 starts, he’s 16-8 with a 3.05 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 203 2/3 innings, with just 14 home runs allowed. Now he just needs to do it over 30 starts in one calendar year. Maybe, like another former Mariners lefty, he’s a pitcher who peaks in his 30s.