Relievers get much of the attention during the baseball postseason, when trigger-happy managers yank their starters in favor of matchup advantages as early as the fourth inning.
This, of course, is not the model for success in the six grueling months leading up to the playoffs. Durable, effective starters are the ones who pave the way, lightening the workload for relievers to keep them fresh in August and September.
Durability these days is defined as a minimum of 200 innings, a plateau reached by just 15 pitchers in 2017, eight in the American League, seven in the National League. In 2010, that number was 45.
One of those pitchers to log 200 inning this season was Washington Nationals ace and St. Louis native Max Scherzer, who received my first-place vote for NL Cy Young Award.
The Cy Young Award recipients, as voted on by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, will be announced at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
There’s much to like about the 33-year-old Scherzer’s season than his workload. There’s his 16-6 record. His career-low 2.51 ERA. His 22 quality starts. His paltry 126 hits allowed. His NL-high 268 strikeouts. His NL-leading 0.90 WHIP. And the Nationals were 21-10 in games he started.
For me, it added up to deserved recognition — his third Cy Young Award and second in a row.
My second- through fifth-place votes went to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (18-4, 2.31 ERA), the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 2.52 ERA), the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20 ERA) and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen (41 saves, 1.32 ERA).
Kershaw probably was the most effective pitcher in the NL, but he missed 39 games with a back injury that limited him to 27 starts and 175 innings. He still tied for the major-league lead in wins, led the majors in ERA and had 20 quality starts as the NL champion Dodgers were 23-4 in games he pitched. Take Scherzer out of the mix and Kershaw, the winner in 2013 and 2014, would be my selection.
Strasburg was another giant in the Nationals rotation, recording a career-low ERA with 204 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings to go with 20 quality starts. For me, however, his innings total doesn’t measure up.
Greinke was a rock for Arizona, which reached the NL Division Series. He made 32 starts, worked 202 1/3 innings and struck out 215. However, he was 1-1 with a 3.90 ERA in his last five starts, and his ERA prior to September already was higher than Scherzer, Kershaw and Strasburg. Greinke allowed 25 homers.
Jansen was the best reliever in the NL, converting all but one of his 42 save attempts. He struck out 14.4 hitters per nine innings and walked just seven batters in 68 1/3 innings. I greatly admire closers and believe they deserve more consideration for Hall of Fame honors (see Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner).
But I prefer my Cy Young Award-winners to be starters, and historically, so do other voters. The Dodgers’ Eric Gagne in 2003 was the most recent reliever to earn the Cy Young Award. Prior to then, San Diego’s Mark Davis in 1989 and Philadelphia’s Steve Bedrosian in 1987 won the top honor.
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm