What a Cy Young Award would mean for Scherzer or Strasburg

The results of this year’s National League Cy Young Award vote, which will be announced at approximately 6:45 p.m. Eastern time, won’t change Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg’s career stats. No matter what happens tonight, Scherzer still owns a 141-75 record, 3.30 ERA and 2,149 strikeouts during an awfully impressive career. And regardless of tonight’s winner, Strasburg remains 84-45 with a 3.07 ERA and 1,288 strikeouts during his notable career.

And yet the result of this Cy Young vote might well fundamentally alter the way people view either Scherzer or Strasburg’s career forever. It’s not outrageous to make that suggestion.

Fairly or unfairly, we view ballplayers not simply via the stats they compile over time but the honors they receive. An All-Star is forever remembered as an All-Star. A Gold Glover is forever remembered as a Gold Glover. A Hall of Famer is forever remembered as a Hall of Famer.

And these awards go a long way toward shaping our view of players not only as they continue to actively perform on the field but for decades after they’ve taken off their uniforms.

Scherzer already is a two-time Cy Young Award winner, having taken the American League version of the hardware in 2013 while pitching for the Tigers and then winning the NL trophy last season for the Nationals. That puts the right-hander in elite company. But a third one would really elevate him into another echelon of pitching greatness.

Only nine men have won the Cy Young Award three or more times, and their names are a who’s who of pitching greatness: Roger Clemens (seven), Randy Johnson (five), Steve Carlton (four), Greg Maddux (four), Sandy Koufax (three), Pedro Martínez (three), Jim Palmer (three), Tom Seaver (three), Clayton Kershaw (three).

You don’t need to be a Hall of Fame expert to know that every one of those pitchers either is already enshrined in Cooperstown, will be once he retires (Kershaw) or would be if not for allegations of performance enhancing drugs (Clemens).

If Scherzer wins Cy Young Award No. 3 tonight, he might well have locked up his own Hall of Fame plaque, no matter what happens the rest of his career. You can argue whether or not that’s fair. But make no mistake, it’s a factor.

Strasburg isn’t there yet, not by a longshot. But victory tonight would elevate him into a category he has yet to reach: unquestionably one of the game’s best pitchers right now.

Strasburg-Gray-NLDS-Sidebar.jpgTo this point, Strasburg has (rightly or wrongly) been known more for what he hasn’t done than what he has done. To many, he’s still the guy who was shut down and not allowed to pitch in the 2012 postseason, the guy who has made eight trips to the disabled list since debuting in 2010, the guy who hasn’t lived up to his tremendously lofty billing.

Strasburg did plenty to try to change that image over the final two months of the season, posting an 0.86 ERA after the All-Star break and then twice going seven innings without surrendering an earned run in the playoffs against the Cubs. That should help change his narrative when he arrives for spring training in February.

But a Cy Young Award would help even more. Sure, there have been fluky winners before, guys who had one great season but never sustained that level of success. Brandon Webb, R.A. Dickey and Eric Gagne are just a few recent winners who fit that description.

Strasburg, though, has been an elite pitcher throughout his career. His 3.07 ERA ranks seventh among all big leaguers with at least 1,000 innings pitched since 2010, his 10.54 strikeouts per nine innings rate second only to Chris Sale, and his 1.081 WHIP ranks third behind only Kershaw and Sale.

Those who have followed Strasburg closely recognize this. Those who don’t still cling to what he hasn’t accomplished. And that’s why a Cy Young Award would be so significant, tangible evidence of his success that can’t be refuted by doubters.

It’s possible neither Nationals ace will win tonight. Kershaw, the other finalist, has a solid case to earn his fourth Cy Young Award, which would be further confirmation of his remarkable career.

But Scherzer and Strasburg each has a valid case of his own. And should either pitcher’s name be announced at 6:45 p.m. tonight, we’ll all have valid reason to start viewing his career in an entirely new light.

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