AL Central arms among Cy Young award favorites

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Aug 1, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (49) walks to the dugout after the first inning during against the Minnesota Twins at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Before last season, not too many people outside the state of Ohio knew who Corey Kluber was. After winning the American League Cy Young award in 2014, people are aware of the Cleveland Indians’ ace, but still don’t quite speak of him among the elite starting pitchers in the game.

The reasons are understandable.

Before last season, Kluber was a questionable rotation piece with no track record of dominance at any minor league level. In 2013, he went 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 147 innings. Last season, those numbers jumped to 18-9 with 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts in 235.2 innings.

For those who don’t believe he can do it again, think about this, you can count on one hand how many guys in all of baseball are capable of numbers like that (Scherzer, Kershaw, Hernandez, Price and Darvish maybe?).

Felix Hernandez won the award back in 2010 and finished second to Kluber last season. He has finished in the Top 4 in Cy Young voting four of the last six seasons, and as a result is regarded as the best pitcher in the AL. Plus, at 29 years old, don’t expect him to slow down any time soon.

When looking around the AL for pitchers to challenge Hernandez for the Cy Young crown, the AL Central holds more options than just Kluber.

David Price won the award in back in 2012 and with the departure of Max Scherzer to the National League, he now becomes the ace of the Detroit Tigers.

Price posted career highs in innings (248.1) and strikeouts (271) last season which both led the majors. Of the pitchers who threw at least 200 innings, only Phil Hughes (16) and Brandon McCarthy (33) had less than Price’s 38 walks.

Another impressive note on Price is that he has thrown at least 200 innings in four of the last five seasons, and struck out at least 200 batters in three of the last four. From a longevity standpoint, he is right with Hernandez.

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Chris Sale is looked at as the most dominant left-handed pitcher in the game not named Clayton Kershaw. He finished second in the AL in both ERA (2.17) and WHIP (0.97) and third in opponents batting average (.205). What held him back from Hernandez and Kluber was innings. He threw just 174 innings and only won 12 games, after missing nearly a month with a left flexor injury.

In three seasons as a starter, Sale has eclipsed 200 innings just once. If he could put a full season and make all of his starts there is no doubting the numbers he could produce.

Sale’s career ERA (2.76), WHIP (1.07) and opponents batting average (.219) are all lower than Hernandez and Price.

While this is set to be a heck of a battle in 2015, it could certainly extend for into the years beyond.

The Chicago White Sox signed Sale to a five-year, $32.5 million contract extension in 2013, including two team options for $12.5 million and $13.5 million that is sure to keep him on the South Side until 2019.

Price doesn’t have a long-term deal in place with the Tigers, and can become a free agent after this season. Early indications are that both he and the Tigers are open to an extension. It will take a pretty big contract to keep him off the market, but if the Tigers can pull it off he will likely be a resident of Comerica Park for the next eight years.

Sep 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) pitches in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Cleveland Indians win 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Kluber will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after this season and is under team control with the Indians until 2019. If he continues to put up numbers like he did last season, his arbitration figures will be pretty high. An extension could help the Indians out in that regard but regardless of the fact, Kluber is not leaving the AL Central any time soon.

The AL Central could easily possess three of the top-five Cy Young finalists for the next five seasons. Also, it is not out of the question to see Jeff Samardzija of the White Sox, Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers or even Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals throw their names in the hat at some point in this conversation as well.

As far as 2015 goes, who’s your pick for AL Cy Young?

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Next: AL Central Shortstop Rankings

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