The biggest knock on Sale’s 2017 resume is his fade down the stretch. It’s true – he posted a 4.38 ERA in six starts in August followed by a 3.72 ERA in five starts in September. Kluber, on the other hand, was dominant, pitching to a 1.96 ERA through six starts in August and then a microscopic 0.84 ERA in six starts in September.
However, there are two things to be noted here. First, the Cy Young Award is not a second-half award. Sale’s first half utter domination cannot be overlooked due to a relatively poor second half. If it was, we should probably be handing off the honors to Justin Verlander, who compiled a 1.95 ERA and 0.819 WHIP in the second half.
Second, Sale was subjected to far more pressure in those late-season starts than Kluber. The Red Sox, who won the AL East by a two-game margin, were in the thick of a division race all season. The Yankees were seldom farther than five games apart at any given point in the year, which put the constant spotlight on Sale as the ace of the staff to deliver down the stretch. Playoff implications were legitimately in the balance.
The Indians, meanwhile, won the AL Central by 17 games. After rattling off 22 straight victories, at no point during August or September did it look like the second-place Twins had any chance of contending for the divisional crown. Kluber was able to cruise to the finish with the division all but clinched.
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There is something to be said for the argument that it is more difficult to perform with the pressure on, especially for pitchers. Pitching coaches keep careful track of “high-stress pitches”, which take a greater toll on the arm due to the increased effort in each pitch.
Additionally, the Red Sox adjusted the rotation so that Sale would pitch in as many “big games” as possible. Thus, we see Sale matching up against the Yankees three times and the Indians twice in the final two months with a division on the line, taking the burden of the go-to guy in big situations.
No, this doesn’t entirely excuse his drop-off in performance down the stretch. But an ERA in the upper 3’s against the league’s top offenses is hardly a disaster.
The recency effect was in full effect here. From Dictionary.com, it is defined as:
"“The phenomenon that when people are asked to recall in any order the items on a list, those that come at the end of the list are more likely to be recalled than the others.”"
Thus, when voters are asked to cast a ballot for the AL Cy Young, they are more likely to recall the end of the season than the beginning or middle, because it’s fresher in their minds. This gives more value to a start in August than a start in June, which in the case of a Cy Young award race, is unfair.