Cy Young Award preview: Scherzer, Kershaw should win easily
Awards Week continues Wednesday night with the announcement of the Cy Young winners in each league, which will be made live on MLB Network at 6 pm ET. There’s not a great deal of suspense here, as Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are near locks for the award in the National and American League, respectively. Both will also be deserving recipients, as you can see below in my look at the three finalists in each league.
Note: League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics.
Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers
Season Stats: 13-9, 277 K, 2.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 11.9 K/9, 3.46 K/BB, 145 ERA+, 209 2/3 IP
Darvish impressed as a rookie in 2012, but he took a big step forward in 2013 at the age of 26. Nowhere was that more evident than in his strikeout numbers. His major league leading 277 Ks were the most by a pitcher in either league since Randy Johnson struck out 290 in 2004. Only three pitchers in major league history have ever posted a higher rate of strikeouts per nine innings in a qualified season (Kerry Wood in 1998, Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Randy Johnson six times), and only Martinez (in ’99), Johnson and Nolan Ryan (twice each) have had more games in a single season with 14 or more strikeouts than Darvish’s five this year.
Like the other three AL finalists, Darvish didn’t complete a game all season, but he did fall just one out shy of a perfect game in his season debut. On April 2, Darvish retired the first 26 Astros he faced, 14 by strikeout, before Marwin Gonzalez singled through his legs, driving him from the game after 111 pitches. In August, Darvish took another no-hitter into the eighth against Houston only to give up a solo home run in the eighth. He struck out a career-high 15 in that game.
Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, Mariners
Season Stats: 14-6, 185 K, 2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 4.40 K/BB, 138 ERA+, 219 2/3 IP
Another second-year major leaguer out of Nippon Professional Baseball, Iwakuma spent the first half of 2012 in Seattle’s bullpen but went 10-6 with a 2.65 ERA in 16 starts after being moved into the rotation at the start of July. He proved that performance wasn’t a fluke in 2013, going 7-1 with a 1.79 ERA in his fist 14 starts before hitting a brief rough patch of five straight non-quality turns leading up to the All-Star break.
After the break, however, Iwakuma was back on point, going 7-2 with a 2.27 ERA and holding his competition scoreless in four of his last five starts, finishing the season with a streak of 23 scoreless innings against the Cardinals, Tigers and Royals. One key to Iwakuma’s success this past season was that he nearly halved his 2012 walk rate to 1.7 per nine innings (a figure inflated by four intentional passes), third in the AL behind David Price and Bartolo Colon.
Max Scherzer, RHP, Tigers
Season Stats: 21-3, 240 K, 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 4.29 K/BB, 145 ERA+, 214 1/3 IP
Scherzer made a lot of headlines with his won-loss record, opening the season 13-0 and then 19-1, but by season’s end it was clear that he had been the AL’s best pitcher regardless of wins and losses. Consider: Among qualified pitchers, only rotation-mate Anibal Sanchez, who threw 32 1/3 fewer innings, had a higher ERA+ (163); only Darvish had a higher strikeout rate, strikeout total or more games with at least 10 strikeouts (12 to Scherzer’s eight); only the Royals’ James Shields had more quality starts (27 to Scherzer’s 25); and no one in the league had a better WHIP.
Who should win: Scherzer
Who will win: Scherzer
Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins
Season Stats: 12-6, 187 K, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.22 K/BB, 176 ERA+, 172 2/3 IP
Fernandez, who deservedly won the NL Rookie of the Year award on Monday, had one of the greatest rookie and age-20 pitching seasons in major league history, but he threw 65 1/3 fewer innings (or 27 percent fewer) than Kershaw, who led him in ERA, ERA+ and WHIP.
Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers
Season Stats: 16-9, 232 K, 1.83 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.46 K/BB, 194 ERA+, 236 IP, 3 CG, 2 SHO
The black ink above pretty much says it all. Kershaw was the best pitcher in the major leagues this year and it wasn’t particularly close. I’ll have much more on his season this evening.
Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals
Season Stats: 19-9, 219 K, 2.94 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 6.26 K/BB, 123 ERA+, 241 2/3 IP, 5 CG, 2 SHO
In his second year back from Tommy John surgery, Wainwright was an absolute horse for the Cardinals, leading the majors in innings and complete games and the NL in shutouts. However, he posted a 3.72 ERA over his final 17 regular season starts and as a result, has by far the lowest ERA+ of any of the six finalists above. Among that same group, Wainwright is tied with Darvish for the highest WHIP and actually averaged a fraction of an inning less per start than Kershaw, who made 33 starts to Wainwright’s 34.
Who should win: Kershaw
Who will win: Kershaw