Clayton Kershaw finished in the Top 3 in Cy Young voting for the third straight season. Credit: Getty Images
Wins mattered in the American League, but for National League voters the other categories carried significantly more weight.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw nearly unanimously won the NL Cy Young Award, finishing with 29 of 30 first-place votes and 207 points.
“This is such a cool thing; I can’t even really explain what it means to me,” Kershaw said during MLB Network’s award presentation. “More than anything, I think this is really a team award. You go see the guys that have put so much work in with me. I’m not always the easiest to deal with during a baseball game, so guys like [catcher] A.J. Ellis, [pitching coach] Rick Honeycutt, [manager Don Mattingly], guys like that.
“This award is a full-spectrum thing, and I just couldn’t be more excited. This is a really cool thing for me.”
The Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright placed second with 86 points, getting the other first-place vote from a Cincinnati writer. NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez of the Marlins finished third with 62 points.
Kershaw won 16 games but led the league with a 1.83 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and 232 strikeouts. He also pitched in 16 games where the Dodgers scored two runs or fewer and also dominated the advanced statistics.
Kershaw won the award for the second time in three years. He won the ERA title two years ago and finished with 27 of 32 first-place votes to beat out Roy Halladay.
The 25-year-old also became the first left-handed pitcher to win it multiple times since Randy Johnson won four straight (1999-2002). He also is the first pitcher to win the NL ERA title in three straight seasons since Greg Maddux (1993-95), though two of those seasons were impacted by the last baseball strike.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It really does [feel terrific].”
It also marked the 11th time a Dodger won the Cy Young award and Kershaw won it after finishing a distant second in 2012 to R.A. Dickey. Kershaw became the franchise’s multiple winner since Sandy Koufax (1963, 65, 66) and his 1.83 ERA was the best by an NL lefty since Koufax had a 1.73 ERA in 1966. It also is baseball’s lowest ERA since Pedro Martinez finished at 1.74 in 2000 and the lowest in the NL since Maddux posted a 1.63 mark in 1995.
Before winning the award for the first time, Kershaw had been 26-23 with a 3.17 ERA in 85 games (83 starts) but over the last three seasons, he is 51-23 with a 2.20 ERA with 709 strikeouts and is looking for more after a disappointing 9-0 loss to St. Louis in Game 6 of the NLCS.
"Just win. That's it. We got an opportunity to play in the postseason, and I hadn't done that in a while. That was pretty special for me, and we came up short. I didn't pitch the way I should've in the last game, and we didn't get to win. For me, that's motivation.
"I don't need to throw up any more stats or anything like that. I want that ring. [Wainwright] hasn't won a Cy Young, he's come in second a few times, but he's won a World Series, and that's the most important thing. That's why we all play the game, and I would trade that in a heartbeat."
Overall, 10 pitchers received votes in the NL.
Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel and Mets ace Matt Harvey received 39 points apiece. Cliff Lee totaled 32, Jordan Zimmerman had 21, Zack Greinke had 18 while Madison Bumgarner and Francisco Liriano netted three points apiece.
Max Scherzer was the only 20-game winner in the major leagues, and despite many who think that category has little value, there were not many voting for the AL Cy Young Award who agreed.
As a result Scherzer was named the Cy Young winner, becoming the second Tigers pitcher in three years to do so.
“It’s amazing,” Scherzer said. “You can speculate, whatever you want. To actually be named it, it’s unbelievable. It just vindicates everything I’ve done and I can’t say thank you enough to all my teammates for busting their butts every single day, fighting on defense and getting those extra runs for me because I think that helped my candidacy.”
Teammate Justin Verlander unanimously won the award two years ago and Scherzer came close, getting 28 of 30 first-place votes while finalists Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma did not receive any first-place votes.
The other first-place votes went to teammate Anibal Sanchez, who won the AL ERA title, and Chicago’s Chris Sale.
Scherzer finished with 203 points, Darvish finished with 93 points by getting 19 second-place votes, while Iwakuma finished with 73 points.
Before this season, Scherzer had shown gradual improvement since being acquired by the Tigers from Arizona in the December 2009 deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. In 2010, he was 12-11 with a 3.50 ERA and followed that up by going 15-9 with a 4.43 ERA.
Last year his strikeouts rose from 171 to 231 and this season he increased that total to 240. Scherzer led the league with a 21-3 record, a .875 win percentage and a 0.97 WHIP.
Scherzer also held opponents to a .198 batting average, highlighted by an improvement against left-handed hitters. He held lefties to a .222 average after allowing a .292 mark last season.
Scherzer said adding a curveball helped him significantly against left-handed hitters. He had never thrown one before this season but used that pitch nearly 80 percent of the time.
“It was huge,” he said. “That’s the reason why I had so much success this year. Lefties have always hit me well and I’ve always been really just a two-pitch pitcher against lefties — a fastball and changeup. Having a curveball really allows me to mix another pitch in there and kind of keep them off-balance, especially a pitch that’s in the low-80s [mph], it really just changes the timing.”
He won his first 13 decisions and 16 of his wins came with at least five runs of support. At that same time, Scherzer also had 21 starts where allowed three runs or less and pitched into the eighth inning nine times.
Another likely reason for Scherzer’s win was that his performance came in a somewhat down season for Verlander, who was 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA.
In terms of advanced statistics, while Scherzer did not lead the major categories, he still placed near the top and those statistics were noted in the opening remarks of Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell before he presented the award.
“With all due respect to the sabermetrica people and there are plenty in the baseball writers believe me,” O’Connell said. “Sometimes when you have a runaway season, there’s a good chance you’re being the runaway winner of an award.”
His 6.7 wins above replacement (WAR) was third behind Iwakuma and Sale. His adjusted ERA-plus of 1.45 also placed third while his win probability added (WPA) of 4.0 was fourth.
Both Darvish and Iwakuma had decent cases for winning the award.
Darvish’s 277 strikeouts were the most since Randy Johnson in 2004 for a 51-win Arizona team. Darvish also led the AL with 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings but he only finished with 13 wins and dropped four of his last five decisions.
Iwakuma had a more challenging set of circumstances pitching on a 91-loss team that was the worst defensive team. Yet he still won 14 games, led the AL with a WAR of 7.0, ranked second with a 1.00 WHIP and third with 219 2/3 innings pitched.
Overall, 11 pitchers garnered consideration.
Sanchez had 46 points, Sale finished with 44 and Bartolo Colon had 25. Boston closer Koji Uehara registered 10 points, Felix Hernandez had six while Matt Moore and Greg Holland finished with four points each, two ahead of James Shields.