Last year Felix Hernandez won the AL CY Young award with just 13 wins and two years ago Zack Greinke won it with 16 victories. In recent years, wins have had diminished importance during award voting.
The latest example was the AL Rookie of the Year award which went to Tampa Bay right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson claimed 17 of 28 first-place votes and 102 points overall, the most by any non-unanimous winner since Dustin Pedroia claimed 24 first-place votes four years ago.
Hellickson was 13-10 with half of his defeats coming in games that he allowed two earned runs or fewer. He also finished with a 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and .210 opponent batting average. Hellickson was the least prolific winner among starting pitchers to win since the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year winner (Kerry Wood, 13 wins).
“I guess I was a little surprised,” Hellickson said on a conference call. “There was a handful of guys I think all had the same amount of chances to win. I felt like I had a good chance, but once I finally did hear my name, I was really happy.”
Also helping Hellickson was his five straight wins during September when the Rays caught the Red Sox and clinched the AL Wild Card. He was the 10th starting pitcher to win the award and first since Justin Verlander five years ago.
As for Ivan Nova, just being in the voting is remarkable for a pitcher often overlooked in the minor league system, but his stats were likely inflated by pitching for the Yankees, who scored five or more runs in 12 of his wins.
Earned run average also factored in. Jason Jennings is the only pitcher to win the Rookie of the Year award with an ERA over 3.50 when he won in 2002 with a 4.52 ERA in Colorado.
Though he had an ERA of 3.18 after returning from the minors, Nova’s season ERA did not go below four until August 21.
Hellickson’s ERA was over four in April, likely due to a lingering hamstring injury, but it consistently remained between 3.27 and 2.95 the rest of the year. While he won nine games the Rays scored at least five runs in, he also pitched in 15 contests that teammates scored three runs or fewer.
In between Hellickson and Nova were Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo and Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer. Trumbo received five first-place votes and 63 points while Hosmer received four first-place votes and 38 points.
Also getting consideration was Seattle right-hander Michael Pineda (11 votes), Seattle second baseman Dustin Ackley (six votes), Tampa Bay outfielder Desmond Jennings (one vote) and Angels reliever Jordan Walden (one vote).
While Hellickson won in a somewhat contested manner, Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel was a definitive winner in the National League.
Kimbrel won the award unanimously, getting 32 first-place votes and 160 points from the 16 National League cities. That made him the 10th unanimous winner in National League history and the first pitcher to do so.
Despite his 4.76 ERA and three blown saves in 12 September appearances, Kimbrel was consistently dominant all year. He had 25 scoreless appearances and 18 saves, spanning 24 2/3 innings in July and August. It was during that period that he allowed 11 hits and struck out 42 while walking seven.
Kimbrel also set a major league record for saves by a rookie with 46 and his overall totals of 127 strikeouts and a 2.10 ERA in 77 innings made him the 17th unanimous Rookie of the Year overall.
“It definitely surprised me, that unanimous decision,” Kimbrel said.
Kimbrel finished with a strikeout rate of 14.8 per inning, which placed him in some elite company. He became the fourth pitcher to save at least three games with a strikeout rate that high. The others were Carlos Marmol (2010), Eric Gagne (2003) and Billy Wagner (1998, 1999), whom he succeeded as closer.
Kimbrel’s win also ended a six-year run of position players winning the award, becoming the first pitcher to win since Dontrelle Willis for the 2003 Marlins
He also became the seventh Brave to win the award. The last was Rafael Furcal 11 years ago and until yesterday no Braves pitcher had won the award.
If not for Kimbrel’s dominance, teammate Freddie Freeman might have been the next position player to win the award for the team. The Atlanta first baseman led NL rookies with 161 hits, 21 home runs, 76 RBI and a .346 on-base percentage but Kimbrel’s dominance made him the runner-up with 70 points.
Philadelphia pitcher Vance Worley finished third with 40 points. Worley filled in nicely for the Phillies rotation by going 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA with 119 strikeouts in 131 2/3 innings, mostly in place of Joe Blanton.
Rounding out the voting was Washington catcher Wilson Ramos (six points), Arizona right-hander Jose Collmenter (five points), Washington second baseman Danny Espinoza (three points), Chicago infielder Darwin Barney (two points) and Los Angeles reliever Kenley Jansen (two points).
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.