Cy Young 2015: Sizing up the finalists
The Cy Young award promises for be the most contested, and most exciting, race this award season. Major League Baseball has announced three finalists in both leagues, and all six players have a legitimate case to take home the award.
Over in the National League, fans are already well aware of the intense battle. For a while, it looked like Zack Greinke and his microscopic ERA might edge out the competition. Then, Jake Arrieta proceeded to go on one of the most dominant runs in baseball history. While those two received the major headlines down the stretch, Clayton Kershaw somehow quietly finished with another dominant season.
[Related: Rangers’ Jeff Banister wins AL Manager of the Year]
The American League race hasn’t received as much attention, but promises to be just as good. Dallas Keuchel seemed like an early favorite, but that was before David Price got shipped to a contender. Once Price started dominating for a contender again, he suddenly jumped back into the public’s eye. Sonny Gray may not have been in the public’s eye all that much because he played for a bad team, but his numbers are hard to ignore.
That’s just the quick rundown. Let’s take a closer look at the six finalists, their stories and their chances at taking home the award. The winners will be announced Wednesday in an MLB Network special that begins at 6 p.m. ET.
Sonny Gray — Oakland Athletics
In brief: The 27-year-old turned in another excellent season with the Athletics, but flew under the radar since the team was bad. He basically reproduced his 2014 numbers, walking slightly fewer and posting a slightly lower ERA.
Key stats: Gray doesn’t wow you in one particular area. He’s above-average or great in nearly every facet of the game. He struck out 20.3 percent of all opposing batters while limiting his number of free passes. His 2.73 ERA was good for third among all starters in the AL.
Case for: Gray would have been a much better candidate if the season ended in July. Over the first half of the season, he posted a 2.04 ERA over 123 2/3 innings. Had he kept that up, he probably would have had a more legitimate argument for the award.
Case against: Gray collapsed down the stretch, posting a 3.74 ERA in the second half. That gave him a higher ERA than both Keuchel and Price, his biggest competition for the award. And since Gray’s team didn’t reach the playoffs, he needed all the advantages he could get.
Dallas Keuchel — Houston Astros
In brief: Keuchel doubled down on his 2014 breakout, developing into one of the best pitchers in the league. He was the best player on a surprising Astros club (at least until Carlos Correa arrived), and constantly went deep into games while eating a ton of innings.
Key stats: Keuchel led the AL with 232 innings, and finished second with a 2.48 ERA. He ranked third among AL pitchers with a 6.1 fWAR. Thanks to his ridiculous sinker, Keuchel posted a league-leading 61.7 percent ground ball rate. Keuchel isn’t all about finesse, though, he finished fifth in the AL with 216 strikeouts.
[Related: Joe Maddon caps Cubs’ surprising season with NL Manager of the Year award]
Case for: No one epitomized the Astros surprise run more than Keuchel. His emergence as a legitimate ace was a shock, and yet, all the numbers support the breakout. The fight between he and Price should be tight, but Keuchel’s slight lead in innings pitched could give him an edge. If you still value pitcher wins (you shouldn’t) Keuchel led the AL with 20.
Case against: Price was just as good, and holds a slight lead in a number of important statistical categories over Keuchel. It’s going to be a close one.
David Price — Toronto Blue Jays
In brief: A midseason trade for Toronto seemed to reinvigorate Price’s Cy Young chances. He was excellent in Detroit, but his performance down the stretch, while leading the Blue Jays to the playoffs, got people talking about him again. He’s turned in a number of exceptional seasons over his career, but 2015 may have been his best.
Key stats: Price finished the year with a league-leading 2.45 ERA and 6.4 fWAR. His 225 strikeouts were good for fourth in the AL. Of all three finalists, Price had the highest strikeout rate (25.3 percent) and the lowest walk rate (5.3 percent).
Case for: Aside from innings pitched, Price leads Keuchel in some significant statistical categories. He holds a slight edge in ERA, strikeouts, fWAR and walk rate. His leads in each category aren’t great, but that might be the separator in a race this tight.
Case against: It’s such a close race between Price and Keuchel that you could argue the guy who pitched more innings deserves to win. That would be Keuchel. Also, if you value pitcher wins (please don’t), Keuchel had 20 while Price had 18.
Jake Arrieta — Chicago Cubs
In brief: Arrieta was fantastic over the first half of the season, and then decided to really turn things on down the stretch. His historic performance in the second half helped lead the Cubs to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Key stats: Arrieta finished second among NL pitchers with 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA and a 7.3 fWAR. Over his last 15 starts, Arrieta posted an eye-popping 0.75 ERA. Those are the types of numbers you put up in a video game on easy mode while taking steroids.
[Related: What’s next? This is likely just the start for Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa]
Case for: Arrieta’s second half performance was historic. While the Cubs playoff hopes were never really in question, he became a must-watch pitcher down the stretch. He was also the only finalist to toss a no-hitter this season, so maybe that gives him an extra boost from the voters.
Case against: Arrieta’s numbers are insane, but he’s going up against one pitcher who somehow posted a lower ERA and another who notched 300 strikeouts. Both of those accomplishments could overshadow Arrieta’s performance.
Zack Greinke — Los Angeles Dodgers
In brief: Greinke refused to give up any runs this season. His ridiculous 1.66 ERA was one of the best figures posted by any pitcher over a full season. When Kershaw wasn’t looking like himself early on, Greinke did everything in his power to carry the Dodgers pitching staff.
Key stats: Greinke led all of baseball with a minuscule 1.66 ERA. He ranked fourth among NL pitchers with 222 2/3 innings pitched and a 5.9 fWAR.
Case for: In a race that should be ridiculously close, Greinke’s crazy ERA could be the difference. He was strong in nearly every other statistical category as well.
Case against: Though Greinke had the lowest ERA of the finalists, he posted the lowest strikeout rate and the worst fWAR of the trio. Both Kershaw and Arrieta slightly edged him in innings as well. We’re nitpicking here, but that’s what you have to do in a race this close.
Clayton Kershaw — Los Angeles Dodgers
In brief: After a tough first two months, Kershaw turned into the pitcher we all know and love. While the narrative surrounding Kershaw was that this was somehow a down year, all of his end of season numbers look to be in line with what we’ve come to expect. He’s still really awesome.
Key stats: Kershaw led all of baseball with 301 strikeouts. He became the first pitcher since 2002 to post a 300 strikeout season. He finished first in the NL with 232 2/3 innings pitched and an 8.6 fWAR. Kershaw’s 2.13 ERA slotted third in the NL.
Case for: His 2.15 ERA has higher than normal (which is an insane thing to write), but it’s possible this was Kershaw’s finest season. He posted the highest strikeout rate of his career, and notched 301 whiffs! He was as good as he’s been in every other season, and that formula has led to three Cy Young awards already.
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Case against: The narrative surrounding Kershaw is that 2015 was somehow a disappointing season. That’s mostly because his ERA was above 2.00. On top of that, there might be some voter fatigue. Kershaw has won the last two Cy Young awards, so it might be time to give it to someone else.
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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik