Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber earned 17 first-place votes to win his first American League Cy Young, edging out Seattle Mariners starter Felix Hernandez and his 13 first-place votes for the honor.
The competition between the two has been a heated debate on who should earn the nod. Hernandez won the ERA title for the second time in his career. When he won it in 2010, it was enough to earn his only Cy Young despite having a 13-12 record. The case for Kluber was he had more wins (18) and strikeouts (269) than Hernandez. Oh, and don't forget his league leading 2.35 FIP.
Is Kluber's win a "win for the stat nerds?" As a baseball community, are we ready to stop comparing pitchers with Wins and ERA? Are writers truly ready to embrace FIP, ERA+, and K/9 when deciding the top pitching honor?
Or, did Kluber win because he simply had more wins and strikeouts than Hernandez, following the norm?
Or, did Kluber perform much better than Hernandez did in the second half?
Here are Kluber's splits in 2014 between the first and second halves in 2014:
Here are Hernandez's:
Those numbers from Hernandez are quite good and any club would be ecstatic if they received that type of production from their ace. However, when you compare it to how well Kluber pitched later on in 2014 you can see where he started to pick up steam in his campaign to win the coveted Cy Young. Maybe it was how Kluber finished that gave him the final nod over Hernandez.
Then there is the Condor, Chris Sale, finishing in a distant third. Despite leading the league in ERA+ and K/9, Sale didn't even receive a first-place vote. If Kluber won the Cy Young because of advanced metrics, and not because he had higher counting stats, then White Sox faithful may have a legitimate gripe with voters. Let's pretend that Sale had started the same amount of games as Kluber and Hernandez (34 GS). His numbers were on pace to be:
16-5, 2.17 ERA, 2.57 FIP, 227 2/3 IP, 272 K, 51 BB.
That's Cy Young worthy. Would it be enough to persuade voters to choose Sale over Kluber and Hernandez? We'll never know. It is disappointing that he didn't receive a first-place vote. If there are those that believe that Kluber won the Cy Young because of his advanced metric superiority over Hernandez, then why wasn't Sale taken more seriously? Is it because Sale suffered an injury and had eight fewer starts? Clayton Kershaw was the unanimous winner in the National League, yet he only had one more start than Sale. Sure, Kershaw was dominant and in a class by himself, but he was not docked whatsoever because he missed time.
We'll hear from the voters that it was a mixture of old and new. Having great peripherals is wonderful, as long as you start more than 30 games, pitch more than 200 innings, and have more strikeouts than the competition. I don't think FIP has taken over ERA when considering who is the better pitcher, just like K/9 hasn't taken over the total amount of strikeouts in a season. Kluber won because he had better counting stats than Hernandez. The norm of deciding the Cy Young hasn't changed.
Which could be good news for Sale as a potential Cy Young winner. All he has to do is just duplicate 2014 and avoid the disabled list. Seems easy enough.