There are awards that are worth debating, both in the heat of pennant races and even years later. The 2014 National League Cy Young Award isn’t one of them. The only intrigue is minor: Will Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers get every first-place vote, marking the 22nd time the honor would be bestowed unanimously?
The easy prediction: Yes. We could stop talking right now, because Kershaw has been that dominant. But we’ve pledged to go through this exercise with each of the major awards. So let’s do it.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
The case for: This could go on and on. Here are the categories in which Kershaw leads the National League: ERA (1.70), walks-and-hits per inning pitched (0.826), complete games (six), strikeouts per nine innings (10.6), strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.82), fielding independent pitching (1.86), ERA+ (210), WAR from baseball-reference.com (7.6) and WAR from FanGraphs (6.7). Oh, and for those who still care about such things, wins (19) and winning percentage (.864, because he’s 19-3). Had he not missed all of April with a back issue following the Dodgers’ insane season-opening trip to Australia, he’d likely be leading in strikeouts and be up there in innings pitched.
One great stat: In 19 of his 25 starts, Kershaw has given up either zero, one or two earned runs. Only four pitchers since 1969 have posted a better ERA than Kershaw’s current 1.70, and he’s right on top of Nolan Ryan’s 1.69 from 1981 and Greg Maddux’s 1.63 from 1995. Since June 13, he has a 1.12 ERA, the Dodgers have won 13 of his 14 starts, and opposing batters are hitting .177/.211/.251 against him. On May 17, he had a weird blip, allowing seven earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings against Arizona. Take away that one start – which produced one fifth of the 35 earned runs Kershaw has allowed this season – and his ERA drops to 1.37. On and on with this guy.
The case against: There isn’t one.
Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
The case for: Imagine a world without Kershaw. Then the Reds right-hander would have a great argument. He has thrown more innings (222.0) than anyone in the NL. In 25 of his 31 starts, he has allowed zero, one or two earned runs – a better percentage (80.6) than Kershaw (76.0). If Kershaw didn’t exist, Cueto would lead the league in ERA (2.15), WHIP (0.959), hits per nine innings (6.243), complete games (four), ERA+ (168), both types of WAR and wins (18). He trails only Washington’s Stephen Strasburg in strikeouts. What a year. Give him something.
The case against: Kershaw exists.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
The case for: Remember how this guy started the All-Star Game over both Kershaw and Cueto? (And remember how he did – or didn’t – groove a pitch to Derek Jeter, starting a rally that led to the American League’s victory that subsequently meant the NL representative will NOT have home-field advantage in the World Series?) Forget that for a moment. The St. Louis Cardinals right-hander is having another in a string of excellent years, despite a few second-half bobbles. He trails only Cueto in innings pitched, only Kershaw and Cueto in WHIP and hits per nine innings, only Kershaw, Cueto and Cole Hamels in ERA (2.56).
The case against: In August, when the Cardinals needed a leader to help push them past Milwaukee in the NL Central, Wainwright uncharacteristically crumbled, posting a 5.17 ERA in six starts. (His last two starts – 17 innings and two earned runs – have seem to put worries to rest for the postseason.) Also: Kershaw exists.
That’s really the list. No reliever – not the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel, not the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen, not the Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal – has had such an impeccable season that he’s worthy of consideration. As we wrote last week, the only debate here – and it’s a serious one – is whether Kershaw should be the Most Valuable Player.