Commentary

Previewing the Cy Young Awards

Both leagues have extremely compelling races in 2012

Updated: November 14, 2012, 10:42 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

We usually have a pretty good idea of who is going to win at least one of the Cy Young Awards by the time they are announced -- but not this year. We'll find out for sure on Wednesday night, and here's how it looks like it will shake out.

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe last Dodger to win consecutive Cy Youngs was Sandy Koufax.

National League

We've seen knuckleballers inducted into the Hall of Fame. We've seen knuckleballers win 300 games. But one thing we've never seen in this sport is a knuckleballer win a Cy Young Award. Well, that just might be about to change.

New York Mets flutterball king R.A. Dickey may not be a lock to win the NL Cy Young, but he's certainly the favorite, not to mention the sentimental favorite. At age 37, Dickey led the league in strikeouts, quality starts, innings, complete games, batters faced, double-figure strikeout games and, in a related development, most hitters walking away from home plate, grumbling, "What the heck just happened?" He also went 20-6 for a team that was 25 games under .500 when anyone else pitched, and finished in the top three in ERA, WHIP and (in an especially amazing feat for a knuckleballer) strikeout-walk ratio. But he's not the only man in this argument.

Clayton Kershaw finished ahead of Dickey -- and every other NL starter, for that matter -- in ERA, WHIP, WAR and fewest hits per nine innings. So he's a definite threat to become the first member of the Los Angeles Dodgers to win back-to-back Cy Youngs since Sandy Koufax.

Then there's Washington Nationals dominator Gio Gonzalez. He won 21 games and led the league in opponent average, opponent OPS, strikeouts per nine innings and FIP. There are also excellent cases to be made for Johnny Cueto, Matt Cain, Kyle Lohse, Cole Hamels, and Kris Medlen. And we would be remiss if we didn't salute Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, the first pitcher in history to strike out more than HALF the hitters he faced in a season (116 of 231).

But awards voters always love a good storyline. And let's face it: No candidate in this field comes with a better storyline than R.A. Dickey -- and his quest for knuckleball history.

[+] EnlargeDavid Price
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIIn a different era, Price would be a slam-dunk choice.

American League

Ten years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago, there wouldn't have been much doubt about who would, or should, win the 2012 AL Cy Young. Ten years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago, a pitcher who went 20-5, and led his league in wins and ERA, could have started clearing shelf space for his trophy weeks ago.

Well, Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price did all that. But is he a cinch to win this Cy Young? Not in 2012. Not when baseball's ultimate ace, Justin Verlander, is also in this discussion (along with Jered Weaver, Chris Sale and Rays closer Fernando Rodney). So let's weigh their respective campaign platforms.

In Price's case, he's the 20th pitcher in the past 45 years to lead his league in both wins and ERA (tied or outright) in the same year. Of the previous 19, only one (Mike Boddicker, in 1984) DIDN'T win the Cy Young. Price's other big selling point is that he put up those numbers while pitching in the AL East. So he faced (according to research by the Rays) the most difficult "quality of opponents" of any starter in either league. And his 12 wins against teams over .500 were tied with Weaver for the most in baseball.

But Verlander (17-8, 2.64) can counter with this: He made 13 starts against teams that went to the postseason, plus the Detroit Tigers' big division rival, the Chicago White Sox -- and went 8-1, 1.81 in those starts. He also topped Price in WHIP, strikeouts, K's per nine, opponent average, adjusted ERA, FIP and WAR, and was only 8/100 of a run behind in ERA -- while working 27 more innings and facing 120 more hitters. So while Verlander may not have been quite as Christy Mathewson-esque in 2012 as he was in 2011, he still has a great case to become the first man to win back-to-back AL Cy Youngs since Pedro Martinez, in 1999-2000. But does he have a better case than David Price?

Can't wait for these election results -- so the voters can answer that question once and for all.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com