With all apologies to Kate Upton, choosing the 2016 American League Cy Young winner was no obvious call.
I had the honor and responsibility of voting for the Cy Young this year. And the longer I pored over the names and statistics, the tougher the decision became in sorting out my five finalists.
In the end, I was one of five people among the 30 voters to go with Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton as my winner. I went with Boston’s Rick Porcello, who wound up taking home the award, second; Detroit’s Justin Verlander third; Cleveland’s Corey Kluber fourth and the White Sox’s Chris Sale fifth.
Generally speaking, I’ve always shared the widely held belief that starters are more deserving of the Cy Young than relievers. They throw significantly more innings. They have a bigger impact on the game they pitch simply because they’re on the mound longer.
Try to distinguish between the dominance of a starter and reliever over an entire season, and how do you compare apples-to-apples?
The more I studied Britton’s case, the tougher I found it to ignore what he accomplished. A perfect 47-for-47 in save opportunities, a 0.54 ERA that ranks as the lowest ever for a pitcher who threw at least 50 innings. The lefty threw 67 innings and surrendered just four earned runs.
That to me put him over the top against a field of starters that was outstanding, but as I saw it, didn’t present an obvious choice that stood out above the rest. Porcello had Verlander beat handily in wins (22 to 16) but Verlander had the better ERA (3.04 to 3.15).
Verlander smoked Porcello when it came to strikeouts (254 to 189) and held the edge in opponents’ batting average (.207 to .230). Porcello allowed fewer home runs (23 to 30) and fewer walks (32 to 57) though both right-handers had nearly the same amount of innings (223 for Porcello, 227 2/3 for Verlander). Their WHIPs (Verlander 1.00, Porcello 1.01) were nearly identical and led the league.
Verlander finished second in the voting to Porcello despite earning the most first-place votes with 14. (Kluber finished third, with Britton fourth and Sale fifth). Verlander strangely wasn’t even named on two of the 30 ballots, which proved huge in giving the Cy Young to Porcello. That also set off an epic Twitter tirade from Upton, the supermodel who’s engaged to Verlander. Must-see reading if you haven’t done so yet.
Kluber had a very strong case himself. But in the end, none of that trumped Britton’s accomplishments.
There’s nothing more deflating for a major league team than sending its closer to the mound to protect a ninth-inning lead and walking off the field in defeat after he’s coughed it up. The psychological effect lingers in the clubhouse afterward. It’s palpable.
But it’s a part of the game, and it happens on occasion even to the best closers.
Except to Britton in 2016. And his excellence was enough to get my vote.