From Kershaw to Keuchel, 13 nominees have worthy cases for MLB Awards
By Mark Newman
Voting is underway to help decide Best Starting Pitcher in the Esurance MLB Awards, and the combination of increased offensive output in 2015 plus comparable leaderboard finishes since 1968's "Year of the Pitcher" only magnifies the overall performance of your 13 nominees.
The Esurance MLB Awards annually honor Major League Baseball's greatest achievements as part of an industry-wide balloting process that includes five components, each of which accounts for 20 percent of the overall vote: media, front-office personnel, retired MLB players, fans at MLB.com and Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) voters.
"It's an honor [to vote in the MLB Awards], and I'm looking forward to it," said Hall of Fame right-hander John Smoltz, no stranger to baseball's accolades season.
"I'm sure there will be some debate that comes out of it, and I'm excited to be one of those judges that helps create the debate."
In addition to Best Starting Pitcher, individual awards will go to the Best Major Leaguer, Best Everyday Player, Rookie, Defensive Player, Breakout Player, Bounceback Player, Manager, Executive, Social Media Personality and postseason performer.
Winners will also be recognized for the year's best offensive play, defensive play, Moment, single-game performance, Social Media Post, Celebrity Fan, Fan Catch, Interview, TV call, radio call, Player-Fan Interaction, Video Board Moment and Trending Topic.
Deciding on one starting pitcher out of the 13 candidates is a formidable task, given the remarkable performances in both leagues to date. Through Tuesday, overall MLB batting average (.255), on-base percentage (.317), slugging (.404), OPS (.721) and ERA (3.96) had increased to 2011-12 levels this season. So that is the backdrop for what the top starters have been doing, and looking at final leaders back to 1968 speaks further volumes.
For the first time since Dwight Gooden of the Mets (1.53) and John Tudor of the Cardinals (1.93) did it 30 years ago, MLB is in position to have multiple pitchers with ERAs under 2.00. Greinke is at 1.61, and Arrieta sits at 1.96. Meanwhile, Kershaw is back in Cy Young form lately, and his 2.12 ERA is trending downward.
In '68, Gibson established the modern ERA record of 1.12, and he was one of seven starting pitchers who were under 2.00. MLB lowered pitching mounds after that season to increase offense. The only other times since then that there were more than two starters with ERAs under 2.00 were in 1971 (Tom Seaver, Vida Blue and Wilbur Wood) and '72 (Luis Tiant, Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton and Gary Nolan). The Gooden-Tudor combo in 1985 marked the only other occasion of multiple sub-2.00 ERAs going into this season.
MLB is also on track to finish the regular season with the most (exclusively) starting pitchers below a 1.00 WHIP since 1968. Five are on pace: Greinke (0.85), Kershaw (0.89), Arrieta (0.92), Scherzer (0.95), deGrom (0.99). Keuchel (1.03) and Bumgarner (1.01) were among many nominees close behind.
In '68, Baltimore left-hander Dave McNally's 0.84 WHIP led a group of nine pitchers (eight regular starters) below 1.00. Gibson was right behind at 0.85.
Kershaw has won this category the last two years, topping Bumgarner of the rival Giants in a two-horse race in 2014, 42.5 percent to 38.2. Kershaw also finished right behind Detroit's Justin Verlander in the 2011 balloting. Although Kershaw has been his old self again lately, the award path is far less certain now, especially given Greinke's dominance within the same rotation.
Some statistical arguments can be made that the award still goes through Kershaw, the Majors' strikeout leader. According to FanGraphs, he leads all starting pitchers in such categories as FIP (fielding independent pitching), xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) and SIERA (skill-interactive ERA). In other words, an analysis beyond "traditional" pitching stats still shows the Dodgers' lefty as a strong candidate for a three-peat in this category.
If you like wins, then Arrieta is one away from 20 . . . and he has a no-hitter to boot. If you like consistent leaders, then consider what Keuchel has meant to an Astros club that spent most of this season surprisingly on top in the AL West.
The Giants might not have a shot at repeating, but Bumgarner certainly has carried over his dominance in 2015, with an 18-7 record and 212 strikeouts heading into his scheduled start on Friday. And who can forget Sale's record-tying stretch of eight starts with at least 10 strikeouts?
Voting will remain open through Nov. 13 by visiting mlb.com/awards. Winners will be announced live on MLB Network and MLB.com on Nov. 20.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.