MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

AL Cy Young Award voters faced tough task

Red Sox's Porcello edges Tigers' Verlander by razor-thin margin

AL Cy Young Award voters faced tough task

Let's begin with the easy one. Yes, Max Scherzer. Almost no one could quibble with the Nationals ace winning the National League Cy Young Award.

Scherzer led the NL in wins (20), innings (228 1/3), strikeouts (284), WHIP (0.97) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.07). He induced 15.3 percent swinging strikes, highest in the game, according to FanGraphs.

Complete 2016 Awards coverage

Scherzer received 25 of 30 first-place votes, and while there were modest cases to be made for the next-closest finishers, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs, voters got it right.

Scherzer on making Nats' history

Now about the American League Cy Young Award winner. This one is more complicated. 

In this voting, Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello edged the Tigers' Justin Verlander by a razor-thin 137-132 margin.

Once upon a time, Verlander, Porcello and Scherzer were teammates in Detroit.

"Shows what we had," Verlander said.

This one the voters got wrong. Close call? Absolutely.

In fact, Porcello and Verlander were eerily close statistically. But Verlander had a clear edge in almost everything, including some decisive stats.

Here's where they were close: Verlander had a better WHIP (1.00 to 1.01), more quality starts (27 to 26), more innings (227 2/3 to 223) and a lower ERA (3.04 to 3.15). Verlander had a big lead in strikeouts (254 to 189).

Now about those victories.

Porcello led the Majors with 22. Verlander had 16. While many voters have come to see wins partly as a function of time and place, some voters may have seen it as the deciding factor.

Emotional Porcello wins Cy Young

Maybe those that focused on wins overlooked the difference in run support. Porcello led the Majors with 6.6 runs per game. Verlander was 30th at 3.97.

The Tigers scored three runs or less in 16 of Verlander's 34 starts. Verlander was 13-1 with four no-decisions when Detroit scored at least four runs. The Red Sox scored three runs or less in only five of Porcello's 33 starts.

Verlander also led the AL with 6.6 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Porcello was at 5.0.

However, the FanGraphs WAR calculation had Verlander, Porcello and White Sox ace Chris Sale all tied at 5.2.

Down the stretch, Porcello and Verlander were phenomenal.

Verlander allowed two runs or less in his final 18 starts, averaging almost seven innings per turn and compiling a 1.98 ERA. He was 9-3.

Verlander second in Cy Young

Porcello was 14-2 with a 2.58 ERA in his last 18 starts and averaged just over seven innings per start.

The Red Sox went 15-3 in Porcello's final 18 starts, and in their sprint to the AL East championship, he was tremendous. The Tigers won 11 of Verlander's final 18 starts, while he went 9-3.

Again, an advantage in ERA, not victories.

Plenty of Cy Young Award voters clearly struggled with the decision. Verlander got 14 of 30 first-place votes, Porcello eight.

However, two voters, both from Tampa, didn't have Verlander among the five players named on their ballot.

Wait, it gets even murkier.

Porcello was first or second on 26 of 30 ballots. Verlander was first or second on just 16.

Regardless, it was a redemptive season for both. Porcello was coming off a disastrous year in which he went 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA.

Porcello on 2016 improvement

Likewise, Verlander. After a couple of seasons in which he struggled both with performance and injuries, he was as good as ever, regaining a blazing fastball and knee-buckling slider.

Let's finish with one more nod to Scherzer's greatness. He pitched at least seven innings in 20 of 34 starts and went eight or more six times. Scherzer had double-digit strikeouts 13 times, including 20 on May 11.

Scherzer is just the sixth pitcher to win a Cy Young Award in each league, having won for the Tigers in 2013.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet at the moment, having won the NL Cy Young Award three times in six seasons. But Scherzer is on a nice Hall of Fame track, as well. In the past four years, he leads the Majors in wins, innings and strikeouts, while crafting a 2.95 ERA.

Scherzer is a joy to watch, a bundle of nerves and energy, his emotions right there in the top for all to see.

Scherzer vows to improve in 2017

Like Verlander, Scherzer has that certain something that only a true No. 1 has. He wants to be the guy on the mound to stop the losing streak or when the lights are brightest, the stakes highest.

Verlander may not have won his second Cy Young Award, but in a season that began with serious questions, he answered pretty much all of them positively.

Esurance MLB Awards week concludes Friday on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET with the MLB Awards. Categories include Best Major Leaguer, Hitter, Pitcher, Rookie, Executive and Manager.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.