Clayton Kershaw Might Not Need the Triple Crown


The NL Cy Young race between Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee is so ridiculously tight that it’s hard to think there’s a wrong answer. You could have the three of them in any random order, and hometown biases aside, have absolutely no valid reason to argue it. Best season of a Hall of Fame career on the best team? Halladay. Three times as many shutouts as the next-best NL pitcher? Lee. Pitching triple crown (that’s wins, strikeouts, and ERA, and let’s set aside for now our general distaste with two of those stats)? Kershaw – for the moment.

As things currently stand, Kershaw leads the NL in wins (20, tied with Ian Kennedy, two ahead of Halladay and four ahead of Lee), strikeouts (242, ten ahead of Lee and 25 ahead of Halladay) and ERA (2.27, 0.11 ahead of Lee and 0.14 ahead of Halladay. Johnny Cueto is currently just behind Kershaw but is unlikely to reach the innings minimum due to injury.) If Kershaw hangs on to win all three, you can book it that he’s going to win the Cy Young, if only because of the quantity of dinosaur voters out there who will put far too much importance on wins and ERA. (That’s not to suggest Kershaw wouldn’t deserve it, of course; just that plenty of voters won’t look any deeper, which is why I’m even bothering to acknowledge wins and ERA in this conversation.)

If he doesn’t sweep the triple crown, then things seem like they might be a bit tricker… except as ESPN’s Buster Olney points out this morning, perhaps it’s not even necessary:

Over the last 40 years, there have been eight National League pitchers to finish the season in the top two in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Seven of them went on to win the Cy Young with the exception of Curt Schilling in 2001. The Cy Young went to his teammate Randy Johnson who topped the NL in strikeouts and ERA while finishing third in wins (one behind Schilling and Matt Morris).

Nearly every single possible time in the last four decades that a pitcher finished in the top two of each category, they’ve won the award, and it’s hard to argue that Johnson in 2001 was a bad alternative to Schilling. Kershaw is all but guaranteed to do so in wins and strikeouts, and only an unexpected disaster in his final start of the season this weekend would inflate his ERA enough that it seems likely he’d drop out of the top two, particularly with Cueto ineligible. So “Clayton Kershaw, NL Cy Young Award winner” seems like a very likely bet at this point – all the more impressive considering the stellar competition he’s faced against.

Oh, but silly us, only looking at 2011. Olney includes an even more impressive fact:

On Tuesday, Kershaw became just the fifth NL lefty over the last 100 years to record 20 wins and 240 strikeouts in the same season. The others to do it are Randy Johnson, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Carlton and Sandy Koufax.

Johnson did it three times, though he was 33 when he first did it. Carlton and Koufax also did it three times, none of which came at an age younger than 27. Valenzuela did it just once, at age 25.

Kershaw’s 23. He doesn’t turn 24 for another six months, and he’s doing things at his age no one has ever done before. Bask in it.

******

Thanks, to all those who posted here, other sites, and on Twitter, for all for the well wishes yesterday. Great day all around. Now off to Yankee Stadium for some afternoon baseball.

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