Talk about two extremes. Voting for the National League Cy Young Award was an easy, uncontested, "check the box next to Clayton Kershaw and move on to more difficult decisions, such as what to have for dinner" arrangement. Voting for the American League Cy Young Award, on the other hand, was a painstaking prescription for split-the-baby style scrutiny involving consultation of the heart, the mind, the gut and -- gulp -- the math.
In the end, what we were left with Wednesday night was a unanimous NL win for Kershaw that nobody worthwhile could argue against, and an AL upset in which the upstart Corey Kluber defeated King Felix Hernandez. And at the risk of never again receiving a cordial welcome in the lovely city of Seattle, I think the voters absolutely got this one right, too.
While the merits of pitchers winning the MVP -- as Kershaw just might -- is an interesting discussion all its own, the Kluber vs. Hernandez statistical struggle was the best debate this awards season had to offer. And the voters were clearly conflicted. Kluber garnered just 10 more points (169 to 159) and four more first-place votes (17 to 13) than Hernandez.
It ultimately came down to which variables you valued in the vote, because the numbers -- like the voting -- were crazy close.
Video: Kluber named the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner
Courtesy of Baseball Reference, those numbers were as follows:
Hernandez: 34 starts, 15-6, 2.14 ERA, 236 innings, 0.915 WHIP, 5.39 K/BB, 2.56 FIP, 170 ERA+, 6.8 WAR.
Kluber: 34 starts, 18-9, 2.44 ERA, 235 2/3 innings, 1.095 WHIP, 5.27 K/BB, 2.35 FIP, 152 ERA+, 7.4 WAR.
Really, it was difficult to make a passionate case in either direction, because there is no denying that the flip side to whatever argument you present was going to have enough statistical backing to be equally compelling. For that reason, I have absolutely no problem with anybody who cast a vote in favor of Hernandez's second Cy Young. The guy made a record 16 straight starts allowing two runs or fewer over seven innings or more, for crying out loud. He had a triumphant season yet again.
But to me, the slightest of edges belonged to Kluber because of a few factors:
1. Kluber posted slightly superior second-half stats.
Both of these clubs were in contention until the season's final week, so the performance of their respective aces down the stretch was vital. Neither guy buckled (though they did have one rough September start apiece), but Kluber was a bit better:
Kluber: 14 starts, 9-3, 1.73 ERA, 104 innings, 0.962 WHIP, 6.68 K/BB
Hernandez: 14 starts, 4-4, 2.16 ERA, 91 2/3 innings, 0.938 WHIP, 4.48 K/BB
Now, how much should such a split or storyline matter in a vote like this? That's up to the individual. But to me, with the season stats as close as they are, I think an examination of how each guy fared in the midst of the rising pressure of the postseason chase is applicable.
Video: Castrovince on Kershaw winning third Cy Young Award
2. Kluber pitched in front of a substantially flimsier defense.
The Indians were a horrendous defensive team. It was the No. 1 reason that club fell short of the postseason. Much of the year, the Tribe had Lonnie Chisenhall at third and Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis up the middle, and there's no telling how many runs this range-proof arrangement cost Tribe pitchers. What we do know is that the Indians had the worst defensive runs saved total (minus-74) in the Majors, per Baseball Info Solutions. The Mariners were sixth in the AL at minus-10, with a substantially better up-the-middle pairing of Brad Miller and Robinson Cano.
Now, perhaps, you understand why Kluber led the league in Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures only the things a pitcher can conceivably control.
3. Kluber pitched in a slightly less forgiving ballpark.
Safeco Field is well-established as a pitcher's park, and this season it took that reputation to the extreme, ranking as the most suppressive scoring environment in baseball, per ESPN's Park Factors. Progressive Field, with a reputation for playing pretty fair (aside from those abysmally cold April days), ranked 19th.
Admittedly, this isn't a major factor, as both guys were better at home than on the road. But there's no denying that Safeco is something of a safety net for M's pitchers, on the whole.
4. Kluber meant more to his team.
Well, now I've definitely drifted into subjective terrain, but I do have the WAR calculation -- for whatever that's worth -- on my side here, and I also have this:
Kluber's rotation mates: 32-46 record, 4.27 ERA, 1.350 WHIP
Hernandez's rotation mates: 47-49 record, 3.92 ERA, 1.269 WHIP
Again, small point, but a point all the same. Hernandez had a stronger supporting cast than did Kluber, so you could argue that Kluber was more valuable to the Indians' bottom line.
5. The ERA tally probably should have been closer than it was.
Hopefully, very few of us instinctively turn to wins as an accurate gauge of a pitcher's season, but many of us still instinctively turn to ERA. Here, Hernandez (2.14) was clearly superior to Kluber (2.44), and I'm sure that played no small part in some of the pro-Hernandez votes.
There were, however, two curious scoring-decision changes made in the final month of the season that bear mentioning here.
For Kluber, the ruling on a ball off the bat of Miguel Cabrera was changed from a hit to an error and back to a hit, after MLB reviewed it. To me, it's a clear error on Mike Aviles, but the scoring change resulted in three additional earned runs added to Kluber's final tally.
Video: DET@CLE: Cabrera's single sparks big inning
For Hernandez, there was a play in the midst of his late-September meltdown in Toronto. It was originally ruled a single but was changed several days later to an error. When the change was made, that knocked four earned runs off Hernandez's tally.
Video: SEA@TOR: Thole reaches on error to fuel big frame
Take away those changes, and Kluber would have had a 2.33 ERA to Hernandez's 2.29 mark. I actually have no problem with the change made on the Hernandez play (it really could have gone either way), but the sheer silliness of pitcher errors not affecting their ERAs just speaks to the complications of relying too much on ERA totals in the first place, doesn't it?
6. Kluber was arguably more dominant.
I know this is hard to swallow, given the aforementioned incredible Hernandez streak. But Kluber had nine outings in which he went seven innings, allowed two earned runs or fewer and struck out 10 or more, while Hernandez had "just" five.
Kluber also had three complete games to Hernandez's zero.
7. Variety is the spice of life.
Easily the weakest point to be made here, but hey, when the stats are this close, what's wrong with spreading the love around to a first-timer?
I'm sure around baseball there were people waiting for Kluber to come back down to earth. But his 2014, ultimately, was a continuation of the strides he had shown in '13, not some out-of-nowhere ascendance. And he emphatically solidified himself as a top-of-the-rotation beast with that sterling second half, when he very easily could have worn down from his first foray into 200-plus-inning territory.
In the end, neither of these guys was going to be an outright incorrect choice. But to me, Kluber was the better choice.
He just wasn't anywhere near as easy a choice as Kershaw.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.