Among leaders in several categories, righty eclipses Verlander as Tigers ace
DETROIT -- Call it a win for the Win if you want, but Max Scherzer had a case for the American League Cy Young Award well beyond his 21-3 record. In the end, voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America almost unanimously agreed.
Scherzer became the second Detroit pitcher in three years to win AL Cy Young Award honors, outpacing Texas' Yu Darvish and Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma in votes. It's the fourth major honor for Tigers players in three years; a second straight AL MVP Award for Miguel Cabrera could make it five when the results are announced on Thursday.
It's a fitting reward for Scherzer's historic season that was a few seasons in the making. Three years after Scherzer was optioned to Triple-A Toledo, and one year after he threw 119 pitches in a game without getting through the fifth inning, he was nearly unbeatable.
Ahhhhh!!! What a feeling!! Can't wait to get my hands on this trophy!!
"To actually be named, it is unbelievable," Scherzer told MLB Network. "It vindicates everything I've done. I can't say thank you enough to all my teammates for busting their butts every single day and fighting on defense and getting extra runs for me. I think that really helped my candidacy."
In the end, the voting wasn't close. Scherzer drew 28 out of 30 first-place votes. Another went to his Tigers teammate, AL ERA leader Anibal Sanchez. The other went to White Sox lefty Chris Sale, who grew up near Detroit's Spring Training home in Lakeland, Fla.
It's the first time since 2009 that two starters on the same pitching staff garnered first-place votes in the same year. Cardinals teammates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright finished second and third in National League Cy Young Award voting that year.
Scherzer was baseball's only 20-game winner this year, taking the momentum of a 13-0 start to post the best win-loss record by a Major League pitcher since Cliff Lee went 22-3 for the Indians in 2008. Scherzer, however, said all year he didn't want to be judged on wins and losses, calling it a fluky mark.
"I judge my season based on how I pitch," he kept saying.
On Wednesday, after looking back on his season, Scherzer admitted the win-loss record was special.
"Once I won 20 games, I really did appreciate that moment," Scherzer said on a conference call with reporters. "That's such a milestone that few pitchers ever get to. The ones that have gotten there are legends in the game. Now that the season's over, you have a chance to reflect on what you were able to actually do, because during the season, you're focused so much on winning that if you focus on yourself, it really takes away from what's really important."
Scherzer didn't have to lean on wins. With a .97 ratio of walks plus hits to innings pitched (WHIP), he was baseball's only starter to allow less than a baserunner per inning. Scherzer's 6.2 wins above replacement (WAR) led all AL pitchers, according to the Fangraphs formula, and trailed only Clayton Kershaw, who won his second NL Cy Young Award, among Major League hurlers.
While Scherzer's 240 strikeouts, 11.078 strikeouts per nine innings and 6.22 hits per nine innings trailed only Darvish, his 2.74 fielding independent pitching (FIP) -- a metric that takes defense out of the equation by weighing strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit by pitches -- ranked third behind Sanchez and Seattle's Felix Hernandez.
In other words, Scherzer's win total wasn't just about high run support. He had a lot of different ways to beat a team, and had a pretty good chance to find one on a given night. It was a continuation of his second half in 2012, when he went 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA.
Scherzer is 32-6 with a 2.77 ERA over his last 51 regular-season starts, striking out 383 batters over 331 2/3 innings.
"I think I ironed out a lot of my mechanics," he said, citing his work with pitching coach Jeff Jones. "I've smoothed everything out, I feel like I'm able to repeat it. And because of that, I'm able to pitch with all my pitches and pitch effectively and execute every pitch in every location. Because of that, I felt like I had more control. I cut my walks down even further -- something I always pride myself in. So I think because of that is why I was able to have a special 2013."
It was a sudden maturation for a pitcher who was long seen as a talented but mercurial hurler. Many figured Scherzer would eventually refine his stuff and add consistency to join baseball's best pitchers, but maybe not quite like this. He not only earned the starting assignment in the All-Star Game in July, he essentially supplanted former AL MVP Award winner Justin Verlander as the staff ace.
"He's always had great stuff," White Sox slugger Adam Dunn said in August, "but in the past, you would get one or two pitches to hit and you would capitalize. He doesn't walk guys like he used to, and his stuff is as good if not the best every game."
Jim Leyland watched that process go on for the last four years. The newly retired Tigers manager, who was at a fundraising dinner at the Yogi Berra Museum on Wednesday night, was ecstatic when he heard the results during a break.
"Good for him. I'm so thrilled," Leyland said. "I couldn't be happier for him."
Only Kansas City's James Shields (27) had more quality starts in the AL than Scherzer (25). In 14 of those outings, Scherzer lasted seven innings or more with two earned runs or fewer, tied for fourth in the league along with Iwakuma. Darvish had 10.
"I've been working so hard for all these years to keep getting better and better, and every single year I try to do something better than the [last]," Scherzer said.
Even Wednesday, with an award now his and rumors swirling about his future in Detroit and potential free agency looming next winter, Scherzer talked about how he could pitch better in 2014. That's how he works.
"It's a lot of small things, managing my pitch count so that I can pitch deep into the game, working on the curveball so that I be more consistent," Scherzer said.
Brad Ausmus, Scherzer's new manager, is certainly hoping he does that here.
"I'm hoping this time next year, we can say there were three Cy Young winners in the rotation," Ausmus told MLive.com.
At the same time, Scherzer also knows how to appreciate what he's got. He soaked in the All-Star festivities before his start in July, and he celebrated a third consecutive AL Central title this year like it was his first.
So as Scherzer awaited his conference call with reporters Wednesday, having learned of the results, he made a little side trip to make sure he could enjoy this with family and friends.
"I just got back from the grocery store, where I bought 10 bottles of champagne," he said. "So guess what's going to happen."