Exactly 100 miles south of Progressive Field and 200 miles northeast of Great American Ball Park is Newcomerstown, Ohio, where Denton True “Cy” Young breathed his last breath 65 years ago this month. Not long after Young’s death, Major League Baseball introduced a prestigious pitching prize bearing the name of the Ohio farm boy who had set an unbreakable record with 511 career victories.
The Cy Young Award returned to its roots Wednesday night. The Indians’ Shane Bieber and the Reds’ Trevor Bauer are California kids, but they made the Buckeye State a Cy state with Bieber’s unanimous victory in the American League and Bauer’s convincing claim of the National League honor in an announcement on MLB Network.
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While Bieber is the fifth Indians pitcher to win the award, Bauer became the first Reds representative, which means this is the first Cy sweep for Cy’s home state -- a victory for tiny Tuscarawas County, where Young was born and died, and for the two postseason clubs who call Ohio home.
“That’s the way it should be,” Bieber said. “Obviously we’ll have some challengers, but hopefully we can keep the Cy Young in Ohio for years to come.”
Bieber garnered all 30 first-place votes, becoming the first unanimous winner of the Cy Young since Clayton Kershaw (2014) and just the 24th overall. The Twins’ Kenta Maeda and the Blue Jays’ Hyun Jin Ryu finished second and third, respectively.
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Bauer, who received 27 first-place votes, can now add the Cy Young win to his résumé in his free-agent foray after beating out the Cubs’ Yu Darvish (three first-place votes) and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.
“With all the amazing talent and great teams in Reds history, to not have a Cy Young winner in the past, it’s high time that changed,” Bauer said. “I’m just very proud to bring that to the people of Cincinnati, who have supported the Reds for so long.”
The victory for Bieber and Bauer marks just the second time both Cy winners came from the same state, joining California in 1974 (the A’s Catfish Hunter and the Dodgers’ Mike Marshall). But Bieber and Bauer have more than just that trivia linking them. They are both products of the University of California system (Bieber went to UC Santa Barbara, Bauer to UCLA). And prior to the mid-2019 trade that sent Bauer south on Interstate 71, they were Cleveland teammates. It was Bauer’s progressive persuasion that helped Bieber evolve from a soft-tossing strike-thrower to an absolute ace.
In 2020, both right-handers reached their Cy ceiling. Ohio was not a swing state; it was a swing-and-miss state.
That begins with the 25-year-old Bieber, whose 41.1% strikeout rate was the highest ever by a qualified starting pitcher. His 1.63 ERA was the lowest by a qualified AL starter since MLB lowered the mound in 1969, and his .167 opponents’ average tied Pedro Martinez in 2000 for the lowest since ’69.
• Here are the Cy Young Award vote totals
OK, so the rate stats are unavoidably skewed by the shortened season. But Bieber’s status as the fastest pitcher to reach 100 strikeouts in a season (it took him all of 62 1/3 innings) is an achievement that holds up historically, regardless of the strange circumstances.
The key to it all was a five-pitch repertoire in which a commanding curveball (hitters went just 8-for-84 in at-bats ending on the pitch) was especially effective.
“A lot of that just came from confidence in my stuff, confidence in my ability,” Bieber said. “I feel like, for the most part, when I’m on, I was able to locate my stuff and locate my breaking stuff to where I wanted it to go. That was a big part of my success this year was to throw that curveball that I relied on pretty heavily.”
The young man who good-naturedly handled all of your Justin Bieber jokes (and even a Topps card that confused him with the famous pop singer) made a name for himself. In winning eight games with the 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts, Bieber became the first MLB Triple Crown winner (as in, all of MLB, not just the AL) since Johan Santana in 2006. He also led all qualified starters in FanGraphs WAR (3.2), Fielding Independent Pitching (2.07) and strikeouts per nine (14.2).
Thus completed Bieber’s ascension to true ace status after his humble beginnings as a preferred walk-on at UC Santa Barbara and his selection by the Indians in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft. He leapt into the national consciousness when he struck out the side at the 2019 All-Star Game at Progressive Field and is now a true household name.
“At that point in the All-Star Game, people were calling it a coming-out moment,” Bieber said. “It was special to be able to share that moment with the people of Cleveland and, being at my home stadium, that was a sense of familiarity that got me a little more comfortable than I would have expected in that big moment. … I feel like that was a definite step in my growing process.”
Bieber was a no-brainer in the AL Cy Young Award voting. The brainy Bauer made it almost as easy on NL voters by finishing his season with a flourish.
The 29-year-old Bauer led the NL in ERA (1.73), ERA+ (276), WHIP (0.79), opponents’ average (.159) and shutouts (two). He ranked second to Jacob deGrom in strikeouts (100) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.3).
Fending off deGrom, winner of the 2018 and ’19 Cy Young Awards in the Senior Circuit, was no small feat. But whereas deGrom had an uncharacteristic 3.33 ERA in the final month because of a stray start in Philadelphia (three runs allowed in only two innings pitched) on Sept. 16, Bauer kept his foot on the gas (1.29 ERA in five September starts). When he completed eight dominant innings against the Brewers in his final outing on Sept. 23, he tweeted “Gimme dat” in reference to the Cy.
And they did.
“[The Cy Young was] always front of mind, to be honest,” Bauer said. “A lot of people won’t talk about it like that, but I view it as, really, the highest award a pitcher can win. … Just being recognized as the best at something is extremely intriguing to me, because it’s a symbol of all the hard work, all the time in the gym doing repetitive tasks, all the bad years I’ve had that have tested me mentally and just a testament to my work ethic and the people that have stuck with me throughout the whole process.”
Outspoken as he is, polarizing though he may be, Bauer’s talent is undeniable. And much the same can be said of his influence. He helped usher in the widespread use of high-speed cameras that modern pitchers use to study their mechanics and shape new pitches. His impact was particularly palpable in 2020 -- not just in the way he pointed the Reds to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, but with Bieber baffling batters and with Mike Clevinger, another former Tribe teammate who had unleashed his potential with Bauer’s help, becoming the central figure of the midseason trade market.
Prior to the 2020 season, Bauer texted Bieber to inform him that the two had the exact same Vegas odds of winning the Cy Young.
“Why don’t we go 2-for-2?” Bieber replied.
The two friends did exactly that, combining to make a “state”ment. The Cy Young has come home to Ohio.
AL VOTE TOTALS
Shane Bieber (CLE): 30 (1st-place votes) - 210 points
Kenta Maeda (MIN): 18 (2nd), 4 (3rd), 2 (4th), 4 (5th) - 92 points
Hyun Jin Ryu (TOR): 4 (2nd), 7 (3rd), 5 (4th), 4 (5th) - 51 points
Gerrit Cole (NYY): 2 (2nd), 6 (3rd), 10 (4th), 4 (5th) - 50 points
Dallas Keuchel (CWS): 5 (2nd), 4 (3rd), 5 (4th), 4 (5th) - 46 points
Lance Lynn (TEX): 1 (2nd), 3 (3rd), 4 (4th), 1 (5th) - 22 points
Lucas Giolito (CWS): 3 (3rd), 2 (4th), 5 (5th) - 18 points
Chris Bassitt (OAK): 2 (3rd), 1 (4th), 2 (5th) - 10 points
Dylan Bundy (LAA): 1 (3rd), 2 (5th) - 5 points
Liam Hendriks (OAK): 1 (4th), 3 (5th) - 5 points
Framber Valdez (HOU): 1 (5th) - 1 point
NL VOTE TOTALS
Trevor Bauer (CIN): 27 (1st-place votes), 3 (2nd) - 201 points
Yu Darvish (CHC): 3 (1st), 24 (2nd), 2 (3rd) - 123 points
Jacob deGrom (NYM): 3 (2nd), 23 (3rd), 4 (4th) - 89 points
Dinelson Lamet (SD): 5 (3rd), 20 (4th), 2 (5th) - 57 points
Max Fried (ATL): 4 (4th), 7 (5th) - 15 points
Corbin Burnes (MIL): 1 (4th), 10 (5th) - 12 points
Aaron Nola (PHI): 1 (4th), 1 (5th) - 3 points
Devin Williams (MIL): 3 (5th) - 3 points
Kyle Hendricks (CHC): 2 (5th) - 2 points
Zac Gallen (ARI): 2 (5th) - 2 points
Clayton Kershaw (LAD): 2 (5th) - 2 points
Zack Wheeler (PHI): 1 (5th) - 1 point
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.