MLB has some killer pitchers and those pitchers are household names. They dominate the National and American League Cy Young ballots each year and are almost expected to be in the mix for regular season awards once October madness exits center stage.
Major awards in baseball are usually predictable because the leading candidates are usually in the prime of great careers, especially when it comes to pitchers. If you tell a baseball fan to list five pitchers that have a shot to win the Cy Young award in each league, it’s a good chance that every pitcher listed by each person would be somewhere on the final ballot. Position players tend to have inconsistent seasons or down years, but pitchers aren’t allowed to slip, so the great ones rarely do. They’re easy to identify.
Well, they used to be.
That was before Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel were dropped into MLB World in a spaceship, undetected but obviously protected by the baseball gods.
Arrieta and Keuchel were relatively obscure hurlers who reported to spring training in February with a combined career record of 55-59 and zero appearances on Cy Young Award ballots. By season’s end they were at the top of the hill as the two deadliest arms in the sport. It was a come up befitting of a crack dealer turned rap star and Grammy winner in the 90s hip-hop landscape. These cats started the season with a mission and continued to anchor playoff-winning teams through a treacherous 162 game stretch, and then were equally potent in the playoffs.
"The Beard " Arrieta led the Cubs to 97 wins and their first post season since 2008. Keuchel bogarded the Astros back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Arrieta went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 236 strikeouts in 229 innings for a Cubs team that finally advanced to the National League Championship Series, but fell short of quenching that elusive century-long World Series drought. The 29-year-old righty led the NL in wins (22), games started (33), shutouts (3), complete games (4) and home runs allowed per nine innings (0.4).
His second half of the season is considered in many circles to be the most dominant in the history of the game. He was nearly unhittable down the stretch as he went 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA over 107.3 innings his final 15 starts.
In the process, Arrieta obliterated the clampdown that Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw’s had on the award, winning three of the last four in the NL. This season -- despite a remarkable 301 strikeouts -- Kershaw finished third behind Arrieta and Dodgers teammate Zack Greinke (1.66 ERA). Greinke, if not for Arrieta’s out-of-body pitching-experience, would have nabbed his second Cy Young this season. He’s always in the building since winning the AL Cy Young in 2009 with the Kansas City Royals.
AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel won an American League-best 20 games. He led in WAR and WHIP and innings pitched. Keuchel got 22 first-place votes for 186 points from the Baseball Writers' Association of America in results announced Wednesday.
Toronto's “Black Ace” David Price finished second despite leading the AL in ERA and giving the Blue Jays a wicked boost down the stretch, drawing eight first-place votes and 143 points.
Arrieta and Keuchel basically came out of nowhere. They both experienced fairy tale seasons and overcame monster seasons by some legendary fan favorites to become permanent members of baseball’s golden group.
ESPN explains just how far these guys have risen on the totem pole in just one season. Nobody saw it coming. everybody was sleeping.
In 2012, Keuchel had a 5.27 ERA as a rookie with the Astros with more walks than strikeouts. The next season he had a 5.15 ERA. He looked like just another dime-a-dozen command left-hander, the type of guy every team has, one who lacks the raw stuff to make that leap into a top-of-the-rotation starter.
In 2012, Arrieta had a 6.20 ERA for the Baltimore Orioles in his third season in the majors. He had been a higher rated prospect than Keuchel but hadn't been able to put things together. The next season, Arrieta spent time in Triple-A (where he posted a 4.41 ERA) and then made five starts with the Orioles, who finally gave up on him and traded him to the Cubs (with Pedro Strop) for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger, It's a trade that might go down as one of the all-time heists.
Arrieta admits that being in the same conversation as legends like Bob Gibson, who had a similar stretch in his mythical 1968 season, has him in awe.
"It makes you step back and really appreciate that you're in the history books with Hall of Famers," he said in a conference call with reporters. "It's special. The more time goes by, it's going to only make me appreciate it more."
It was Greinke who was named the National League's Most Outstanding Pitcher in the Players Choice Awards voting, but the BBWA saw it different. They wanted to go with the fresh name. The guy who isn't guaranteed to be in this position again.
The Cubs are “popping” right now. Arrieta’s hardware was the third this week for the Chicago Cubs, and Keuchel’s was the second for the Houston Astros. The Astros’ Carlos Correa was the AL Rookie of the Year. The Cubs’ Kris Bryant was NL Rookie of the Year, and wacky Joe Maddon was named NL Skipper Supreme for his job with Chicago's young, funky bunch.
With all of these first-time awards winners we can call this season, “the year of out of nowhere,” but now that these hurlers have showed their butts, they can’t slip a bit.
Moving forward, as integral pieces of up-and-coming squadrons, will they stay in the rotation of perennial aces or slip back into oblivion?