There's a saying: There's no such thing as a pitching prospect. That's in reference to the unpredictability of pitchers, both in performance and health. Maybe we need a corollary: You never know where a Cy Young winner will come from.
Of the six finalists for the two Cy Young Awards, four were first-round picks, but the winners were Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros and Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, two pitchers who just a few years ago looked like fringe major leaguers at best. Their rise to Cy Young winners is a testament to perseverance, hard work, knowledge, ability and, as Arrieta said after winning, learning to make adjustments and "figuring this game out."
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.
The best part about watching the announcements on TV was the reaction of both: genuinely happy to win -- Arrieta had a little fist pump and a champagne celebration from a friend -- and quick to praise their teammates as well.
As ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote earlier in the day, the National League Cy Young race was one of the great all-time awards debates between Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. It certainly seemed as if Arrieta had the momentum down the stretch; he went 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA in 15 starts in the second half as the Cubs surged into the playoffs. He went 13-1 on the road. He had a 1.45 ERA in nine starts against division rivals St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Over his final 20 starts, Arrieta had a 0.86 ERA and .150 batting average allowed, never allowing more than three runs (and even then only twice).
Of course, the whole season counts, and that was Greinke's argument. His ERA was never above 2.00 all season, and he allowed zero runs or one run in 21 of his 32 starts, allowed more than three runs just twice and pitched at least six innings in every start.
Kershaw? Thank you for your 301 strikeouts.
Greinke? Amazing that a guy with a 1.66 ERA didn't win the Cy Young.
In the end, I thought it would be a little more of a coin flip in the results, but Arrieta collected 17 of the 30 first-place votes with Greinke getting 10 and Kershaw three. Arrieta's edge in total points was 22, so even if the three Kershaw votes had gone to Greinke, those nine extra points wouldn't have boosted Greinke past Arrieta.
For what it's worth, Arrieta's two third-place votes came from Denver and Philadelphia, so there wasn't any attempt by the Los Angeles chapter to sabotage Arrieta's chances. In fact, one of the two L.A. voters, Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register, had Arrieta first. Both Chicago voters (including Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com) did vote Arrieta first but had Greinke second. If you want to get into silly down-the-ballot results, I'm not sure how anybody could leave Kershaw out of the top three, but he received one fourth-place vote and one fifth-place vote.
In the American League, the momentum also seemed to swing Keuchel's way down the stretch and he ended up winning pretty easily, with 22 of the 30 first-place votes and a 186-to-143 edge in points. He was first or second on every ballot. I believe he was the right choice. He led David Price in Baseball-Reference WAR, 7.2 to 6.0. And while Price led in FanGraphs WAR, 6.4 to 6.1, that version of WAR focuses more on peripherals such as strikeout rate and walk rate. Keuchel, however, has some hidden benefits such as inducing soft contact that results in a lower-than-expected hit rate. He's also regarded as the best fielding pitcher in the game and allowed just five stolen bases. He's not only a great pitcher but does all the little things to make himself even better.