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November 13, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Max Scherzer wins Cy Young Award, Hisashi Iwakuma places third

Hisashi Iwakuma finished his season with a 23-inning scoreless streak and lowered his ERA to 2.67. Photo Credit: AP

Hisashi Iwakuma finished his season with a 23-inning scoreless streak and lowered his ERA to 2.67. Photo Credit: AP

This hardly rates as a surprise, but Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers wound up riding his season-long momentum all the way to a runaway win of the AL Cy Young Award, announced earlier today. Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers was second and Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners finished third.

Many will suggest that Scherzer’s win total is the reason he won, but that would be a disservice to him. To be sure, starting the year 13-0 and finishing 21-3 helped build that momentum I talked about, but he was also near the tops in most other categories. I made the case for Iwakuma’s candidacy back in September, before the vote was taken, and did so again on MLB Network’s coverage of the award this afternoon.

In the end, I felt there was very little separating Scherzer from Iwakuma and there are a plethora of statistics that back that up.

But ultimately, I still voted Scherzer first and Iwakuma second on my ballot. I put Chris Sale of the White Sox third, Darvish fourth and Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers fifth.

Here is the complete vote breakdown nationwide.

Primarily, I gave Scherzer the slight edge based on his strikeout ability, which surpasses Iwakuma’s. That extra bit of dominance on Scherzer’s part wound up coming in handy in the post-season, when he escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam against the Oakland Athletics by striking out the side in what proved a series turning point.

Of course, the votes were already in by then. But I felt comfortable with my vote after seeing that display, knowing it was one of the main things that pushed Scherzer ahead of Iwakuma in my mind.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those who believes that strikeouts are the be-all, end-all. Darvish led the league in strikeouts, but, as I noted this afternoon on MLB Network, Iwakuma had a better strikeouts-to-walks ratio than both finalists.

He certainly wasn’t as walk-prone as Darvish and that’s a big reason Iwakuma placed only miniscule percentage points behind Scherzer in terms of OBP against.

Iwakuma was also the only finalist to finsh in the top three of three fairly important categories — ERA, innings pitched and opponents’ batting average against.

So, yeah, in my mind, Iwakuma deserved second place and he certainly should have been included in the top-three, which he was.

But I think for total package dominance, start to finish, Scherzer made his case. Iwakuma had a bit of a mid-summer dead period where he was homer-prone and I think that killed off his chances of winning. He really didn’t jump into the Cy Young discussion until the final six weeks, when he went on that eight-start tear in which he was 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA to finish off. Had he started that tear a few weeks earlier to get his name out there, things might have gone differently — at least in terms of maybe placing second.

But by the time he’d popped on to voters’ radar, Scherzer and Darvish had already settled in as frontrunners in the minds of too many voters.

The good news? Voters now know who Iwakuma is. So, next year, he should be on the radar pretty early.

Iwakuma is in Japan, but made some comments earlier today, before the award announcement, through interpreter Antony Suzuki.

“It is such an honor to be one of the finalist for the best award as a pitcher,” he said. “I had never thought I would become a finalist here in the U.S. so this is very special to me and is a big surprise.”

Iwakuma was asked about his progression through the big leagues. Remember, he had to start off in the bullpen last year after a terrible spring training in which he recovered from a shoulder problem.

“I am very proud and happy with what I have established here in 2 years,” he said. “I have learned a lot and it has been quite an experience.  I started my career here in the big league as a reliever and worked my way up.  There is more to learn down the road and more to prove as well, so I look forward to the future.”

Iwakuma began conditioning himself much earlier on last winter and is doing so again this time. He plans to start throwing soon and hopes to build off this campaign.

“I have not set my goals for 2014 in stone yet, but I can say this for now,” he said. “Last season was my first full season as a starter.  To be successful, you need to maintain your performance for a long period of time.  That said, I will need to come up with similar or better results that last season and that is what I look forward to doing.”

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