This year’s Cy Young Award winners grew up roughly 15 miles apart from each other in Texas. One was a slam dunk, the other not so much … even to him.
When Corey Kluber heard BBWA secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell announced that he was the AL Cy Young winner, Kluber looked down for a second, smiled and then turned to his wife and gave a thumbs up.
While Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw was a unanimous choice for the NL Cy Young, Kluber’s victory is likely to be the closest of the postseason awards as he edged Seattle’s Felix Hernandez by 10 points. In becoming the Tribe’s fourth Cy Young winner, he received 17 of the 30 first-place votes and tallied 169 points. Hernandez got the other 13 firsts and had 159 points. Kluber also received 11 seconds and two thirds. Click here for full voting results and ballots.
"I honestly wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting Felix. I just assumed who he is and how good of a year he had would get him more votes," Kluber said. "I’m very appreciative of it. I would have been in no position to have any wind of argument if he won that. That is why it is that much cooler because he had such an unbelievable year."
With an 18-9 record, 269 strikeouts and a 2.44 earned run average, Kluber joined Bob Feller (1946) and Luis Tiant (1968) as the only pitchers in team history to post 18 wins, a sub-2.50 ERA and least 260 strikeouts. In winning the Cy Young he joins another elite group of Indians pitchers with Gaylord Perry (1972), C.C. Sabathia (2007) and Cliff Lee (2008).
The Indians are the first team since the Blue Jays (1996-2003) to have three different Cy Young Award winners within an eight-year span.
The right-hander finished tied for first in the American League in wins and starts (34), second in strikeouts and third in ERA and innings pitched (235 2/3).
At the All-Star Break, Hernandez appeared to be the favorite to win his second Cy Young but Kluber put together a dominant second half and September.
In his 14 starts after the All-Star Break, Kluber led the Majors in ERA (1.73), strikeouts (127), tied for third in wins (nine) and was fourth in opponents batting average (.210).
Said Kluber about the second half: "I think it was continually building off good things I had done and learning from things that didn’t go as smoothly. In the second half I was able to get into grooves where everything was clicking and not fighting stuff. When things did get astray for a couple stretches I was able to adjust my delivery."
After a 2-0 complete-game win over the Mariners and Hernandez on July 30, Kluber started to be mentioned more frequently as a Cy Young contender after allowing only three hits, no walks and striking out eight.
There were two things that made it even more impressive — Kluber threw only 85 pitches with only 16 balls and it came on the same day that Justin Masterson was traded to the Cardinals. Before the game, Terry Francona, pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash told Kluber that he was the leader of the staff.
"For me the most difficult part was Masty was a guy I always went to. Now being that guy that people would come to I wasn’t used to having that role," Kluber said. "Learning how to handle it and help out other guys but also learning to ask for help was a balancing act."
Over the last two months Kluber was the leader of a rotation that went 32-22, led the Majors in strikeouts (514) and tied for third in ERA (2.94).
It was in September where the race really turned. With both teams fighting for a Wild Card spot, both pitchers made six starts. Kluber was 5-1, including a complete game, while Hernandez was 2-1. After Kluber put together back-to-back 14 strikeout games at Houston (Sept. 16) and Minnesota (Sept. 21) en route to being the AL Player of the Week, Hernandez allowed eight runs, four earned, in 4 2/3 innings in a 10-2 loss at Toronto on Sept. 23. After that outing, more national writers started considering Kluber as a favorite.
With the Indians still in the Wild Card race until the last weekend of the season, Kluber was focused more on team goals than individual.
"I think maybe it was a blessing in disguise that we were focused on the playoff race. It kept my mind off of it," Kluber said. "It would be mentioned in postgame interviews but I wasn’t paying attention to it. I wasn’t trying to pitch against anyone else. I was trying to win as many games as possible and get my team into the playoffs."
In two short years, Kluber has gone from a pitcher with potential to one of the top pitchers in the American League. During a conference call with season-ticket holders earlier Wednesday, Callaway called Kluber the best pitcher he has managed because of the way he goes about his business and his consistency.
Callaway added: "For him to do what he did this year, we always knew he had the make up and that type of stuff. I’ve seen a guy go from a fringe prospect to a dominant Major Leaguer."