Was Jake Arrieta the Right Choice for NL Cy Young?
At the end of the day, an insane end-of-season run by Chicago's Jake Arrieta was the difference.
The Baseball Writers Association of America gave the Cubs' right-hander 17 out of a possible 30 first place votes, enough to push him past the Dodgers' Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw to be named the winner of the 2015 NL Cy Young Award.
It was a tight three-man race during the final two months of the season, and none of the three pitchers disappointed.
Greinke got 10 first place votes and Kershaw received the final three, with all three pitchers finishing with more than 100 points. But it was Arrieta who got the nod, mostly because of pitches like this.
— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) November 19, 2015
Arrieta led the Majors in wins, going 22-6, and went 11-0 in his last 12 starts, posting a 0.75 ERA after the All Star break, the lowest in Major League history (with a minimum of 12 starts).
It was that kill-crazy rampage, second-half blitz that vaulted Arrieta over Greinke, who consistently posted an ERA under two all year and finished with the league's lowest ERA (1.66) since 2005. And what about Kershaw, who had won three of the last four Cy Young Awards and struck out 301 batters, the most in the Majors since 2002?
Greinke had the best ERA and Baseball Wins Above Replacement (9.3). Arrieta had the most victories, and was second in nERD, ERA, K/9, and fWAR between the three. And Kershaw posted the league's best Fielding Independent Pitching (1.99), strikeouts per nine, and fWAR (8.6).
If any one of the three had been named the winner, you could not have complained too much.
And what a week it was for the Cubs, winning the NL Rookie of the Year (Kris Bryant), Manager of the Year (Joe Maddon) and now Cy Young (Arrieta). The last time that happened was in 1983 when the Chicago White Sox' Ron Kittle was named Rookie of the Year, Tony LaRussa was named Manager of the Year and LaMarr Hoyt won the AL Cy Young.
You have to wonder how Baltimore is feeling right about now. In four years with the O's (2010-2013), Arrieta went 20-25 in 63 starts with a 5.46 ERA, giving up 9.3 hits per nine innings while striking out 7.0 batters per nine. But since arriving to the Cubs via trade in 2013, he has gone 36-13 with a 2.26 ERA in 67 starts, giving up just 6.1 hits per nine innings and striking out 9.1.
With Chicago, Arrieta has begun throwing a cutter that has made all the difference. Whereas with the Orioles he threw his four-seam fastball 60% of the time and his slider around 15-17%, his fastball usage is now around 50%, with a cutter that is thrown about 29% of the time. He's also added a little extra mustard to his four-seamer when he does throw it, averaging 94.4 mph in 2015, as compared to 93.3 mph in his final season with Baltimore.
The result is a ground ball percentage of 56.2% this season, third-highest among qualified NL starters. In 2012, it was 43.8% with the Orioles. And the implementation of his cutter has also drastically cut down on his home run rate, which was 15.0% in 22 starts in 2011. The last two years it has been 4.5% and 7.8%.
And thus, you have a changed man.
It will be interesting to see how Arrieta bounces back next year. He threw 229 innings in the regular season this year, far and away the most of his career. He then added another 19 2/3 in the playoffs, pushing him way past his previous high of 156 2/3 innings. Will that affect his 2016?
Whatever happens, Arrieta was the NL's best pitcher in 2015, as judged by baseball's writers.
And what a week for the Cubbies.