By Jon Weisman
To the surprise of no one I imagine, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta have been officially announced as the three finalists for the National League Cy Young Award, in what is one of the closest three-way award races in MLB history.
Greinke’s Players Choice Award victory on Monday could be a good sign for him, though it’s an entirely different voting group (the MLB Players Association) and one with a slightly earlier deadline than the Baseball Writers Association of America, whose ballots weren’t due until the end of the regular season.
You probably can’t err with any of these three winning, but I would qualify that statement with this: If you’re going by what actually happened on the field, Greinke has the edge. If you’re going by what should have happened, independent of defense and luck on balls in play, Kershaw is your leader.
The case for Arrieta is mostly that he had the most dominant second half, and I’m not sure why that would be your determining factor — as if the games in the first half of the season didn’t count. In the end, you can certainly find a way to justify Arrieta winning the award, but no more easily than you can with the other two.
If Clayton Kershaw is named an NL CYA finalist tonight, he'll be 1st pitcher ever to finish in top 3 of Cy Young voting for 5 straight years
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) November 10, 2015
Kershaw probably has the least chance of the three, because from a narrative standpoint, he was the easiest one not to vote for. With his relatively show start in the first seven weeks of the season and an ERA that wasn’t even the best on his team, there’s a perception that this was an off year by Kershaw standards (tell that to the guy with a 1.99 fielding-independent ERA), and only true advanced-stat campers would be likely to have voted for him.
Arrieta was pitching the best when the votes were being cast, and that might be enough to make the difference over Greinke, whose 45 2/3-inning scoreless streak had the indecency of happening at the height of summer.
As was the case when R.A. Dickey won the 2012 NL Cy Young Award, a Dodger might be edged out for good reasons, but not necessarily the best reasons. We’ll see November 18, when the winner is announced.