Clayton Kershaw doesn't have the story R.A. Dickey does, and that's probably why he finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting for 2012.
Whenever reporters or fans were asked if Dickey was the favorite for the award, the first response from most was, "He's such a great story."
It's true—he is a great story.
Six years ago, Dickey was told to try throwing a knuckleball to save his career. Knuckleballers are viewed as curiosities, as gimmicks—pitchers who use a gimmick pitch that baffles hitters and catchers but generally results in mediocre numbers. But Dickey mastered his knuckleball and dominated with it.
That kind of struggle isn't in Kershaw's biography.
He was a phenom from the start, drafted seventh overall in the 2006 amateur draft ahead of pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer. Two years later, he made the jump from Double-A Jacksonville to the major leagues. Three years later, he was named the best pitcher in the National League.
Perhaps Kershaw was a victim of that success this season. By winning the Cy Young Award last year, he was going to be compared to that performance. And if he fell short of that, the perception would be, "Well, he wasn't as good as he was last year."
In 2011, the left-hander had a 21-5 record and 2.23 ERA. He struck out 248 batters in 233.1 innings. Leading the NL in wins, ERA and strikeouts, he won the pitching Triple Crown. In addition, Kershaw also finished first with an 0.98 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and allowed only 6.7 hits per nine innings.
This season, Kershaw struggled with his slider early in the season. Not only was he striking out slightly fewer batters, but he became more hittable, especially in terms of allowing home runs. He served up 10 homers between May and June after allowing only 15 overall in 2011.
But it's not like Kershaw was getting killed out there. His ERA in the first half of the season was 2.91. He struck out 119 batters in 120.2 innings. However, a 6-5 record demonstrated that Kershaw wasn't getting much run support from his lineup.
Kershaw clamped down in the second half. His slider had bite to it again. As a result, his strikeout totals increased while he gave up fewer home runs and hits. In his final 15 starts of the season, Kershaw compiled a 2.10 ERA with a strikeout rate of 9.3 per nine innings.
His win-loss record improved to 8-4 after the All-Star break, despite the Dodgers lineup still not scoring many runs for him. Kershaw actually received some of the worst run support in MLB, according to ESPN.com.
With 3.94 runs per game, he ranked 66th out of the 88 pitchers who threw enough innings to qualify for consideration. Kershaw just held the opposition to fewer runs as the season progressed.
But when it comes to the competition for the 2012 NL Cy Young Award, how does Kershaw stack up against Dickey?
Kershaw led the NL with a 2.53 ERA, ahead of Dickey's 2.73 mark. His 1.02 WHIP was also tops in the league. Opponents batted .210 against him, which was the second-best average in the league behind the Washington Nationals' Gio Gonzalez.
Dickey had more strikeouts than Kershaw, but only by one. The difference in their strikeout totals was Adam Greenberg, whom the Miami Marlins allowed to return to the major leagues for the one at-bat he never received after getting hit in the head by a pitch in his only plate appearance back in 2005.
Greenberg faced Dickey in that one at-bat and struck out on three straight pitches. That gave the knuckleballer 230 strikeouts to Kershaw's 229 this season. However, Dickey did pitch six more innings (233.2) than Kershaw (227.2), and that's what really accounted for the difference in the NL strikeout lead.
Kershaw also was the better pitcher as rated by wins above replacement. He led Dickey in both the FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference versions of WAR. FanGraphs ranked Dickey sixth among NL pitchers, while B-R rated him third.
The one area in which Dickey has a clear lead over Kershaw is his win total. Wins have been devalued in recent seasons as closer attention is given to advanced metrics to determine a pitcher's overall value to fans, reporters and analysts.
But Dickey won 20 games for a New York Mets club that had 74 victories and finished fourth in the NL East. He accounted for 27 percent of his team's wins.
Compare that to Kershaw, who won 14 games for a Los Angeles Dodgers team that finished two games out of the NL Wild Card race. He got 14 of the Dodgers' 86 victories, accounting for 16 percent of the club's total.
Kershaw's last two wins of the season may have been his most important, however. He missed one start and had another pushed back while recovering from an impingement in his right hip. But with the Dodgers fighting for a playoff spot, Kershaw was outstanding in his final two starts of the season.
Facing the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants, the left-hander allowed just one run and eight hits over 16 innings. Kershaw also struck out 18 batters while walking five. In any other season, that performance probably would have been enough to earn Kershaw the Cy Young Award.
This year, however, it wasn't enough in comparison to his 2011 achievements. Nor was it enough to overcome Dickey's story of personal triumph that rightfully captivated everyone.
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