Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw were named the 2013 AL and NL Cy Young award winners, taking home baseball's most coveted prize among pitchers.
Tigers P Max Scherzer wins AL Cy Yound Award & Dodgers P Clayton Kershaw wins NL Cy Young Award. #MLB— Jenny Dell (@JennyDellNESN) November 13, 2013
Scherzer and Kershaw were dominant throughout the year, and both seemed like locks for the Cy Young. They were obviously the best pitchers in baseball this season, but the most surprising thing about both guys is they have teammates who are just as good as—if not better than—they are.
The Detroit Tigers boast two Cy Young winners in Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Verlander even won an MVP award in 2011, becoming the first pitcher to do so since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a duo that is just as good as Detroit's in Kershaw and 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.
Scherzer, Verlander, Kershaw and Greinke are among the best pitchers in baseball, combining to win five Cy Young awards (including four in the last three seasons) and one MVP. They have simply been incredible, and these are arguably the best pitching duos in the game today.
However, between these two decorated duos, which one is better?
Let's take a look.
The Scherzer-Verlander Duo
The Detroit Tigers have one of the best starting rotations in MLB.
Having two of the last three AL Cy Young winners helps, and this duo was four points shy of sweeping the last three awards.
Scherzer was the man who got this year's award after winning an MLB-leading 21 games. He had the best season of his six-year career in just about every aspect, setting new personal bests in wins, winning percentage, ERA, WHIP, innings pitched, strikeouts, walks and WAR.
Surprisingly, Scherzer's recent success has nothing to do with his pitches getting better. In fact, his pitches decreased in velocity across the board this season, according to FanGraphs.
So what was the secret behind Scherzer's success if it wasn't the improvement of his pitches? It was the addition of his curveball.
According to FanGraphs, Scherzer had never thrown a curveball before this season. However, in 2013 he threw it 220 times, or 6.5 percent of the time. While that doesn't seem like a lot, it was enough to help him get through left-handed batters.
In the past, lefties were killing Scherzer. Over the course of his career, lefties have hit .262 against him, compared to just .220 for righties.
|Max Scherzer vs. Lefties (Career)|
The reason why Scherzer struggled against lefties so much was because he really had only two pitches he could throw against them: his fastball and his changeup.
It's very difficult to beat left-handed hitters with a slider as a right-handed pitcher, since the break favors the hitter. However, adding the curveball was enough to fool lefties and help Scherzer consistently retire them.
|Max Scherzer vs. Lefties (2013)|
As you can see, Scherzer was much better against lefties this year, and he credits his success in 2013 to his effective use of the pitch, as he told Jason Beck of MLB.com:
The reason I'm pitching better is because I have a curveball. I have three pitches to throw at a left-handed hitter. That's the single reason why I'm pitching better.
It's just been huge for me. Because most of the time, they stack left-handers against me. My slider has just never matched up well against lefties. I started with it last year, and it's gotten better every single time.
The addition of this devastating curve made Scherzer the most dominant pitcher in the AL, but his counterpart is no stranger to success, either.
Verlander was quite possibly the best pitcher on the planet in 2011 when he won his MVP award. However, he's been slowing down (literally) since then and didn't look like his usual self in 2013.
The reason Verlander didn't completely outmatch hitters this season is because of his decline in velocity.
From 2009 through 2012, the speed of his incredible fastball was increasing (per FanGraphs), but this season it took a serious dip. This year also marked the first time that he went an entire season without throwing a fastball that hit 100 mph since 2008.
|Justin Verlander Fastball Veolcity|
The most incredible thing about Verlander's fastball is that it got even faster throughout the game in his prime. He would frequently hit 100 mph in the last few innings of games, as you can see by this 101-mph fastball to strikeout Torii Hunter in the eighth inning in 2011.
Verlander's game is centered around his overpowering fastball.
He threw 1,628 fastballs this season (44.2 percent of the time), but opponents hit a ridiculous .278 against it. That's the highest opponents have hit against his fastball since 2008, when he went 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA.
Without being able to blow pitches by his opponents, Verlander looked almost as bad as he did in 2008.
The Kershaw-Greinke Duo
Acquiring Greinke before the 2013 season turned out to be a huge boost for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have paired him with arguably the best pitcher in the game today.
Kershaw is coming off his second Cy Young award in the past three years, with the only time he lost in the race during that stretch being when he finished second to R.A. Dickey in 2012.
At just 25, Kershaw has already become a superstar, despite primarily using just three pitches.
According to FanGraphs, Kershaw throws his fastball more than any other pitch (60.7 percent of the time), but he also utilizes his changeup (24.2 percent of the time) and curveball (12.5 percent of the time) frequently. In fact, those three pitches made up 97.4 percent of his pitches this season.
While Kershaw's fastball is his primary pitch, it is actually a set-up pitch for his breaking balls. Just 74 of his 232 strikeouts came on fastballs, compared to 77 on changeups and 80 on curveballs.
|Clayton Kershaw Stats By Pitch (2013)|
Kershaw often throws multiple fastballs early to get ahead in the count before breaking out his nasty changeup and absolutely devastating curveball.
His curveball is arguably the best breaking ball in all of baseball.
The fact that 34.5 percent of Kershaw's strikeouts came on a pitch that he threw just 12.5 percent of the time should tell you how good this pitch is. It's the closest thing to unhittable I've ever seen, and breaking it out after back-to-back heaters is just unfair.
Kershaw doesn't have to do it all by himself, however, as he is part of possibly the best trio of starting pitchers in the game today, alongside Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. However, Greinke is the one who gives the Dodgers such a decorated 1-2 punch in the rotation.
Greinke's game is very different than that of Kershaw.
While both guys lean heavily on their fastballs, Greinke's top three pitches are all different types of heaters.
According to FanGraphs, Greinke threw one of his three fastballs 1,978 times, or 70.5 percent of the time. He very rarely relied on his off-speed stuff, instead using different breaks on his four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter to fool hitters.
The biggest problem with Greinke has little to do with his pitching, and everything to do with his personality.
Greinke is a fiery guy who doesn't back down. It's led to him being ejected from games and involved in brawls, including a fracas that resulted in him breaking his collarbone in April.
According to Eric Stephen of True Blue LA, home plate umpire Sam Holbrook said Greinke was ejected to "make sure we get the instigators."
Being dubbed the instigator in a fight is never good, but this wasn't the first time we've seen Greinke get on the wrong side of a player or umpire.
In 2009, Greinke was ejected from a game while he was in the dugout for heckling the home plate umpire. In the video, you can clearly hear what Greinke's taunts were.
Then, just last year, Greinke was ejected after throwing just four pitches in a game.
This year's scrum that led to his broken collarbone was just one of many incidents in which Greinke was considered the "bad guy," and it's led to some problems for him in the past.
Now that we have a good idea about both duos, let's see how they stack up against each other.
The first part of the equation when judging these duos is whether they bring wins home for their clubs.
|Side-By-Side Comparison (Wins)|
Scherzer had the most wins of any MLB pitcher this year, racking up 21. However, Verlander weighs him down in the sense that the 2011 Cy Young and MVP winner lost 12 games this season, compared to just 13 by Kershaw and Greinke combined.
However, Verlander is typically a better pitcher, and he has won 91 of his 134 decisions (67.9 percent) over the past five seasons despite a mediocre 2013 campaign.
The edge in this category goes to Scherzer and Verlander.
Let's next take a look at the accuracy of both sides by comparing strikeout and walk numbers on both sides.
While Verlander and Scherzer dominate in strikeouts, they allow many more walks than the Dodgers' duo.
|Side-By-Side Comparison (Accuracy)|
This category is tough to judge because of the different pitching styles of all four guys, and neither side gets the edge here.
The last thing we'll look at is how the two combos compare in terms of the three most telling statistics among MLB pitchers: ERA, WHIP and WAR.
Pitchers are often judged based on their ERAs because it shows how many runs they are surrendering. However, ERA alone does not take into account how well opponents are batting against the pitcher in terms of getting on base, which is where WHIP comes into play.
Finally, WAR encompasses all aspects of pitching, and is a very telling sign as to how a starter has performed.
|Side-By-Side Comparison (ERA, WHIP, WAR)|
As you can see, Kershaw and Greinke are better in terms of all three categories, and they have a clear edge here.
While statistics measure the game well, there is a certain longevity that separates these two duos.
While Verlander and Greinke are both 30, the age difference between Scherzer (29) and Kershaw (25) is a noticeable one.
Whereas Detroit's duo may last only for another couple of years, Kershaw looks like he is going to dominate hitters for another five to 10 years.
Throw in the fact that Verlander's age has led to his decrease in velocity and resulting decline in production, and the Dodgers' pair looks much better for the future.
These two pitching duos are among the best in the game, and are certainly the most decorated. However, one is clearly better than the other.
Kershaw and Greinke look like they will be around for years to come, and neither has shown any sign of slowing down.
On the other hand, Verlander looks like he may be headed for a steep decline unless he can find a way to get his velocity back up. Overpowering pitchers like Verlander often flame out earlier in their careers than other guys, and Verlander's best days might be behind him.
While Scherzer's new-found success comes via his curveball and looks like it will be maintainable for several years, his partner in crime may not be an ace for much longer. Scherzer also can't compete with Kershaw in terms of the future, as Kershaw is four years younger and has already accomplished more than him.
These are arguably the best 1-2 punches among pitchers in the game today, but only one is built to last.
Better Pitching Duo: Clayton Kershaw-Zack Greinke