Let's get this out of the way up front: It's not that pitcher wins are completely useless. A pitcher with a lot of wins probably did a good job. A pitcher with a low win total most likely did a worse job. With that said, nearly any picture that can be drawn using wins can be drawn much more vividly with different information.
Ask Clayton Kershaw.
2012 Cy Young Award finalists
|American League||National League|
|David Price, TB||R.A. Dickey, NYM|
|Justin Verlander, DET||Gio Gonzalez, WAS|
|Jered Weaver, LAA||Clayton Kershaw, LAD|
He learned this year, if he didn't already know, that sometimes a win total is flat-out deceiving. Kershaw fell from 21 wins to 14, but to argue that Kershaw's 2012 season was only two-thirds as good as his 2011 simply is to ignore virtually all of the available information.
Look over the game logs. Look over the numbers. Then do a little experiment -- put your finger over the won-lost record and see what you see. There's not a better candidate for the National League Cy Young Award, as voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
The Dodgers lefty was very nearly as good in '12 as he was in '11, and he was once again the best pitcher in the National League. If his Los Angeles teammates didn't give him as much run support (and they didn't), that's scarcely his fault.
"He was really the same guy as last year when he won the Cy Young," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "He's as good as anybody in the game."
Kershaw again led the National League in ERA, this time at 2.53 -- up from his eye-popping 2.28 last year but 0.20 better than any other starter in the circuit in 2012. He led the league in WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) at 1.023 and was second in strikeouts, finishing exactly one K behind R.A. Dickey. Yes, one. He was second to Dickey in innings pitched and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings.
He's developed from a dazzling thrower of raw stuff to one of the best all-around pitchers in baseball. Kershaw has harnessed his command of a devastating four-pitch arsenal while not losing a bit of the explosive power that always made him so hard to handle.
"His fastball command is like night and day from when he showed up," said Rockies manager Jim Tracy. "He's developed into one of the best in the industry -- a big-game pitcher. If there's a game you have to win, you feel very good about your chances."
If not for his relatively pedestrian win total, Kershaw might well be a shoo-in for a second straight Cy Young. The things that he could control, he controlled better than anyone. Instead, because the Dodgers didn't help him out nearly enough, he looks like a bit of a long shot.
That's just not fair. Eight times in 2012, Kershaw pitched at least seven innings, allowed no more than two runs and received either a loss or no decision. Eight different times, he pitched beyond any reasonable standard of well enough to win, and didn't.
If you're docking him for his 14 wins, it's time to reconsider. No other NL pitcher had as many games where he put up those numbers and didn't win. Next in line behind Kershaw's eight were Matt Cain, Cliff Lee and Josh Johnson, each of whom were so unfortunate on six occasions. Dickey had three such games. Gonzalez had one.
When the other finalists pitched well enough to win, they won. When Kershaw did it, many times he didn't get that shiny "W" next to his name.
According to STATS, Kershaw received an average 4.15 runs of support, ranking 34th among 46 qualifying NL starters. Gio Gonzalez got the second most at 6.68, while Dickey ranked 18th with 4.89.
Give Kershaw that extra three-quarters of a run per game that Dickey had, never mind the boggling support Gonzalez received, and he'd have a lot more wins. Give him a lot more wins, and it would be even clearer what is already true: Kershaw should win another Cy Young Award in 2012.
Matthew Leach is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.