Toronto left-hander Robbie Ray bounced back from a dismal season to win the AL Cy Young Award and Milwaukee righty Corbin Burnes returned from a bout of COVID-19 to win the NL’s top pitching prize Wednesday.
In the Year of the Pitcher, Burnes led the majors with a 2.43 ERA and Ray topped the AL at 2.84. Both put up impressive strikeout totals, too, helping build their cases with those studying new-era stats and others looking at more traditional numbers.
Burnes edged Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler for the award, with both receiving 12 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Max Scherzer finished third.
Burnes became the first Brewers pitcher to earn the NL honor — Pete Vuckovich in 1982 and Rollie Fingers in 1981 won the award when Milwaukee was still in the American League.
Ray became the first Toronto pitcher to win since the late Roy Halladay in 2003.
Ray got 29 first-place votes. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole got the other top vote and finished second and Chicago White Sox righty Lance Lynn was third.
Burnes was 11-5 and fanned 234 in 167 innings while becoming an All-Star for the NL Central champion Brewers. His innings count was lower than his competitors, owing to him missing two weeks in early May after testing positive for the coronavirus.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Burnes struck out a record 58 before issuing his first walk. He tied the major league mark by fanning 10 in a row against the Cubs in August.
Burnes combined with closer Josh Hader on a no-hitter against Cleveland in September. Burnes struck out 14 over eight innings in that game — it was the record ninth no-hitter in the majors this season, topping the eight set in 1884 when pitchers began throwing overhand.
Burnes was 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA during the virus-shortened season and was hampered by an oblique strain. He came back to lead the majors with 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings this year.
Voting for the awards was completed before the playoffs began. Burnes threw six shutout innings against Atlanta in the NL Division Series and turned 27 later in October.
Ray topped the majors with 248 strikeouts and led the AL with 193 1/3 innings. He went 13-7 in 32 starts and helped keep Toronto in playoff contention until the final weekend.
Having turned 30 last month, the award sets him up well — a free agent, he turned down an $18.4 million qualifying offer from Toronto earlier Wednesday.
Ray’s power arm always drew attention. He ranks No. 1 in major league history with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings (minimum: 1,000 innings), and he was an All-Star with Arizona in 2017.
But controlling his heat and sharp breaking pitches often was a problem, and Ray bottomed out last year. He led the majors in walks while going a combined 2-5 with a 6.62 ERA for the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays during the pandemic-shortened season.
The dip caused his base salary to drop from $9.43 million to $8 million this year. He earned some of that back with a $125,000 for winning the Cy Young, and figures to cash in even more soon.
Drafted and signed by Washington in 2010, Ray made his big league debut in 2014 with Detroit — that staff also included future Cy Young winners Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and David Price.
Ray was traded with cash to Toronto on Aug. 31, 2020, for reliever Travis Bergen. Ray was 49-51 with a 4.26 ERA over seven seasons in the majors before this big year.
Ray became the fifth Blue Jays pitcher to win the Cy Young, along Halladay, Roger Clemens in 1997-98 and Pat Hentgen in 1996.
The MVPs will be announced Thursday, ending the BBWAA awards season.
Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani is considered the AL favorite, with Toronto slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Blue Jays infielder Marcus Semien as the other finalists.
Phillies star Bryce Harper, Washington outfielder Juan Soto and San Diego dynamo Fernando Tatis Jr. are the NL finalists.
No matter who wins, it will mark the first time since 1987 (the Cubs’ Andre Dawson and Toronto’s George Bell) that neither MVP reached the playoffs in the year they were elected.