In a season that saw a potential dynasty face a team that broke a 29-year playoff drought in the World Series, it’s only fitting that Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber were named the National League and American League Cy Young Award winners. While the two starters were the best pitchers in 2014, they are considerably different.
Even at just 26 years old, Kershaw has established himself as one of the best players the sport has seen in years, eclipsing his already high expectations. The Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander was the seventh overall pick in 2006, and fast-tracked to the Majors just two years later. This year marks the third time in four seasons that he’s won the award, and he finished second in the 2012 voting.
While Kershaw’s success was expected, Kluber’s award-winning season came as a surprise. After being taken by the San Diego Padres in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, he was eventually traded to the Cleveland Indians. It took Kluber five years to make his first start in the Majors, and even though 2013 was an improvement on a subpar 2012 campaign, few could have predicted that the right-hander would become the AL’s top pitcher.
The difference in the perception of the two pitchers at the beginning of the 2014 season is reflected in their salaries. In January, Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million contract, which paid him $22 million for the 2014 season. Kluber made $514,000 in 2014, which is just above the league-minimum. Because he has one more year before arbitration, he’ll get a similar salary in 2015, if he doesn’t get a contract extension.
Despite Kershaw’s large salary, it would be difficult to say that he wasn’t worth every penny this past season, the playoffs notwithstanding. He finished the season with a record of 21-3, meaning the Dodgers paid him just less than $1.05 million per win. Zack Greinke, who finished second on the Dodgers in wins, was paid approximately $1.65 million for each victory.
Six pitchers were paid as much or more than Kershaw in 2014, averaging $3.36 million per victory. Felix Hernandez was the most worthy of his salary, making $1.57 million for each win.
Kluber’s season shows that finding a diamond in the rough is much more cost effective than paying an established superstar, though doing so can prove to be an extremely difficult task. Because Kluber has had limited experience in the Majors, the Indians were able to pay him just $28,556 for each of his 18 wins.
It won’t be long before Cleveland will have to pay Kluber what he is worth, whether it be through arbitration in 2016, or a contract extension. Kershaw was once an even more cost-effective option than Kluber, making just $23,810 for each of his 21 wins in 2011.
The difference in how much more the Dodgers pay their ace per win is not an issue for the club, considering their franchise is worth nearly four times what the Indians are worth, according to Forbes. Los Angeles led MLB with an opening-day payroll of over $241 million, while Cleveland ranked 24th at a shade under $83 million.
The price L.A. paid for each Kershaw victory was 0.43 percent of their payroll’s worth. Each Kluber win cost Cleveland 0.04 percent of their team’s combined salary.
While Kluber's future production is unclear given his just 70 career starts, Kershaw might be the surest bet in baseball after 209 starts. Kluber has posted earned-run averages of 5.14, 3.85 and 2.44 in his career as a starter. Kershaw has started at least 27 games and posted an ERA of less than 3.00 in six consecutive years, including a combined 1.80 ERA in 2013 and 2014.