Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Debating the NL Cy Young Award

Major League Baseball's seasonal awards debates are fun because there are so many differing opinions and typically at least a few candidates to win each award. This holds true for the 2011 NL Cy Young Award. Many will suggest that Los Angeles Dodgers' starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw is the clear cut winner in the NL since he locked down the pitcher's version of the triple crown (tops in wins, ERA and strikeouts).  I think there are a few pitchers who have an argument for the award and the voters shouldn't just hand it to Kershaw. In my estimation there are three other players who have also had seasons worthy of consideration despite Kershaw's obvious credentials; Ian Kennedy, starting pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and a pair of Philadelphia Phillies starters, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. I'll detail each candidate's resume for the season and provide my opinion as to who I feel the winner should be.

Ian Kennedy
Age W L ERA GS CG SHO IP SO ERA+ WHIP HR/9 SO/9 SO/BB
26 21 4 2.88 33 1 1 222.0 198 137 1.086 0.8 8.0 3.60
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/27/2011.

Kennedy is the dark horse of this group and was not on the short list of potential winners at the beginning of the season. But, Kennedy has blossomed into the pitcher the New York Yankees hoped he would be two years ago. Last season he showed glimpses of promise but was not given much support from his teammates. This year Kennedy has grown into a sometimes dominant starter amassing 21 wins against only 4 losses.

Roy Halladay
Age W L ERA GS CG SHO IP SO ERA+ WHIP HR/9 SO/9 SO/BB
34 19 6 2.35 32 8 1 233.2 220 164 1.040 0.4 8.5 6.29
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/27/2011.

When Roy Halladay shifted from the American League to the National League there was a collective sigh of relief from the junior circuit clubs and moans from teams in the NL. He continues to put up spectacular numbers and he makes it look simple. His 8 complete games are best in the NL.

Cliff Lee
Age W L ERA GS CG SHO IP SO ERA+ WHIP HR/9 SO/9 SO/BB
32 17 8 2.40 32 6 6 232.2 238 161 1.027 0.7 9.2 5.67
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/27/2011.

Halladay's teammate, Cliff Lee returned to the Phillies this season after signing a lucrative contract in the offseason. He has not disappointed with a MLB best 6 shutouts.

Clayton Kershaw
Age W L ERA GS CG SHO IP SO ERA+ WHIP HR/9 SO/9 SO/BB
23 21 5 2.28 33 5 2 233.1 248 163 0.977 0.6 9.6 4.59
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/27/2011.

Clayton Kershaw has always had the makings of an ace. In previous seasons he fought control problems and the inability to go deep into ballgames. This season he has snuffed both issues. His control has become impeccable and because of that he threw 5 complete games. He was a dominant force for the Dodgers a won the pitcher’s triple crown, with 21 wins (tied with Kennedy), 248 SO and posted a 2.28 ERA.

So, we see four undeniably fantastic seasons but who deserves the Cy Young award?  Kennedy and Lee rank fourth and third respectively in my opinion. The information in the tables tell us Halladay was tops in the NL in ERA+, SO/BB ratio and complete games. Kershaw won the pitcher's triple crown in the NL.  Plus, his SO/9 is highest among the four players. Halladay has a better HR/9 ratio and a better SO/BB ratio than Kershaw.  Beyond the information provided in the tables, Halladay's pitching WAR, per Baseball-Reference, was 7.4 and Kershaw's 6.9. According to FanGraphs, Halladay's FIP (2.20) was better than Kershaw's (2.48).

I would not be upset if either player won the award.  But, if I had a vote it would be for Roy Halladay. I'm fascinated and impressed by players like Kershaw who are at the top of their game while their supporting cast is far from that.  The same can be said about Halladay.  These are not the 2008 Phillies (.770 team OPS in 2008 versus .717 this season) so don't assume Halladay was helped by his counterparts much more than Kershaw was (Dodgers 2011 OPS=.695). I recently wrote that without Halladay and the rest of the Phillie's starting staff they would not be anywhere near the playoffs.  The rest of the Dodgers rotation was mediocre at best. The historic achievement by Kershaw is impressive, but I give the ball to Roy Halladay all things being equal.  Voters will end up disagreeing and that's fine because it's the debate I enjoy.

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