What's that? You're not interested in our take on the rest of the National League Cy Young race? Why not? These are the teams the Astros play. We are baseball fans, right? Can't we talk about the major awards as we predict who will win them?
I don't know, maybe you find this interesting, maybe you don't. I sure had fun writing and researching it. One thing I did find out is that I focused quite a bit on the Astros this season, but it was as a detriment to the league as a whole. There were lots of pockets of information on here that jumped out at me. I had no idea how well some of these guys had done.
So, without further ado, here is my (somewhat) comprehensive list of the Cy Young candidates in the National League and who I'd vote for if I had a mythical ballot.
My (Fictional) Ballot
1) Roy Halladay, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies -He's the obvious choice for lots of reasons. First, there's the big offseason trade that brought him to Philly. Then, there was the perfect game that caught everyone's eye, followed by the no-hitter in the first game of the division series against Atlanta. Next, he won over 20 games for just the third time in his career.
All that is great, but we enlightened baseball fans know that wins or perfect games do not a Cy Young season make. Wins are pretty useless as a stat when evaluating how good a pitcher has been. Luckily, we have a boatload of other stats to see just how good Halladay was and they all say the same thing: he deserves this award.
Halladay threw 250 2/3 innings this season with a 2.42 ERA, a 3.01 FIP, a 2.92 xFIP, was second in the NL with 219 strikeouts and threw four shutouts and nine complete games. His batting average on balls in play was .298, which means all those remarkable numbers were legitimate and not a product of a few lucky bounces or great defensive play behind him.
The most amazing thing about Halladay's season is that he only walked 30 batters. That's right, he had a BB/9 rate of 1.08. I can't emphasize enough how ridiculous that is. To maintain an ERA that low while limiting the number of batters reaching via walk is staggering. Halladay's control must be other-worldly or his stuff is so good, he can throw it up there and watch guys flail at it.
Looking at FanGraphs, its a little of both. Halladay had one of the best cut fastballs in the National League and his cutter, his curve and his changeup were all ranked highly, but the most startling thing is that Halladay threw less than 50 percent of his pitches inside the strike zone for the first time in his career and still equaled his lowest BB/9 rate in his career. As great a season as the rest of the guys on this list had, Halladay deserves his second Cy Young award.
2) Josh Johnson, RHP, Florida Marlins - Johnson was good. He was really, really good. He probably won some fantasy leagues for people and had all those team that attempted to trade for him last winter salivating with what might have been. If he hadn't been shut down before the season was over, he might have given Halladay a run for the top spot. As it is, I think any of the top three on my ballot could easily win and no one would argue (much).
What are Johnson's claims to fame? For one, he had the lowest ERA in the NL this season. He backed up that 2.30 with a 2.41 FIP. For those that haven't calculated FIP before, the last step adds 3.20 to the total, so the number looks like standard ERA. So, Johnson was almost a full run lower than that standard calculation. That's pretty great.
He also struck out 186 in 183 2/3 innings while walking 48. His BB/9 rate of 2.35 was one of the lowest in the league (sans Halladay) and his .308 BABiP showed he was even slightly unlucky. Suffice it to say, Johnson has some unbelievable stuff. He did this despite working off basically two pitches, his fastball and his slider. Both were clearly above-average, ranking in the top 10 and top 15 of the NL this season in runs above average per 100 pitches thrown.
The biggest area where Johnson shined was in not giving up home runs. His HR/9 rate of 0.38 was the lowest in the National League. While Sun Life Stadium had a slightly above average park factor for runs scored, it was the seventh lowest in home runs allowed, thanks to a big wall in left field and a cavernous outfield. So, Johnson's ERA was probably low because he didn't give up home runs, but that was also in part because of his home ball park. Of the seven homers Johnson gave up, five came on the road and only two were at Sun Life Stadium out of his 15 home starts.
Obviously, that's picking at nits. Johnson probably won't get this kind of love on most Cy Young ballots, though, as he didn't even have the most wins on his own team. While they don't mean anything tangibly, if Johnson ends up winning, he'd have the least wins of any starter to ever win the award. Eric Gagne had less when he won, as did Mark Davis, Dennis Eckersley, Steve Bedrosian, Willie Hernandez, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter, but they were all relievers. In fact, Sparky Lyle won in 1977 as a reliever, and still had more wins than Johnson does. The only starter to come close to Johnson's win total were Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, and Fernando had 13 wins.
Johnson would probably deserve to win in most years, if not for the brilliance of Roy Halladay. But, it should be noted that it will be remarkable if he does actually win, given the history of these votes.
3) Tim Lincecum, RHP, San Francisco Giants - Talk about being a victim of your own success. When Timmy was struggling earlier this season, everyone had written off his chances of the three-peat. But, a funny thing happened. Outside of a bumpy May and August, Lincecum was just as dominant as his other two Cy Young seasons.
This may be a little high for him, but look at what he did. Lincecum led the league in strikeouts and K/9 for the third straight season (despite losing velocity on his fastball). He had the fourth-lowest xFIP in the National League at 3.12 and had the eight-biggest difference between his ERA and his FIP (3.43 to 3.15). His walk rate is a bit high, but he's still got the 11th highest strikeout to walk ratio in the league.
Two things hurt Lincecum this season, and it's unclear how much he could control either of them. First, his BABiP was .324, which is one of the highest totals of any pitcher on this list. That's part of the reason why his ERA is inflated a little and is definitely why his hit rate rose from last season. Add in a jump in home runs given up and Lincecum just had a bad-luck year.
I wish all our bad luck could be as good as Lincecum's 16-14 record with a 3.43 ERA and 231 strikeouts.
4) Adam Wainright, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals - Honestly, Wainright probably deserves to be third on this list. His resume was no different than Johnson or Halladay in any tangible way. Except that all of Wainright's numbers were just a little bit worse than those top two guys.
Wainright had a great ERA of 2.42, but it wasn't quite as good as Johnson's. He had 213 strikeouts, but they weren't quite as many as Halladay. He had five complete games and two shutouts, but that wasn't quite as good as Doc. He also had the lowest BABiP of the group at .281 and the highest walk total (though his BB/9 was lower than Johnson).
He also figures to finish second in the Cy Young voting, since Johnson doesn't have a prayer of getting enough votes to be there and Wainright won 20 games, which is a magic number for voters. Why didn't I list him second? Because this is my ballot, that's why, and I don't like the Cardinals. So, he gets put behind Lincecum.
5) Mat Latos, RHP, San Diego Padres - Finally, a dark horse contender to add to the mix. You may have heard of Latos this season, as he emerged from the minor leagues last year to become the Padres' ace post-Peavy. But, did you know just how good Latos was?
He had a K/9 rate of 9.21, a BB/9 rate of 2.44, a BABiP of .288 and an FIP of 3.00. Sure, he benefitted greatly from his home ballpark, which supressed his home run rate, but I should point out he pitched 111 2/3 of his 184 2/3 total innings on the road and gave up 10 of his 16 homers there.
Incredibly, in July, Latos had a LOB percentage of 100. That's right, he stranded every base runner who reached against him that month. The only way a runner scored on Latos was via home run, as he posted a 1.03 ERA and a 10.04 K/9 rate. He had the fifth-best slider by runs saved and the eighth-best fastball.
Latos was at the top of most of those lists with Wainright, Halladay and Johnson, but was consistently behind all of them. His place here is more about recognizing a great season than any endorsement that he might actually win this thing. As we discussed in Johnson's section, it's incredibly hard for pitchers to win this award with a low win total. While Latos did get 14 wins, it's probably not enough for voters to overlook the likes of Halladay or Wainright.
Those that just missed the cut
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Colorado Rockies - I am shocked myself. Remember back in June? It looked like Jimenez was going to run away with this award easily. Jimenez had a sub-1.00 ERA as late as June 10 and a sub-2.00 as late as July 2. The funny thing is that once Jimenez started giving up runs, the Rockies started winning as a team.
Jimenez had just as many shutouts as Wainright and almost as many complete games, but his biggest downfall was his control. His BB/9 rate was 3.7 and he led the league with 16 wild pitches. He only maintained his sterling ERA by limiting the number of hits he gave up, which was helped by a BABiP of .273. His FIP of 3.10 is probably more in line with his performance. While great, it wasn't quite as good as the rest of the guys on my list.
He did post the second-lowest ERA in Rockies history, behind Marvin Freeman's 2.80 in 1994 and has the franchise record for WAR (defined by Baseball Reference) in a season with 7.1. He had a great year, but it wasn't quite as great as it could have been.
Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers - Think about this: I gave Kershaw serious consideration for my top 5. As a 22-year old kid. He has been ridiculously good to start his career and has done it at an age when most pitchers are still in the minors or in college. Kershaw has just been dominating big league hitters with reckless abandon. For instance, he struck out 212 batters, which puts him fifth in the National League. His ERA was the ninth-lowest in the league and his FIP of 3.12 was the eighth-lowest.
The reason Kershaw was left off were similar to Jimenez' reasons. He just didn't have the control or dominant numbers like the rest of the guys on the list. That's mainly due to his walk rate being 3.6 and his BABiP of .288. Both of those will influence his ERA and general effectiveness. His hit rate was slightly higher than Jimenez and while his home run rate was low, he played half his games in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. If the ballot went down to 10, he'd definitely have a place here. I bet he also gets votes in the real ballot, but I doubt he comes close to winning. When he's 25, though? We might have a multi-year winner on our hands.
Yovani Gallardo, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers - The perception of Gallardo is probably hurt by his ERA and his win total. Neither really tell a good story of how effective he was, and that's a shame, because Yovani was one of the best pitchers in the National League. His ERA was largely influenced by a very high BABiP of .340, which is why his FIP is so low. In fact, it's the fifth-lowest in the National League behind Latos, Halladay, Wainright and Johnson.
Like the rest of the guys on this list, Gallardo was also done in by his control. When you're separating out the best and the brightest, there has to be some criteria to draw a line. For these guys, it was the walks they gave up. Gallardo was no stranger to the walk, giving up 75 in 185 innings. That's a rate of 3.65 per nine innings, which is better than Jimenez but not as good as Kershaw.
According to FanGraphs, Gallardo had the eighth-highest WAR total of any National League pitcher. Baseball Reference isn't as kind, dropping him to 44th. Either way, he had a great season and deserves to be mentioned as an almost-contender for this award.
Roy Oswalt, RHP, Houston Astros/Philadelphia Phillies - It stings a bit to put Roy on this list. Not because I begrudge him his success, I just miss having him on the team. Right now, a whole new audience gets to appreciate his dogged approach to a start, his relentless desire to throw the ball back to the catcher as soon as he can, and, also, his ungodly stuff.
Oswalt was the beneficiary of a very low BABiP, as OremLK pointed out on Wednesday, but has been in the midst of a resurgent year. He won 13 games and struck out 193, his highest total since 2004. He lowered his ERA under 3.00 for the first time since 2006 and posted the lowest hit rate of his career. With all that, he still didn't put up half the season that new teammate Halladay did. For that, he gets recognized here but didn't quite do enough to get on the ballot.
Tim Hudson, RHP, Atlanta Braves - As good as Hudson's season looked, he wasn't very good. As my dad always said, "Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good." Hudson was definitely lucky, posting a BABiP of .250. That's why his 2.88 ERA is a tad misleading. His walk rate wasn't terrible at 2.9. It could have been lower, but we won't quibble with that.
No, the big knock against Hudson (reflected in his 4.09 FIP) is his utter lack of strikeouts. His K/9 rate dropped to 5.5 this season, right in line with what it had been before he was injured last season. An ERA like his is unsustainable with a K rate that low. That lowered strikeout rate is also one of the reasons why he gave up 20 homers this season. 17 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA may look like it gets you on the Cy Young ballot, and I have no doubt it'll get him on plenty of them. However, his peripheral stats are simply not good enough to make the cut.
R.A. Dickey, RHP, New York Mets - The thing I like about knuckleballers is that they know who they are. They throw a particular pitch that's hard to hit. They throw that pitch frequently. They don't really worry about strikeouts and rely on their defense to pick them up when batters inevitably make contact with the flutterball.
Dickey has been doing this for a long time and the Mets finally gave him an extended shot at throwing his knuckler in the big leagues. Before this season, Dickey hadn't started more than 15 games in a season and has bounced between the majors and minors since 2004. He definitely came up big with the Mets (as the Astros can certainly attest), posting a 2.84 ERA and 11 wins in 26 starts.
However, that knuckleball makes him rely on his defense, which means his FIP and xFIP are always going to be higher than other pitchers. For instance, that 2.84 ERA jumps to 3.65 FIP and 3.88 xFIP. His WAR value on FanGraphs is 2.9, which is the same as Mike Pelfrey's. Since the Mets only paid Dickey $600,000 this season, it's safe to say they got their money's worth.
Chris Carpenter, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals - Look, it's Jerk Jerkman from Jerksville. He works at The Jerk Store and drives a Jerk Grand Cherokee. Of course he's not going to make my ballot.
Jonathan Sanchez, LHP, San Francisco Giants - Sanchez reminds me a little of former Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera. He's got all the talent in the world and gaudy strikeout numbers, but can't put it all together. For Sanchez, that means he can post great strikeout rates year after year, but until he gets his walk rate out of the 4's, he's never going to be an elite pitcher.
This season, he posted a 3.07 ERA while striking out 205 in 193 innings. He also walked 96 and gave up 21 home runs in a fairly pitcher-friendly park in San Francisco. The jump from his ERA to his FIP and xFIP are staggering and show that Sanchez is a good pitcher, but not a great one. Not yet, at least.
Jaime Garcia, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals - If I could feel anything besides a deep-seated loathing of the Cardinals, I might call Garcia a feel-good story. Since I don't, I won't roll out another cliche. What I will point out is that Garcia's ERA (2.70) and xFIP (3.74) are a full run different. That's because Garcia gave up so few home runs this year.
With most pitchers, you'd think that were fluky, but it appears Garcia is just an extreme ground ball guy. His GB rate was 55 percent this season and his BABiP of .302 shows he wasn't exactly lucky or unlucky with his defense. Instead, he looks like a guy who appears to be a candidate for this award based on his ERA, but when you dig into his peripheral stats a little, you can see he's probably got a better shot at the National League Rookie of the Year than the Cy Young.
WARriors left off
Chad Billingsley, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers - 4.6 FanGraphs WAR; 2.5 Baseball-Reference WAR: You all probably know this, but we'll be talking about it a lot in this section, so I wanted to go over the differences between FIP and xFIP real quick. Fielding Independant Pitching (FIP) is a stat that tries to isolate just the factors that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts and home runs) to eliminate any bias that a good defense can provide in their numbers. Expected FIP (xFIP) takes that a step further, by saying that "Maybe pitchers don't control homers as much as we think" and, instead, inserts the league-average home run rate instead of the number of homers a pitcher has actually given up. This leads sometimes to wildly divergent figures, like with Chad Billingsley.
The Dodgers righty pitched well this season, striking out over eight batters per nine innings while walking just over 3.20. His BABiP of .313 showed he was slightly unlucky, which is why his FIP (3.07) is lower than his ERA (3.57). However, that FIP is built on his home run rate of 0.38, which, as we discussed with Josh Johnson, is one of the lowest in the league. So, when we look at his xFIP of 3.81, there is quite a bit of difference in how we evaluate his season. The truth to how good Billingsley was is probably somewhere in between. He needs to clean up his walk rate, but if he doesn't give up home runs (and if he stays in Dodger Stadium, he won't), he can survive for a while on these stats alone. Is he good enough to get Cy Young votes? Well, he probably wasn't even the best pitcher on his own staff, though he did have his best season since 2008. In the end, the difference between his FIP and xFIP probably accounts for the difference in the two WAR totals.
Anibel Sanchez, RHP, Florida Marlins - 4.3 fWAR; 3.0 bbWAR: Sanchez had the same problem that teammate Johnson did. His home ballpark depressed his home run total, so his expected FIP is higher than his ERA and almost a run higher than his FIP. Sanchez has a decent walk rate, though it could be better, and his strikeout rate wasn't as good as some of the other pitchers we've already discussed. Still, he was a solid No. 2 starter for the Marlins and that's reflected in his WAR with FanGraphs.I suspect his home run total is the reason Baseball Reference had a lower WAR figure for him.
Tommy Hanson, RHP, Atlanta Braves - 4.3 fWAR; 2.5 bbWAR: The Braves couldn't have been more thrilled with Hanson's sophomore season, I imagine. His ERA and FIP were nearly identical, as he threw over 200 innings with solid strikeout and walk rates. His xFIP is the only thing that could give you pause, since his home run rate was very low. Of course, that's partly from playing at Turner Field, though it has a slightly above average park factor for homers. One sign that his home run rate might not be sustainable is that Hanson gave up over 40 percent of the balls in play as fly balls, but only 5.8 percent of those flys ended up as home runs. That's a pretty low percentage considering the number of fly balls he allowed, which means a few more of those could sneak over the fence next season. Hanson still had a great season and it was naught for bad luck that he lost more games than he won (10-11).
Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers - 4.2 fWAR; 2.4 bbWAR: A little like Hanson, Kuroda's season was pretty solid. His innings total was strong, his strikeout rate good and his walk rate fairly low. He didn't give up a ton of home runs, but that number was right in line with Hanson's. Their ERAs were also similar, though Kuroda did better at maintaining an xFIP closer to his FIP and ERA. That's probably due to his ground ball rate (51 percent) and his HR/FB rate (8 percent). Kuroda was slightly lucky with his BABiP of .295, but not so much to unduly influence his numbers. Also like Hanson, he had a losing record on the season. These two guys should have similar WAR totals, because they both were good throughout the season and great at times, but not consistently as great as the guys above them.
Matt Cain, RHP, San Francisco Giants - 4.0 fWAR; 3.9 bbWAR: Cain is an extreme fly ball pitcher. As such, he is much better off playing in a home ballpark like AT&T Park, which has the 10th lowest HR park factor in the majors this season. So, lots of those fly balls weren't flying out of the park. Other than that, Cain had an excellent season. He set career highs for innings pitched and career lows for walk rate, FIP and xFIP. His ERA was slightly higher than last season, but that was influenced by a .260 BABiP. Cain's xFIP of 4.19 means he wasn't quite as good as his stats would lead you to believe, not quite to the level of Hanson or Kuroda, but his workload and ability to pitch deep into games is most likely what influenced his WAR so positively.
Cole Hamels, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies - 3.8 fWAR; 4.7 bbWAR: It's amazing what one bad year can do to a player's reputation. Hamels had a down year in 2009 ERA-wise, jumping from 3.09 to 4.32 and causing the Phillies to look to first Cliff Lee then Roy Halladay and then Roy Oswalt for rotation help. But, the secret of Hamels success is he's basically been the same pitcher every season since he joined the Phillies. This year, he did slightly better than the 2008 World Series season and posted his highest strikeout rate of his career. His walk rate jumped from 2.00 to 2.63 and his BABiP dropped slightly. The main reason for his change in control, according to FanGraph's pitch data, is that he started using a cut fastball 14 percent of the time. He did that at the expense of his fastball some, but mainly from his change. I wonder if this was just a classification issue, though, since his cutter clocked in at 89 MPH and his fastball at 92. Last season, his fastball was at 90, so maybe they just split out the cutter in the data this season. Whatever the reason, Hamels is clearly a very solid pitcher and has averaged 3.8 WAR for the past four seasons (via FanGraphs).
Brett Myers, RHP, Houston Astros - 4.0 fWAR; 4.6 bbWAR: I did not want to leave Myers off my ballot. As good of a season as he had, it just wasn't like the others there. He was great, but he was great on a bad team. His WAR totals bear that out, as he's one of the rare pitchers on this list to post relatively equal totals on both sites. Tim is going to talk more about Myers later today, so I'll leave it at that for now.
Johan Santana, LHP, New York Mets - 3.5 fWAR; 4.4 bbWAR: Santana's win total has dropped every season since his first season with the Mets in 2008. His ERA was actually pretty decent, but his peripheral numbers show a pitcher in obvious decline. First of all, his strikeout rate dropped yet again and is now firmly in the territory of a back-of-the-rotation starter. His walk rate stayed the same and he was saved this season by his BABiP of .281. His real performance was probably closer to that xFIP of 4.32 than to his ERA. On his best days, Santana is a fly ball pitcher. This year, he gave up more fly balls than ever before and still gave up the third-most line drives of his career. He's not just getting hit, he's getting hit hard, which speaks to a pitcher trending the wrong way.
Relievers I ignored
In our plan to wrap up the season in style, TCB didn't really have a place for Rolaids Reliever of the Year. Well, that's not entirely true. I could have made a spot for it, but I didn't. Instead, let's talk about some of the best relievers this season here, though none of them were quite good enough to win the Cy Young.
Billy Wagner, LHP, Atlanta Braves - This is how he deserved to go out. The country kid from Virginia made his curtain call with the Braves, a team I dislike in principle, but I was glad to see Wagner make good in his last big league season. He did it in style, striking out 104 in 69 1/3 innings. His fastball velocity even improved a tick, up to 95.7 as he went 7-2 with 37 saves. Not bad for a 39-year old.
Brian Wilson, RHP, San Francisco Giants - I had a revelation this season. For years, there was always one closer that just struck fear into my heart. It could have been Trevor Hoffman or Jason Isringhausen or even Rob Nen and Rod Beck for a time. But, there always seemed to be that guy who was just untouchable in the ninth inning. I haven't necessarily felt that way about anyone in the NL in a while, until I watched Brian Wilson a couple of times. This guy scares me. His strikeout numbers may not be as gaudy as Wagner's and he may walk a few too many guys, but to post a 1.81 ERA and a 2.19 FIP with a .331 BABiP is just sick. He saved 48 games, blew five more and stranded 86 percent of the runners to reach base. Brian Wilson, consider yourself scary.
Heath Bell, RHP, San Diego Padres - Bell reminds me a little for another Padres' closer from the recent past (who entered games to the strains of Hells Bells). I was pretty convinced the Astros would lose when they came in a game, but I wasn't blown away by their stuff. Of course, Bell has a much better fastball than Trevor Hoffman did, and he uses it about 70 percent of the time. It works, though, as Bell struck out over 11 per nine innings and gave up just 0.13 home runs per nine innings. That's a HR/FB rate of 1.6, in case you were wondering, which accounts for his elevated xFIP. Bell anchored a San Diego bullpen that may have been the best in the National League, so he deserves plenty of credit here.
Carlos Marmol, RHP, Chicago Cubs - Everyone who has seen him pitch knows that Marmol can be dominant. The problem is his control. Did you know he struck out 15.99 batters per nine innings this season? That's an astronomical number. Did you know that he also walked 6.03 batters per nine? That's equally astounding. How he saved 38 games while walking that many batters is beyond me. I mean, he walked more batters per nine innings than Tim Hudson struck out. Relievers live their whole baseball lives in small sample sizes, and Marmol has done one thing very efficiently the past two seasons: he doesn't give up home runs. That's quite a chore at Wrigley Field, when you never know if the winds will be blowing out. At the same time, he hasn't really thrown enough inning to know if he'll regress in that area soon. So, his season was historic, but I'd feel more like he was Brad Lidge post-2005 rather than Lidge pre-2005, if that makes sense.