The IPI Awards: NL Cy Young Award
By Jim Piascik
October 9, 2012
To celebrate the conclusion of another baseball season, we here at Indians Prospect Insider have decided to give out our picks for the major awards. In the coming days, IPI will be rolling out our picks for AL/NL MVP, Most Valuable Indian, and Least Valuable Indian.
IPI writers Charlie Adams, Jeff Ellis, Tony Lastoria, Sean Mahon, Adam McGavin, Stephanie Metzger, Steve Orbanek, Jim Pete, Andrew Zajac, and yours truly all voted on these awards. Not all of them supplied write-ups, but those who did are listed below.
The AL MVP may be the award race with the most discussion and vitriol, but if it were not for the Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera-Triple Crown-mess, the NL Cy Young award could be the most contested award. There is no clear-cut winner here and there are as many as seven names that could get a first place vote in real life.
Breaking down the race is no small task. Plenty of people are supporting Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who had the most wins in the National League (21), the best FIP (2.82), was second in fWAR (5.4), and tied for fourth in strikeouts (207). Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw has a similar profile, finishing with the best ERA among qualified starters (2.53), the highest fWAR (5.5), and coming in second in FIP (2.89), innings pitched (227.2), and strikeouts (229). Kershaw is hurt is in the wins category, as he only accumulated 14 compared to 21 in 2011.
New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey has captured the popular imagination with his mastery of the knuckleball, but his credentials are also solid. Dickey led the NL in strikeouts (230) and innings pitched (233.2) and was second in ERA (2.73) and wins (20). Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto did not lead the NL in any of these categories, but his overall line (19-9, 2.78 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 4.8 fWAR in 217.0 IP) impressed all season.
Finally, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman and Atlanta Braves pitchers Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel were very dominant, but all three fell far short of starter-level innings. If one is willing to overlook the inning totals, though, these three's seasons (Chapman: 1.51 ERA, 1.55 FIP, 15.32 K/9, 38 saves in 71.2 IP; Medlen: 10-1, 1.57 ERA, 2.42 FIP in 138.0 IP; Kimbrel: 1.01 ERA, 0.78 FIP, 16.66 K/9, 42 saves in 62.2 IP) are all worthy of consideration.
IPI's NL Cy Young Award winner is... R.A. Dickey
The race for the Cy Young seemed like it was going to be close, but the majority of IPI voters gave Dickey the award. Dickey got six votes compared to Gonzalez and Kershaw each getting two.
Despite being a "number geek" who "blindly picks by WAR leaderboards," I did not pick the player with the highest WAR and voted for Dickey. While WAR is a great tool, it is not quite an end-all; there are still things to learn and room for interpretation when players are close. Dickey is close to Kershaw in fWAR (5.5 to 4.8), but knuckleballers can control their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) more than other pitchers. This just makes sense, as it is simply harder to square up on a knuckleball.
If you look at Fangraphs' new pitching statistics, you can see that before adjusting for defense, Dickey is closer to Kershaw than before (7.0 wins for Kershaw, 6.6 for Dickey). If we take some of Kershaw's credit away for playing in Dodger Stadium and understand that Dickey's knuckleball helps him outperform his peripherals, Dickey becomes the most valuable pitcher to me.
But that's just my quick sabermetric-centric opinion and I won't bore you with anymore. Here is what the rest of IPI has to say:
Charlie Adams: Even missing the past few starts, Clayton Kershaw has the best body of work excluding wins. Take out the W-L and the stat comparison between Gio Gonzalez and Kershaw looks like this: Kershaw has 20 more innings pitched, a better ERA, a better xFIP (expected ERA after taking "luck" out of the equation), and a better K:BB rate. Gonzalez has the wins and the strikeouts, which will likely give him the Cy Young, but Kershaw was the overall better pitcher in 2012 (and beyond).
Jeff Ellis: To me, this was the best contest of any award. Kris Medlen had the best WHIP and a great win streak. R.A. Dickey lead the league in strikeouts and was the best pitching story this year. Johnny Cueto was constantly overlooked in spite of owning the second-best pitching WAR in the NL. The Nationals paid a high price for Gio Gonzalez and he ended up being worth every dollar. Cliff Lee won six games and he will be a guy who finishes in the top 10. Still I could not pass on Clayton Kershaw. I saw this stat today from Peter Gammons: Kershaw is only the fourth person to lead the majors in ERA two years in a row. The other three were Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, and Sandy Koufax. Kershaw got my vote because he had a WHIP near 1.00, the lowest ERA, and a ton of strikeouts. If I could build my team around any pitcher, it would be him thanks to his skill and his age.
Tony Lastoria: This will be a two-horse race between Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey. Both put up similar years, with Gonzalez going 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and Dickey going 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA. Both also racked up about a strikeout per inning. The question here is if people will get caught up in voting for Dickey because of his knuckleball prowess and how fascinating that pitch is to baseball fans, or if people will get caught up in the fact the Nationals made the playoffs and won a major league-best 98 games (the Mets won just 74 games). I think people will side more with the latter.
Sean Mahon: A great story all around, R.A. Dickey is a logical Cy Young winner with his 20 wins and league-leading 230 strikeouts. He also led the league in innings pitched and - considering he throws a knuckleball - showed unbelievable control with a 2.1 BB/9. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was over 4:1 and he should win the prize. While Gio Gonzalez also had an incredible season (another example of a quality AL pitcher moving to the NL to blossom into a star) and Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel's strikeout numbers for relievers are absolutely mind-blowing (each had 15+ strikeouts per 9 innings), Dickey should win.
Adam McGavin: The NL Cy Young is quite possibly the closest and most interesting race. Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez, Johnny Cueto, and R.A. Dickey all have a healthy claim to the title. Clayton Kershaw led all of baseball with a 2.53 ERA, but his 14 wins and the Dodgers absence from the playoffs will cost him some votes. Johnny Cueto deserves credit for notching 19 wins and 2.78 ERA, while pitching his home games at homer-happy Great American Ball Park. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey led the pack in innings pitched (233.2), strikeouts (230), and complete games (5), while being only one of two 20-game winners in the NL. The other, Gio Gonzalez had Senior Circuit-bests with 21 wins, a .206 average against, and 9.35 strikeouts per nine, giving him a slight edge and the strongest case for Cy Young honors.
Steve Orbanek: I have to go with the 37-year-old R.A. Dickey here. Aside from finishing 20-6, Dickey led the NL both in innings pitched and strikeouts. He really helped illustrate the value that a knuckleballer can still have in this league, but his performance also makes me even more frustrated to realize that the Indians traded Steven Wright away for Lars Anderson.
Jim Pete: I'm going with R.A. Dickey here, even though I don't think he's going to win this award. I just have this feeling that Gio Gonzalez is the more flashy player, but is far less deserving. Dickey led the N.L. in games started, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, and strikeouts. Gonzalez led the league in wins. Dickey's ERA is better and he's done it all as a knuckleballer. The best part about it? Dickey is 37 years old and not only won 20 games for the first time, but it is the most wins he's had in his career...by nine. His next best is his 11-win season in 2010. Past that, he's never had double-digit wins in his 10-year career, past his 2012 breakout season.
Coming Thursday: The (much debated) AL MVP. I don't think this one needs anymore introduction.
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