Thursday, September 23, 2010

The NL Cy- What It Should Be, What It Will Be

It’s been a strange year for the NL Cy Young. For the first two months, Ubaldo Jimenez seemed like a lock to make an uncontested run at the trophy. On the strength of an April and May in which he went 10-1 with a 0.78 ERA, Ubaldo jumped out to the early lead. However, his numbers weren’t as good as he looked. With a miniscule BABIP, an inflated strand rate, and a home run rate at essentially zero, Ubaldo had two of the luckiest months we’ve seen from a pitcher in recent history. As expected, Jimenez regressed toward the league average, and has put up a 4.43 ERA since the beginning of June.

Josh Johnson received a four-year, $39 million extension from the usually stingy Marlins this offseason, and has spent the 2010 campaign proving he was worth the investment and more. However, his August removed him from the race as well. After spending May, June, and July putting up ERAs of 1.38, 1.18, and 1.35, Johnson’s ERA jumped to a 4.46 in August. After making one start in September, Johnson was shut down for the season with shoulder inflammation. His injury is likely not serious, but the Marlins are obviously interested in protected their investment, and with no chance of playoff baseball, there’s no reason for them to risk it. Johnson’s big extension includes a $0.5 million performance bonus should he win a Cy Young over the course of the contract. I won’t be surprised at all if he earns in within the next 3 years.

Roy Halladay was the next leader in the Cy Young race, and still finds himself in the thick of the race for the award. Though his FIP of 3.07 isn’t quite as incredible as his 2.53 ERA, Halladay is still a strong contender for the Cy. His September, however, could derail his push for an NL Cy Young to match the AL trophy he won in 2003. In 27.2 innings, Halladay has allowed a 4.55 ERA, his K rate dropping from 8.6 in August to only 7.5 per 9 innings this month. 

The best candidate, in my mind, is the two man who has stayed steadiest all season. Adam Wainwright has seen a slight upward blip in his ERA in September, but his still-stellar 3.41 marks the first time he’s been over a 2.60 in any month this season. Wainwright has learned to use his fastball more effectively, as his heater has jumped from 13.4 runs below average last season to 15 above in this campaign. Pair that with a curve that, at 20.2 runs above average, is second only to Gio Gonzalez’s deuce for the best hook in baseball (Gonzalez is a mere tenth of a run ahead), and you’ve got a dominant pitcher who stands out in a rotation with a former Cy Young winner and a guy with a chance to become the first pitcher to win the NL Rookie of the Year since Dontrelle Willis in 2003. His 6.1 WAR trails Halladay (6.4) and Johnson (6.2), and his ERA (2.45) and FIP (2.86) are both second to Johnson in the NL, but he’s thrown 224.1 innings, as compared to Johnson’s 183.1. For me, Wainwright’s consistency makes him my Cy Young pick.

However, the voters may see it differently. Roy Halladay’s 2.53 ERA puts him just behind Wainwright, although his 3.07 FIP sits him fifth in the league. Halladay, as per usual, has been an absolute horse, his 241.2 innings leading all of baseball and marking the fifth straight season he’s hurled more than 220 frames. Halladay’s 213 strikeouts also lead the league, with Wainwright’s 206 placing him fourth. His strong “baseball card” stats, along with the fact that he’ll be leading his Phillies into October as a staff ace while Wainwright will be hanging up his cleats after the 162nd game, might be enough to sway voters in Halladay’s direction. Expect Halladay to add a second Cy to his collection, with Wainwright taking a step forward from his 3rd-place Cy finish in 2009 to runner-up in 2010.

And yes, there's been a lot of support for Tim Hudson as a possible Cy Young competitor over the last few weeks. Yes, his ERA is 2.61, good for fourth in the league. His 3.87 FIP, however, places him squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of fairly decent pitchers in the NL. Is he a good pitcher? Certainly. Should he even factor into the Cy Young discussion? No way.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll start looking at Rookie of the Year candidates, including one of Wainwright’s rotation-mates.

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