16 November 2011
The 2011 National League Cy Young Award winner will be announced on Thursday, August 17th. The Diamondbacks' Ian Kennedy, who finished 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA, is expected to finish among the Top 5 in the voting. The winner should be be either the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, who led the NL in ERA, Strikeouts, and Wins, or Roy Halladay of the Phillies, who led the league in all of the various Wins Above Replacement stats. Here is how I would rank the contenders this year, along with their basic stats and the WAR totals from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD - 21-5, 233.1 IP, 2.28 ERA, 2.47 FIP, 6.8 bWAR, 7.0 fWAR
Kershaw was the first NL pitcher to lead the NL in Wins, ERA, and Strikeouts since 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy. Kershaw also led the NL in WHIP (0.977) and in fewest hits per 9 IP with 6.7. Kershaw was even better in the 2nd Half, going 12-1 with a 1.31 ERA after the break.
Even though the Dodgers were out of the race, Kershaw was pitching great games against pennant contenders down the stretch, facing the Diamondbacks. Giants, Braves, Brewers, and Cardinals over his final seven starts. Over his last 15 starts, Kershaw allowed more than 2 ER just once. Meanwhile, even though Halladay was pitching for a playoff team, the Phillies were 13 Games Ahead, and Halladay only faced three playoff contenders (D-Backs, Brewers, Cards) over his final 13 starts. So Kershaw was the one pitching better and the one in more meaningful games in the second half. There is so little difference between the two, but these small factors are enough for me to give Kershaw the nod.
2. Roy Halladay, PHI - 19-6, 233.2 IP, 2.35 ERA, 2.20 FIP, 7.4 bWAR, 8.2 fWAR
Halladay finished just behind Kershaw in ERA at 2.35, while the two were virtually even in IP (233.2 - 233.1). Halladay had the lowest walk rate in the NL with just 1.3 BB/9, and also led in K/BB ratio with 6.29. That is the main reason he leads Kershaw in fWAR, which places more emphasis on K, BB, and HR than on Runs. So why is Halladay also ranked so much higher in bWAR? The reason is primarily park effects. Dodger Stadium was a slight pitcher's park in 2011 (Park Factor of 98), while Citizens Bank Park was a hitter-friendly park (Park Factor of 103). Also bWAR is based on Runs Allowed, not ERA, and Kershaw allowed 7 unearned runs compared to Halladay's 4. Halladay also probably pitched in front of a slightly worse defense. All of these factors (FIP, park, unearned runs allowed) are certainly valid reasons for supporting Halladay over Kershaw. But I still have Kershaw just barely ahead, due to his dominance at the end of the year.
3. Cliff Lee, PHI - 17-8, 232.2 IP, 2.40 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 6.9 bWAR, 6.7 fWAR
Lee was very close in performance to both Kershaw and Halladay, but just a notch below. His ERA and FIP are both just a shade higher than the other two, so it's hard to defend picking him above his teammate Halladay (unless you're more of an xFIP believer). Lee led the NL with 6 Shutouts, including an amazing stretch of 3 consecutive Shutouts in June, and had an amazing 0.93 ERA over his final 10 starts. But his overall numbers were just not as good as the top two.
4. Ian Kennedy, ARI - 21-4, 222 IP, 2.88 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 5.5 bWAR, 5.0 fWAR
Kennedy had a breakout year in 2011, and finished with 21 Wins to tie Kershaw for the league lead. Like Kershaw, he was even better in the second half of the year (12-1. 2.11 ERA). It's interesting to note that Kennedy is the only fly-ball pitcher among this year's top NL pitchers. His GB% of 38.6% is the only one below 40% among the Top 16 in fWAR.
5. Cole Hamels, PHI - 14-9, 216 IP, 2.79 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 5.4 bWAR, 4.9 fWAR
Hamels finished second to Kershaw in both WHIP (0.986) and H/9 (7.0), and in the Top 10 in just about every pitching category. He held right-handed batters to a .577 OPS in 2011, but lefties had a .662 OPS against him. Hamels allowed the frewest line drives of any NL pitcher at only 15%. Hamels has a career K/BB ratio of 3.74, good for 3rd best among active pitchers, and 7th best of all-time.
6. Tim Lincecum, SFG - 13-14, 217 IP, 2.74 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 4.4 bWAR, 4.4 fWAR
After leading the NL in strikeouts and K/9 for three straight years, Lincecum slipped to 4th in K's and 5th in K/9 in 2011. He also finished 5th in ERA but dropped to 12th in FIP, as Lincecum had the highest walk rate (3.57 BB/9) and lowest strikeout rate (9.12 K/9) of the last four years. His career ERA of 2.97 is by far the best among active starting pitchers, and second only to Mariano Rivera among active players.
7. Matt Cain, SFG - 12-11, 221.2 IP, 2.88 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 3.9 bWAR, 5.2 fWAR
For the 5th straight year, Cain had a lower ERA than FIP or xFIP, although this year the numbers were very close. For his career, Cain's ERA is now 3.35, while his FIP is 3.69 and his xFIP is 4.26, so he does seem to have some ability to exceed his peripherals. Cain finished the 2011 season 7th in ERA and 5th in FIP, and 3rd in both lowest hit rate (7.2H/9) and HR Rate (0.4 HR/9).
8. Madison Bumgarner, SFG - 13-13, 204.2 IP, 3.21 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 2.8 bWAR, 5.5 fWAR
Bumgarner has one of the larger differentials between his ERA and FIP, which is why the two WAR formulas differ so much. He had career best rates in strikeouts (8.4K/9), Walks (2.0 BB/9) and Home Run Allowed (0.5 HR/9), but gave up a very high number of hits on ball in plays. Bumgarner's BABIP of .322 was the 4th worst in the NL, despite middle-of-the-pack line drive and ground ball rates.
9. Chris Carpenter, STL - 11-9, 237.1 IP, 3.45 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 3.7 bWAR, 5.0 fWAR
Carpenter led the NL in Games Started (34) for the second year in a row, and was the 2011 leader in IP with 237.1. Like Bumgarner, his FIP was much better than his actual ERA, and Carpenter also had an unusually high BABIP at .312. In Carpenter's case, the high BABIP can be partially explained by the 24% line drive allowed, which was the worst rate in the NL. Before this season, he had a career BABIP around .295 and a LD% around 19%, so both numbers were unusually high for him. With 4 Complete Games and 2 Shutouts in 2011, Carpenter is now ranked #3 among active pitchers in career Complete Games and is #2 in career Shutouts.
10. Tim Hudson, ATL - 16-10, 215 IP, 3.22 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 3.7 bWAR, 3.7 fWAR
Tim Hudson is another pitcher who consistently outpitches his FIP. He has done it in 11 of his 13 seasons, and his career ERA is now 0.38 runs better than his career FIP. Hudson is an extreme ground-ball pitcher (56.7 GB% in 2011), and his career GB% of 59% is behind only Derek Lowe among active players (Oddly, Lowe is one of the pitchers who has consistently pitched worse than his FIP over the last few years). Hudson combines the high ground ball rate with very low BABIP (.279 career) and low Home Run rates (0.7 HR/9). This year, Hudson finished 11th in both IP and ERA. For his career, Hudson is now 3rd in bWAR among active players, and also 3rd in Wins at 181.
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