Midseason NL Cy Young Award

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This was a difficult call one third of the way through the season, when I went with a top three of Dan Haren, Chad Billingsley and Johnny Cueto, and not a whole lot easier now.

First, here’s the top 10 in ERA.

1. Dan Haren – 2.01 ERA in 130 IP
2. Tim Lincecum – 2.33 ERA in 127 2/3 IP
3. Matt Cain – 2.38 ERA in 117 IP
4. Josh Johnson – 2.74 ERA in 128 IP
5. Jair Jurrjens – 2.91 ERA in 114 1/3 IP
6. Javier Vasquez – 2.95 ERA in 119 IP
7. Wandy Rodriguez – 2.96 ERA in 112 2/3 IP
8. Adam Wainwright – 3.04 ERA in 130 1/3 IP
9. Johan Santana – 3.09 ERA in 116 1/3 IP
10. Clayton Kershaw – 3.16 ERA in 99 2/3 IP

Santana and Kershaw are easy cuts from being serious contenders, given
that Santana leads the entire group with nine unearned runs allowed and
Kershaw ranks tied for 38th in the league in innings.

No one further back rates consideration. While Chad Billingsley,
Yovani Gallardo and Ted Lilly have been at least as valuable as Santana
and Kershaw, they’re not in the top five. Jason Marquis leads the
league in wins with 11, but the Coors effect doesn’t counter his 3.65
ERA. 13 starts doesn’t put Chris Carpenter into the mix.

So, let’s move forward with those top eight in ERA. Here they are according to VORP:

Dan Haren – 51.2
Tim Lincecum – 42.2
Matt Cain – 40.2
Josh Johnson – 39.0
Javier Vazquez – 32.3
Adam Wainwright – 31.8
Jair Jurrjens – 28.5
Wandy Rodriguez – 26.0

That’s two measures, both clearly in favor of Haren. Haren is also
far in front in WHIP (0.81) and average against (.189). He’s second in
the NL in innings, one-third of a frame behind Adam Wainwright, who has
made 19 starts to Haren’s 18. Also, he’s doing all of this while
working in a hitter’s park half of the time.

So why is this still a tough call? Let’s go to FIP for a moment. FIP, which stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, tries to remove defensive support from the equation.

Tim Lincecum – 2.06
Javier Vazquez – 2.58
Dan Haren – 2.77
Josh Johnson – 2.92
Wandy Rodriguez – 3.65
Adam Wainwright – 3.68
Matt Cain – 3.84
Jair Jurrjens – 3.87

Even though Haren wins in pretty much every other measure, there’s
still a way to argue that Lincecum has been the NL’s best pitcher this
season. I don’t truly buy it. FIP measures what might have happened,
while ERA, VORP and most of the rest are measuring what actually did
happen. To place Lincecum over Haren, I think you have to make a strong
case that Arizona’s defense is quite a bit better than San Francisco’s,
and most of the defensive numbers would say the opposite is true.

So, I’m going with Haren over Lincecum for now. The third spot comes
down to Cain and Johnson. Cain wins in ERA, while Johnson has him by 11
innings. Both have allowed just two unearned runs, which is an
especially impressive stat for Johnson in that he’s a modest groundball
pitcher in front of an error-prone infield. It’s almost a tossup, but I
put Johnson slightly in front.

Midseason NL Cy Young

1. Haren
2. Lincecum
3. Johnson

Evan Gattis undergoes surgery for hernia; recovery is 4-6 weeks

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Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle shares the bad news

One of the Astros’ big bats won’t be taking hacks when the Astros hold their first full workout on Feb. 23.

Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis recently underwent surgery to repair a hernia, the Chronicle has learned, taking away most of his spring training at a minimum. The recovery is four to six weeks but fortunately for Gattis and the Astros, the injury is not considered severe.

Gattis was working hard on his overall conditioning this winter, even telling MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart in late January that he had already dropped 18 pounds. It sounds like the big slugger might have gone a bit overboard with those workouts, and now he is in real danger of missing the first couple weeks of the 2016 regular season.

Gattis batted .246/.285/.463 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 153 games last season for the Astros. The 29-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career and has a hearing with the Astros scheduled for February 16 to determine his salary for 2016. He requested $3.8 million and was offered $3 million when figures were exchanged a little over three weeks ago.

Suddenly the Astros’ front office might have a new talking point for those arbitrators.

Seung-Hwan Oh finally receives his work visa, will be on time for Cardinals camp

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At last check, new Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh was still awaiting a work visa from the United States Embassy in South Korea and there was some worry that he might not be able to arrive on time to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

But that is now officially a non-story.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Oh has recieved his work visa and is expected to report to Cardinals camp next week along with the rest of the club’s pitchers and catchers. Oh might even show up a bit earlier than the Cardinals originally asked him to, per Goold.

Oh saved 357 games in 11 seasons between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization before inking a one-year contract with St. Louis this winter. He also registered a stellar 1.81 ERA and 772 strikeouts across 646 total innings in Asia, earning the nickname “The Final Boss.”

Oh is expected to work in a setup role this year for Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.

John Lamb had back surgery in December, will likely get off to late start in 2016

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John Lamb was part of the Reds’ return package in last July’s Johnny Cueto trade and he had a strong showing at the Triple-A level in 2015. But the young left-hander posted a 5.80 ERA in a 10-start cup of coffee with Cincinnati late last season — his first 10 appearances as a major leaguer — and now comes word from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that Lamb will probably have to get off to a late start in 2016.

Lamb underwent surgery in December to repair a herniated disc in his back — a surgery that went unreported by the Reds until Tuesday afternoon. Reds manager Bryan Price acknowledged on MLB Network that Lamb is behind the team’s other starting pitchers and will likely open the coming season on the disabled list. The hope is that he might be ready by mid-April.

It’s a small but frustrating blow for a rebuilding Reds team that will be looking to establish some foundational pieces in 2016. Once he is recovered, Lamb will be expected to fill the Reds’ fifth rotation spot behind Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and Michael Lorenzen.

This is going to be an ugly year for Cincinnati baseball fans.

Yu Darvish will report to spring training on time, hopes to begin mound work in March

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Rangers ace Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last March 17. Most starting pitchers take 13-15 months to fully recover from that procedure, and the Rangers aren’t counting on Darvish until sometime this May.

His rehab so far has gone on without issue.

Darvish offered some very positive updates Tuesday to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram …

Darvish, 29, boasts a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in 83 career major league starts. He can also claim a whopping 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 career major league innings.

Texas has him under contract for $10 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017.