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