First-third awards: 2011 NL Cy Young

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Following up yesterday’s look at the AL Cy Young race one-third of the way through the season, here’s the rundown on the NL.

First, the top 10 starters by ERA:

1. Jair Jurrjens (Braves): 7-1, 1.51 ERA, 38/11 K/BB in 65.2 IP
2. Josh Johnson (Marlins): 3-1, 1.64 ERA, 56/20 K/BB in 60.1 IP
3. Kyle Lohse (Cardinals): 7-2, 2.13 ERA, 47/15 K/BB in 80.1 IP
4. Tim Lincecum (Giants): 5-4, 2.22 ERA, 79/24 K/BB in 77 IP
5. Charlie Morton (Pirates): 5-2, 2.51 ERA, 37/29 K/BB in 68 IP
6. Roy Halladay (Phillies): 7-3, 2.56 ERA, 91/13 K/BB in 91.1 IP
7. Anibal Sanchez (Marlins): 5-1, 2.57 ERA, 74/23 K/BB in 73.2 IP
8. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 6-3, 2.62 ERA, 87/24 K/BB in 79 IP
9. Tommy Hanson (Braves): 5-4, 2.80 ERA, 65/21 K/BB in 64.1 IP
10. Shaun Marcum (Brewers): 6-2, 2.80 ERA, 67/17 K/BB in 70.2 IP

That’s everyone in the NL with a sub-3.00 ERA to date. Cole Hamels is 11th at 3.01.

Moving on to the Baseball Reference version of WAR:

1. Roy Halladay (Phillies): 3.6
2. Kyle Lohse (Cardinals): 2.9
3. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 2.8
4. Jair Jurrjens (Braves): 2.6
5. Cole Hamels (Phillies): 2.4
6. Josh Johnson (Marlins): 2.3
7. Tim Lincecum (Giants): 2.2
8. Ian Kennedy (Diamondbacks): 2.1
9. Anibal Sanchez (Marlins): 2.1
10. Jonny Venters (Braves): 2.1

Yes, that’s a reliever sneaking in at the end there. Venters has been incredible, giving up just two runs while working 33 2/3 innings, almost all of them in close games. He’s picked up three wins, and he’s only blown one lead all year, that coming when he entered a game with a two men on and none out.

Moving on to Fangraphs’ WAR. Since it’s based on strikeouts, walks and homers allowed, and not those pesky hits, it produces substantially different results:

1. Roy Halladay (Phillies): 3.3
2. Cole Hamels (Phillies): 2.4
3. Matt Garza (Cubs): 2.3
4. Daniel Hudson (Diamondbacks): 2.2
5. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 2.1
6. Cliff Lee (Phillies): 2.1
7. Tim Lincecum (Giants): 2.1
8. Kyle Lohse (Cardinals): 1.9
9. Jaime Garcia (Cardinals): 1.8
10. Josh Johnson (Marlins): 1.8

FIP thinks Venters has been terribly lucky when it comes to allowing hits, so he’s at just 0.9 WAR here, ranking him slightly behind strikeout-happy teammate Craig Kimbrel.

Hamels posted strong showing in both WARs. His ERA is higher, but he has an exceptional 78/15 K/BB ratio and he’s yet to allow an unearned run.

I also like to check out quality of opponent here. Let’s run through the average OPS for hitters faced for the top contenders:

Johnson: .744
Jurrjens: .742
Sanchez: .741
Halladay: .729
Lohse: .728
Lincecum: .726
Kershaw: .724

That doesn’t really settle things, though it does make Jurrjens look like a stronger candidate.

Regardless, I do agree with WAR here: Halladay is the choice to date. He’s not quite there in ERA, but he’s pitched 11 more innings than anyone else. The Phillies are 9-3 in his starts, and they’ve scored a total of three runs in the losses. Four times already this year, they’ve scored three runs or fewer and come away with a victory with Halladay on the mound.

After that, it a tougher call. Johnson is probably the NL’s second-best pitcher, but he’s thrown just 60 innings. Jurrjens, the ERA leader, is at 66. Lohse and Kershaw are both around 80 innings. Neither has allowed an unearned run all year (Lincecum has given up five, Jurrjens one, Johnson two).

It’s close enough that I want one more stat.  I’m going to look at the team’s record in games pitched by each, and the team’s record in those games while scoring three or fewer runs.

Hamels: 9-2, 4-2
Johnson: 6-3, 2-3
Jurrjens: 7-2, 2-2
Kershaw: 7-5, 1-4
Lincecum: 7-4, 3-3
Lohse: 7-4, 1-2
Sanchez: 7-4, 3-2

That looks pretty good for Hamels. The Phillies have won 82 percent of his starts despite scoring more than five runs in just two of those games. On the other hand, the Cardinals have lost a couple of Lohse’s starts in which they scored five runs. One of those was Lohse’s fault, the other the bullpen’s when Lohse came out after six.

Anyway, there’s not a whole lot of margin here. I’m favoring Jurrjens second and Hamels third, but we’re still early enough that any of these guys could be second next week.

NL Cy Young
1. Halladay
2. Jurrjens
3. Hamels

The Phillies are trying out prospect J.P. Crawford at third base

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On Sunday, for the first time in his professional career, Phillies shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford started at third base. He picked up three hits in five at-bats, continuing his torrid pace. Since the start of July, he’s hitting .306/.397/.595 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a 37/25 K/BB ratio in 199 plate appearances.

With September looming, the Phillies may be considering a promotion for Crawford. Shortstop, however, is currently taken by Freddy Galvis who has appeared in every game this season and has taken on a leadership role with the team. Meanwhile, third baseman Maikel Franco has been mired in a season-long slump as he’s carrying a devilish .666 OPS.

The Phillies haven’t been averse to trying their prospects out at new positions. Prior to his recent promotion, Rhys Hoskins had played only first base throughout his professional career, but the Phillies moved him to left field for a few games, then called him up to the majors. Hoskins has made nine starts in the outfield and two at first base in the majors thus far.

As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes, the Phillies are also considering trying out second base prospect Scott Kingery at shortstop or third base before the end of the minor league season.

These aren’t long-term plans; it’s just a way for the Phillies to find meaningful playing time for their prospects and giving manager Pete Mackanin potential flexibility. Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete [Mackanin] a lot more options at the big league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better.”

Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.