2012 midseason awards: NL Cy Young

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It was easy coming up with pitcher snubs from the NL All-Star team because there are a whole bunch of NL pitchers with great numbers right now. One does stand out above the rest, but there’s an excellent field of Cy Young candidates to choose from at the midway point. Here’s the top 15, according to ERA:

R.A. Dickey (NYM): 12-1, 2.15 ERA, 116/25 K/BB in 113 IP
Ryan Vogelsong (SFG): 7-3, 2.26 ERA, 72/34 K/BB in 103 2/3 IP
Johnny Cueto (Cin): 9-5, 2.35 ERA, 86/25 K/BB in 114 2/3 IP
James McDonald (Pit): 8-3, 2.45 ERA, 90/31 K/BB in 103 IP
Matt Cain (SFG): 9-3, 2.53 ERA, 114/23 K/BB in 113 2/3 IP
Chris Capuano (LAD): 9-3, 2.62 ERA, 95/34 K/BB in 106 1/3 IP
Clayton Kershaw (LAD): 6-4, 2.65 ERA, 112/30 K/BB in 115 1/3 IP
Jordan Zimmermann (Was): 5-6, 2.70 ERA,72/20 K/BB in 103 1/3 IP
Johan Santana (NYM): 6-4, 2.76 ERA, 93/33 K/BB in 98 IP
Kyle Lohse (StL): 8-2, 2.80 ERA, 63/19 K/BB in 109 1/3 IP
Stephen Strasburg (Was): 9-3, 2.81 ERA, 122/27 K/BB in 93 IP
Wade Miley (Ari): 9-4, 2.87 ERA, 66/19 K/BB in 94 IP
Gio Gonzalez (Was): 11-3, 3.01 ERA, 112/39 K/BB in 95 2/3 IP
Cole Hamels (Phi): 10-4, 3.08 ERA, 111/28 K/BB in 111 IP
Zack Greinke (Mil): 9-2, 3.08 ERA, 106/24 K/BB in 108 IP

Here’s how Baseball-reference WAR rates them:

Dickey: 3.7
Cueto: 3.6
Zimmermann: 2.8
Greinke: 2.7
Vogelsong: 2.7
Matt Belisle: 2.6
Kershaw: 2.6
Lohse: 2.6
McDonald: 2.6
Capuano: 2.5
Santana: 2.5

After Dickey and Cueto, WAR is really no help. But it is interesting that WAR lifts Cueto so far above the pack. Cincinnati and Milwaukee have both played as big hitter’s parks thus far, which explains part of why Cueto and Greinke rate so well.

I’m not going to include the opponent’s OPS here like I did for the American Leaguers, simply because there just isn’t much of a spread for the NL pitchers. Hamels, Strasburg and Kershaw have faced somewhat weaker hitters than the rest of the group, but not to the point that I’d give it much weight. Dickey, for what it’s worth, is right in the middle of the pack.

And Dickey is my choice for the Cy. I don’t think it’s as tough of a call as WAR suggests. He’s first in ERA. He has an incredible 0.88 WHIP. Cain owns the league’s next best mark at 0.95, while Cueto is 15th at 1.13.

After that, there just isn’t much separating these guys. Cain looks the strongest to me with his outstanding WHIP and strikeout rate. Dickey, Cain and Santana are the only NL starters with two shutouts this season.

On a pitch-by-pitch basis, one could put Strasburg with Cain, but the fact remains that he’s thrown 20 fewer innings this season. His Cy Young can wait a year or two.

Cueto’s K/BB ratio and WHIP don’t stand out; much of his success comes from refusing to yield home runs, even in a ballpark that tends to favor them. He’s surrendered just five homers this year. Last year, he allowed eight in 156 innings. History suggests he’ll fade as the year goes on; he’s always been a first-half pitcher anyway and he’s never undertaken this big of a workload. At the moment, though, he’s worthy of the third spot on the ballot.

Unfortunately, that means leaving McDonald off. The Pirates are 11-5 in McDonald’s starts this year. In the five losses, they’ve scored a total of three runs. They’ve actually been shut out in all three of the losses charged to McDonald.

And while I’m not giving any relievers serious consideration here, there are two worth mentioning in Belisle and Craig Kimbrel. Belisle is up to 44 1/3 innings already, the last 12 2/3 of them scoreless, and he’s been invaluable with the rest of the Rockies staff falling apart. Kimbrel, the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year, is pitching even better this season, with 23 saves in 24 chances and a 1.50 ERA.

My ballot
1. Dickey
2. Cain
3. Cueto

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.