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

Imagining Theo Epstein in politics

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“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Or: “When Theo Epstein won World Series championships with the two most championship-starved franchises in baseball history, he got bored, and decided to run for the Senate or something.”

That latter bit is the premise of a Politico piece speculating that the Cubs president could go into politics one day. The story features an interview with former Obama chief strategist David Axlerod, who thinks Theo has what it takes. Mostly what he has is fame, popularity, good looks and money. No idea what his positions on issue are, but that other stuff goes a long way in politics these days.

Bonus: given what we just elected last fall, a guy who once had a little temper tantrum and dressed up in a gorilla suit is just as viable a candidate as anyone.

Another interestingly named player is promoted by the Pirates

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When you promote a player from the minors, the first and foremost consideration is whether or not he can help your ball club. But, assuming that’s taken care of, teams should really, really make it a priority to call up dudes with cool sounding names because it makes life more interesting for the rest of us.

The Pirates are doing that. The other night Dovydas Neverauskas made his big league debut. In addition to being the first Lithuanian born-and-raised player in major league history, it’s a solid, solid name. Now the Pirates are making another promotion: Gift Ngoepe.

Yep, Gift Ngoepe. He’s an infielder from South Africa, making the leap to the bigs due to David Freese‘s hamstring injury. Ngoepe, 27, was batting just .241/.308/.379 through 66 plate appearances this season with Triple-A Indianapolis, his ninth in the minors, so he’s not exactly a prospect. But man, that’s a killer name.

It’s also worth mentioning that Gift and Neverauskas were arrested together in a bar fight last August in Toledo, so there is already a good basis for some bonding here.

Good luck, Gift. Gift Ngoepe. Mr. Ngoepe. G-Ngo. Man, I could do this all day.