No, Jayson Stark, Craig Kimbrel is not the NL Cy Young

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ESPN’s Jayson Stark built his Cy Young case for Craig Kimbrel in Friday’s column. It’s chock full of some delicious statistics that demonstrate Kimbrel’s unprecedented accomplishments, and it’s well worth reading. It’s actually a really good column. I just totally disagree with the premise.

Now, I’m not one to say relievers don’t deserve consideration for the Cy Young Award. But it would have to be a truly epic season for a reliever to trump the league’s top starters.

And in a way Kimbrel is having that epic season. His strikeout rate is ridiculous. His .128 average against is insane. He’s incredible, and there’s no one I’d rather have pitching the ninth for my team right now.

That said, Kimbrel’s sole job is pitching the ninth inning with a lead of one, two or three runs. Of his 57 1/3 innings this season, 55 have been the ninth. He’s gotten one out in the eighth, and he’s twice pitched in extras.

And Kimbrel has blown three of his 41 save chances. That’s very good, maybe even great, but it’s far from historic.

When Eric Gagne won his Cy Young award in 2003, he was a perfect 55-for-55 converting save chances. He also threw 82 1/3 innings. Kimbrel figures to finish at about 60 innings.

Kimbrel is one of five closers this season with at least 34 saves and no more than three blown saves. Jim Johnson is 46-for-49. Fernando Rodney is 43-for-45. Joel Hanrahan is 36-for-39. Joe Nathan is 34-for-36.

Last year, Jose Valverde was 49-for-49 saving games and John Axford was 46-for-48. Valverde finished fifth in the AL Cy Young balloting and Axford was ninth in the NL.

Now, Kimbrel is more dominant than those guys and maybe that should matter, given that Cy Young is for “best pitcher” rather than “most valuable pitcher.” But unless that “best” is adding more wins to his team’s total, I find it hard to put weight to it. Because the closer’s role is so specific these days, the guy who routinely strikes out the side in the ninth isn’t doing anything more to help his team than the Todd Jones-type nail-biter who always puts two guys on before securing the save.

Give me a reliever who works the eighth on occasion, throws 80-90 innings and picks up several wins in tie games and maybe he could be a Cy Young winner. Something along the lines of Tyler Clippard’s 2011, only better. As is, I’m taking the starter. In this case, it’s R.A. Dickey.

A-Rod to join ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball booth

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Alex Rodriguez’s post-retirement renaissance continues apace. After starring as a studio host for Fox’s playoff coverage over the past couple of years, A-Rod is about to be named to, arguably, televised baseball’s top job: color commentary in ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball booth.

Michael McCarthy of The Sporting News is hearing that ESPN is going to give the gig, vacated by Aaron Boone by virtue of his hiring by the Yankees, to Rodriguez. There he’ll join Jessica Mendoza and whoever they get to replace play-by-play man Dan Shulman, who chose to step back from the Sunday night job following last season. This, by the way, marks the second time A-Rod has taken over Aaron Boone’s job given that he replaced Boone at third base for the Yankees in 2004.

The twist: A-Rod is likely to keep his Fox postseason job too. While some broadcasters work for multiple networks, it’s pretty rare for Fox to allow its talents to work for competitors like that. Apparently they believe keeping A-Rod — who five years ago was one of the most despised figures in baseball — is worth it. What a difference a few years makes.

In other news, Alex Rodriguez is likely to be shunned mightily by the current crop of BBWAA voters when he hits the Hall of Fame ballot in a couple of years. At the rate he’s going, though, their successors will put him in Cooperstown via the Ford Frick Award sometime in the 2040s.