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.