First-quarter awards: NL Cy Young

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Here are the top 10 NL starters according to VORP, along with some relevant statistics.
1. Roy Halladay – 28.1 – 6-2, 1.64 ERA, 58/10 K/BB in 71 1/3 IP
2. Ubaldo Jimenez – 27.8 – 7-1, 1.12 ERA, 54/21 K/BB in 56 1/3 IP
3. Tim Lincecum – 23.7 – 5-0, 1.76 ERA, 69/15 K/BB in 56 1/3 IP
4. Livan Hernandez – 23.6 – 4-2, 1.62 ERA, 19/18 K/BB in 55 2/3 IP
5. Jaime Garcia – 21.3 – 4-2, 1.28 ERA, 42/20 K/BB in 49 1/3 IP
6. Barry Zito – 20.5 – 6-1, 2.15 ERA, 34/20 K/BB in 54 1/3 IP
7. Adam Wainwright – 18.6 – 5-2, 2.48 ERA, 49/15 K/BB in 58 IP
8. Tim Hudson – 17.8 – 4-1, 2.41 ERA, 23/19 K/BB in 52 1/3 IP
9. Josh Johnson – 17.3 – 4-1, 2.68 ERA, 63/18 K/BB in 57 IP
10. Roy Oswalt – 16.8 – 2-5, 2.62 ERA, 52/13 K/BB in 55 IP
I don’t think any of the relievers are worth throwing into the mix. Matt Capps and Tyler Clippard have provided the Nats with a ton of value in the early going, but Capps isn’t exactly dominant and Clippard has allowed a bunch of inherited runners to score while racking up his seven wins.
Most will be surprised to see Halladay ranked over Jimenez, but those extra 15 innings weigh pretty heavily.
I like VORP as a tool for balancing quality and quantity in cases like this, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. For one thing, here are the opposing OPSs of the batters faced by the top five:
Halladay – 719
Jimenez – 742
Lincecum – 688
Hernandez – 720
Garcia – 728
Jimenez has his sterling record despite facing one of the toughest schedules of any NL pitcher. Lincecum leads the NL in strikeouts and WHIP, but he’s been doing it against one of the league’s easiest schedules.
Of course, those things should begin to even out over time. I’d say Halladay and Lincecum remain the favorites to win the Cy Young Award this season. Jimenez did throw 218 innings last season and still perform better after the All-Star break than before. However, he doesn’t have the same track record of durability as the other two. Predicting the order of finish for the full season, I’d currently go: Halladay, Lincecum, Jimenez, Wainwright, Johnson.
But this isn’t about the full season. A quarter of the way through, Jimenez has been the NL’s top pitcher. I’d put Halladay second because of the innings and the schedule. Then it’s Lincecum versus Hernandez for the third spot. Hernandez has the advantage when it comes to ERA and strength of schedule. But Hernandez asks so much more from his defense. In the same number of innings pitched, Lincecum has a ridiculous 50 additional strikeouts. He’s also allowed four fewer homers.
First-quarter NL Cy Young
1. Jimenez
2. Halladay
3. Lincecum

Dusty Baker drops truth bombs

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Dusty Baker was fired last offseason despite leading the Nationals to 95 and 97-win seasons. This was not new for him. Cincinnati let him go after taking a miserable Reds team to back-to-back 90+ win seasons — three in the space of four years — and making it to the playoffs in his final two seasons. In both cases the team that let him go cratered as soon as he left. There are likely reasons that have nothing to do with Dusty Baker for that, but it seems like more than mere coincidence too.

I say that because every time someone gets to Dusty Baker for an interview, he drops some major truth bombs that make you wonder why anyone wouldn’t want him in charge. Sure, like any manager he has his faults and blind spots — more so in his distant past than in his recent past, I should not — but the guy is smart, has more experience than anyone going and is almost universally loved by his players.

Recently he sat down with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic to talk about life, baseball and everything, and once again the truth bombs were dropping. About the state of front offices today. About the different way black and white ex-managers and ex-players are treated. About what seems to be collusion on the free agent market. And, of course, about the state of the 2018 Nationals, who are likely to miss the playoffs despite being, more or less, the same team he led to those 97 wins last year. It’s an absolute must-read on any of those topics, but taken together it’s a “block off some time this afternoon and enjoy the hell out of it” read.

Two of my favorite passages follow. The first one is a great general point in life: always beware of people who spend more time telling you why they are successful than actually, you know, being successful.

In Cincinnati, no matter what I did or what we did — we brought them from the bottom — they were all over me, all the time, no matter what. If we won, it wasn’t winning the right way. They were like, “I don’t understand this mode of thinking.” Well, I don’t want you to understand my mode of thinking. That’s how I can beat you.

The second one is just delicious for what he does not say:

Rosenthal: Bryce Harper struggled for two-plus months. He didn’t struggle for two-plus months when you had him…

Baker: I know.

Based on the tone of the rest of the interview, in which Baker does not hesitate to say exactly what he thinks, it’s abundantly clear that he believes the Nats have messed Harper up somehow and that it wouldn’t have happened under him.

Like I said, though: there is a TON of great stuff in here. From a guy who, if you’ve listened to him talk when he does not give a crap about what people may say about him, has time and again revealed himself to  be one of the most interesting baseball figures of the past several decades.