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

Don’t let Rob Manfred pass the buck

Rob Manfred
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Yesterday morning, in Ken Rosenthal’s article, Rob Manfred made it pretty clear what his aim is at the moment: throw blame on the union for the sign stealing scandal getting to the place it is. It was clear in both his words and Rosenthal’s words, actually:

In fairness, Manfred was not alone in failing to see the future clearly. As far back as 2015, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expressed concerns to MLB about the rise of technology in the sport. The union, however, did not directly focus on the threat to the game’s integrity.

Then, in his press conference yesterday, he went farther, saying that the union refused to allow a situation in which punishment might happen, going so far as to claim that the union refused to make Astros players available for interviews without blanket immunity.

The union, both in its official statement last night and in Tony Clark’s words to Yahoo’s Hannah Keyser earlier this afternoon, is basically saying Manfred is full of it:

“We were approached with respect to their intentions to not discipline players. Our legal role and responsibility is inherent in accepting that consideration, which is what we did.”

Which is to say, it was Rob Manfred, and not the union, which started from the presumption that there was immunity for Astros players. Manfred is the one who settled on that at the outset, and he’s now trying to make it look like the union was the side that insisted on it so that people who are mad will get mad at Tony Clark for defending the indefensible as opposed to getting mad at him for creating a situation in which there was no legal way to punish Astros players.

And, as we have noted many times already, he did create that situation.

It’s undisputed that Manfred never attempted to make rules or set forth discipline for players stealing signs. Indeed, he did the opposite of that, saying over two years ago that GMs and managers, not players, would be held responsible. If he wanted to discipline players now, he’d have a big problem because he specifically excluded them from discipline then. I’d argue it was a mistake for him to do that — he should’ve said, three years ago, that everyone’s butt would be on the line if the cheating continued — but he didn’t.

Some people I’ve spoken to are taking the position that the union is still to blame here. I’m sort of at a loss as to how that could be.

It is the union’s job to protect its members from arbitrary punishment by management. It is not the union’s job to say “hey, I know our workers were off the hook here based on the specific thing you said, but maybe we should give them some retroactive punishment anyway?” If someone in charge of a union proposed that, they’d be in dereliction of their duties and could be fired and/or sued. Probably should be, actually. A lot of people might be mad about that, and I know fully well that unions aren’t popular. But then again, neither are criminal defense attorneys, and they don’t go up to prosecutors and say “well, there isn’t a law against what my client did — in fact, the governor issued an order a couple of years ago saying that what he did wasn’t prohibited — but we’re all kind of mad about it, so why don’t we work together to find a way to put him in jail, eh?” It’d be insane.

That doesn’t make anyone feel better now. The players are certainly mad, with new ones every day finding a camera to yell at over all of this. I get it. What has happened is upsetting. It’s a situation in which some members of the union are at odds with other members. It’s not an easy situation to navigate.

They should take that anger, however, and channel it into telling their leader, Tony Clark, that they don’t want this to happen again. That, to the extent Rob Manfred now, belatedly, proposes new rules and new punishments for sign-stealing or other things, he should get on board with that. They should also — after the yelling dies down — maybe think a little bit about how, if the facts were slightly different here, they would never argue that Rob Manfred should have the power to impose retroactive or other non-previously-negotiated punishment on players.

Either way, neither they nor any of the rest of us should take Manfred’s bait and try to claim that what’s happening now is the union’s fault. If, for no other reason, than because he doesn’t have much credibility when it comes to this whole scandal. Remember, he’s the guy who issued a report saying that, except for Alex Cora, it was only players involved despite knowing at the time he said it that the front office had hatched the scheme in the first place. Which, by the way, similarly sought to make the players out to be the only ones to blame while protecting people on management’s side. He’s not someone who can be trusted in any of this, frankly.

At the end of the day, this was a scheme perpetrated by both front office and uniformed personnel of the Houston Astros. To the extent nothing more can be done about that than already has been done, blame it on Rob Manfred’s failure of leadership. Not on the MLB Players Association.