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

Astros owner Jim Crane says MLB ‘explicitly exonerated’ him

Jim Crane
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
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Even during a pandemic, the Astros can’t seem to avoid putting their foot in their mouth. Per The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan, Astros owner Jim Crane claimed in a legal filing on Monday that Major League Baseball “explicitly exonerated” him in the club’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal that resulted in a now-tainted championship.

Crane is named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former pitcher Mike Bolsinger, whose last appearance in the majors was on August 4, 2017 against the Astros. He faced eight batters, allowing four runs on four hits and three walks in one-third of an inning. Bolsinger accused the Astros of unfair business practices, negligence, and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations arising out of the sign-stealing scandal. Bolsinger is seeking damages for himself as well as for the Astros to forfeit the nearly $31 million in bonuses earned from winning the championship in 2017, asking for the money to be reallocated to children’s charities and retired players in need of financial assistance.

Commissioner Rob Manfred did not use the word “exonerated” in his report on the league’s investigation into the Astros’ cheating scheme. Manfred did, however, write, “At the outset, I also can say our investigation revealed absolutely no evidence that Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, was aware of any of the conduct described in this report. Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation, and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested.”

Saying that the league found “no evidence” that Crane was involved and patting Crane on the back for not obstructing the investigation is not the same was “explicitly exonerating” him. The Athletic asked MLB if it agreed with Crane’s characterization of the report. Rather than agreeing with Crane, the league simply said, “All of our comments about the investigation are included in the report.”

This isn’t the first legal filing in which the Astros made a questionable claim. Recently, Astros lawyers claimed the organization expressed “sincere apologies and remorse for the events described in the report by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.”

In Monday’s filing, Astros lawyers swung at Bolsinger, citing his poor pitching performance overall in 2017. They wrote, “Plaintiff wants to have a California judge and jury literally call ball and strikes, and award him money damages based on rank conjecture about what might have happened to him in Houston on August 4, 2017 due to alleged rules violations he speculates may have occurred that day.”

Astros lawyers also questioned the frequency of the club’s cheating and its impact, writing, “Major League Baseball (‘MLB’) investigated alleged rule violations by the Astros related to sign-stealing, resulting in a January 13, 2020 report in which the Commissioner of Baseball expressly found that ‘it is impossible to determine whether the (Astros’) conduct actually impacted the results on the field. The MLB did not conclude that sign-stealing violations occurred in every game or even most at-bats in the 2017 season.”

Astros fan Tony Adams, who analyzed every home game during the 2017 regular season and posted the results on SignStealingScandal.com, found that there were 54 “bangs” on August 4 when Bolsinger pitched against the Astros. That was the highest total among all Astros home games that season. Bolsinger entered in the middle of the fourth inning, first facing Yuli Gurriel. Adams found three bangs — all on curve balls — in a plate appearance that ended in a walk. Adams found four more bangs — all on breaking balls — in a Brian McCann at-bat later that inning that also ended in a walk. Bolsinger then gave up a single to Tyler White, with trash can banging on a cut fastball and a curve. The next batter, Jake Marisnick, singled as well, hearing bangs on a cutter and a curve. Bolsinger finally got out of the inning when Bregman swung at a first-pitch curve (yes, there was a trash can bang for that) and flied out.

Importantly, Bolsinger’s lawyer notes that Crane’s motion makes MLB eligible for discovery. It is already eligible for discovery in New York federal court where the league is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by daily fantasy sports contestants. Bolsinger’s lawsuit is brought out of California state court. The Astros want Bolsinger’s lawsuit dismissed or at least moved to Texas.

Because the Astros can’t seem to stop making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this whole situation figures to get even more wild as time goes on. Due to discovery, we may end up learning even more about the Astros’ cheating ways than the league may have let on in their report on their investigation.