HBT First-Half Awards: American League Cy Young

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With no baseball on Wednesday or Thursday, we’re taking stock of the best performances of the first half of the season by handing out midseason awards. Maybe someday we’ll have the budget for an actual Midseason Award Trophy, but for now they merely get our kind and admiring words. Next up: American League Cy Young Award.

Craig Calcaterra‘s ballot:

1. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
2. Sonny Gray, Oakland A’s
3. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

This is a dang close race, folks, with arguments for all three of these guys, in terms of stats, in terms of narratives or in terms of whatever combination of those two things you prefer to let lead you in your analysis of such things.

Chris Sale, of course, has been striking out the world, leading the league in strikeouts, strikeouts per nine innings and leading the AL in WHIP and in Fielding Independent Pitching. Sonny Gray leads the American League in adjusted ERA+, ERA, and has given up fewer hits and fewer home runs per nine innings than any starter. Dallas Keuchel, for his part, is tied for the lead league in wins and WAR among pitchers. As far as narrative stuff goes, Keuchel is leading a surprisingly good Astros team, Sale tied the record for most consecutive games with ten strikeouts or more and Gray, well, he’s at least a reason to watch the A’s every fifth day.

If you ask me who should win this award ten times in the next few days I’d probably go back and forth between Sale and Gray a handful of times and may, when I’m feeling narrative-y, throw it Keuchel’s way on occasion. And I’d probably clear my throat and mention Felix Hernandez and Chris Archer a couple of times too because they’re having fantastic seasons. But if you put a gun to my head and make me choose one, I’ll choose Sale, because strikeouts are fun, even if they’re somewhat fascist.

Aaron Gleeman‘s ballot:

1. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
2. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
3. Sonny Gray, Oakland A’s

I agree with basically everything Calcaterra said above, especially the stuff about this being an extremely close race so far. Chris Sale has been the most dominant starter, but in looking over all the relevant numbers I kept coming back to Dallas Keuchel as being every bit as deserving. He leads the league in innings pitched and batters faced–which is huge for an Astros rotation that otherwise hasn’t been particularly good–and Keuchel ranks second in ERA at 2.23, just 0.18 behind Sonny Gray and 0.49 better than Sale.

I give Keuchel the slight edge based mostly on a higher workload–he’s thrown 14 more innings than Gray and 18 more innings than Sale–while also having zero problem with anyone thinking Sale or Gray should be in the top spot. It’s also worth giving a little nod to reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, whose secondary numbers remain Cy Young-caliber even if poor lineup, bullpen, and defensive support from the Indians have burdened him with an ugly win-loss record and too many runs allowed.

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak ended 78 years ago today

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There’s nothing special about a 78-year anniversary. It’s not a round number or anything and we tend to like round numbers. But (a) I was reminded of this today; and (b) we have no idea if the Martians will have invaded and taken over the planet come 2021, so I feel like it’s best to run this now than wait for the 80th anniversary. Cool? Cool.

Anyway: on this day in 1941, Joe DiMaggio’s still-unbroken and possibly unbreakable (see below) 56-game hitting streak came to end. The game took place in Cleveland in front of a staggering 67,468 fans. Not bad for a Thursday night. The way the streak ended, courtesy of an ESPN Classic post from Larry Scwartz back in 2003:

Third baseman Ken Keltner makes two outstanding plays, grabbing DiMaggio smashes down the line in the first and seventh innings and throwing him out at first base. In between these at-bats, left-hander Al Smith walks DiMaggio in the fourth.

The Yankee Clipper has one more chance to extend his streak when he bats in the eighth with the bases full against Jim Bagby, a young right-hander who just enters the game. DiMaggio hits the ball sharply, but shortstop Lou Boudreau plays a bad hop perfectly and turns the grounder into a double play.

Stuff happens.

To be clear: 56 may not be broken in my lifetime or yours. It’s obviously a SUPER difficult task to string together a hitting streak of considerable length. As we saw when guys like Pete Rose or Paul Molitor or whoever have come within spitting distance of DiMaggio’s record — long spitting distance — the pressure ramps up and it’s hard to do you job with a lot of pressure. Add in the fact that simple base hits are harder to come by in today’s game than they used to be due to prevalent hitting, pitching and defensive trends, and it’d be no shocker whatsoever if no one ever does it.

But I draw the line at “unbreakable,” simply because, as noted above, stuff does happen. And because there’s nothing structural preventing it from happening. It’s not like Cy Young’s 511 wins or something which fundamental changes in the game have made basically impossible. No one is going to win 26 games a year for 20 years straight or what have you. Heck, CC Sabathia is baseball’s current gray hair among pitchers and only has a few dozen more career starts than that. It’s just a different game.

Hitters do play in 150-160 games now, though, and the good ones do average more than one hit per game. Putting them in the right arrangement may never be likely, but doing so is only a matter of stars aligning, not breaking the fundamental rules of engagement. It could happen. Maybe. Because, unlike some other records, it did before under broadly similar circumstances.

OK, that aside, I’ll offer up my favorite and most maddening DiMaggio hitting streak fact.

During his streak, which lasted from May 15-July 17, DiMaggio went 91-of-223, which is a .408 average. Between April 15-September 28 (i.e. the whole dang season) Ted Williams hit .406. And when it was all said and done he was substantially better in virtually every other batting category as well.

Joe DiMaggio won the MVP Award.