The Curious Case Of Finding A Cy Young Winner

An article by posted on October 2, 2012

Tonight, Robert Allen Dickey will pitch his final game of the 2012 season. At 37 years old, Dickey is completing one of the most unlikely career turnarounds that most of us have ever witnessed in the sport.

I do not need to recount the history of this man’s career, I think everybody reading this knows where he’s been and how he got to where he is today.

I’m here to present the case in defense of R.A. Dickey winning the National League Cy Young.

There are many find candidates for this prestigious award besides Dickey. They include Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman (both of Cincinnati), Gio Gonzalez (Washington), Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta), and Matt Cain (San Francisco), and possibly Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles).

Of all the candidates, Dickey stands out because his team has not been in a playoff race since August, and if Kershaw is not in contention – Dickey will be the only candidate not on a playoff team.

Since 2000, only two pitchers have won the NL Cy Young while playing for an under .500 team, Tim Lincecum (SF-2008), and Brandon Webb (ARI-2006).

When the time came to nominate an All-Star starter, I believed Cain would get the nod and though I wanted to see Dickey get the start – I felt Cain’s resume was a hair better, likely boosted due to the perfect game.

This isn’t the All-Star Game starting competition though; this is the most prestigious individual award a pitcher can earn.

I need to toss Kimbrel and Chapman’s candidacy aside. They are both very impressive pitchers, but for my personal views of the award – I do not feel a closer can do enough to deserve such an honor.

When I look to find the best pitcher amongst great pitchers – I have a few statistics I look at in order to try and separate them a little bit.

They include:

Innings Pitched

I like to know if the pitcher was not only durable, but reliable. All of these starters have thrown at least 32 starts. This category creates a strike against Gio Gonzalez for me based on the fact he has yet to even hit 200 innings of work when his competitors are closing in on 220 at minimum. I also prefer (as you’ll see) to base evaluation on the actual innings pitched. Not per 9 innings. I want to see how often they did X when they had the ball in their hand.

Runs per Innings Pitched

ERA is nice, but I don’t believe any pitcher does or should go out there in a close game and think “I allowed that guy to score but he got on with an error so no biggy.” Your job as a pitcher is to keep runs off the board. You don’t get a chance to take it easy because your 2B bobbled the previous play. For this statistic – they are all even enough to not worry about it.

Walks Per Innings Pitched

I hate when a pitcher walks a batter. To me it shows a lack of dominance, and obviously control. Cueto, Dickey, Cain and Kershaw all have less than .28 walks per inning thrown. Gio Gonzalez however is at 0.38. We’ll call that half a strike on Gio.

Strikeouts Per Innings Pitched

The opposite of walks, I love a starter who can strike a better out. Sure, maybe Crash Davis was right about the strikeout but to me they show a level of dominance that a groundball to second just can’t do. For this statistic, only Johnny Cueto (0.78) gets a strike by falling well short of the mark set by Gonzalez (1.03), Kershaw (1.00) and Dickey (0.97). Matt Cain will earn himself a half a strike for his 0.88.

Keeping Score: We have Gio Gonzalez at 1.5 strikes against, Johnny Cueto with 1, and Matt Cain with 0.5.

WHIP

Sure, it’s technically a sabermetric stat but it’s still a very good evaluation for how a pitcher performs. If the pitcher’s role is to stop runs from scoring, then in order to do that – he needs to keep runners off the bases. Kershaw (1.03), Cain (1.04) and Dickey (1.05) all stand out between the 5. Gonzalez (1.13), and Cueto (1.17) stand out for the wrong reasons. Cueto, strike 2 for you – and Gio, another half!

Complete Games

In today’s game where managers use their bullpen’s in excess at times, I love looking to see who can give their team 9. Dickey has 5, while all of the others have 2 each. We won’t award any strikes against for this one, but it’s worth noting.

Run Support

This is the stat that pretty much won King Felix his 2010 Cy Young. It’s important to note, especially when you consider the Wins a pitcher has compiled in the given year. For this stat, Kershaw and Cueto are the most tortured souls with 3.79 for Cueto and 3.91 for Kershaw. Dickey (4.66), and Cain (4.63) earn half a strike for me while Gio Gonzalez earns himself his final strike thanks to a 5.38.

Keeping Score:  I have Gio Gonzalez eliminated, Johnny Cueto with 2, Matt Cain with 1, and R.A. Dickey with 0.5.

Wins

At the end of the day, winning is important. Dickey and Cueto are the only two that can win 20 games in this bunch, Cain and Kershaw both fall short of that mark.

For Kershaw, his 13 wins are understood – he had some tough luck but his 9 losses are not solely to blame for a lack of offense. You can discount a win total like Dickey’s if other stats are not there to back it up. Lance Lynn has 18 wins, you’re not going to hear anybody argue he had a better season than Kershaw.

If we’re being fair we have a half strike given to Kershaw and a full given to Cain.

Closing Argument

That leaves this debate up to R.A. Dickey and Clayton Kershaw finishing the litmus test with a half strike a piece.

In my eyes, being as objective as I can be, it has to go to Dickey under the circumstances that he had a great season from beginning to end. All of these pitchers have a great resume, and finding flaws in any of their resumes would rightfully be viewed as nitpicking. This could be the closest race between pitchers we’ve ever seen, considering there is at minimum 5 pitchers who have a solid case.

In almost any other year, Kershaw would be my choice based on his dominating numbers and lack of support. He’s almost a King Felix situation, but the difference is that in 2010 there weren’t 4-6 other worthy candidates. There were two at most (Price, and Sabathia) and Felix’s numbers far exceeded their’s.

When you’re looking for the best pitcher of the entire season – you need the total package. That package is not only how they performed when the ball left their hand, but whether or not they did enough to get their team into the win column.

The pitcher who did that for 6 months, was Robert Allen Dickey.

About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.

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