On Major League Baseball’s Facebook page yesterday there was a picture posted that featured images of R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Johnny Cueto, and Craig Kimbrell and asked who is this year’s NL Cy Young Award winner. Cardinals’ fans immediately noticing that Kyle Lohse is missing from the list of contenders, bumped from the image by two guys who have higher ERAs and a reliever.
The question you now have to ask yourself, is does Kyle Lohse belong in the conversation? I think you can certainly answer that question with a yes. His 2.71 ERA is currently third in the National League. His 15-3 record leaves many desiring more wins, something the Cardinals have had trouble earning him while their offense has struggled with consistency.
With Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey within shouting distance of 20 wins, the magical number, they are automatically viewed as the favorites. But the common complaint with wins is that they don’t really tell you how good the pitcher was, but rather how good their team was. Which is definitely true. Which is why I prefer to look at the loss.
Kyle Lohse has 3 losses in 31 starts. Dickey has 6 and Gonzalez has 8. So what does that really mean? With the way losses are handed out, that means that Kyle Lohse handed his team a lead, a tie, or a deficit close enough to come back from in 28 of his starts. What more can you ask for from a starting pitcher? In comparision, Dickey has done that 24 times, and Gonzalez has done that just 22. Then look at how many bullpen wins teams have, Lohse’s Cardinals have just 15, good for a tie for 27th in baseball, with Dickey’s Mets.
I think that means you can really look at Lohse as potentially the most valuable pitcher in the National League. But the Cy Young Award is not an MVP for pitchers. The idea is that it’s given to the “best” pitcher.
So then what defines the “best” pitcher? What makes a pitcher good? Is it durability? Is it reliability? Is it keeping runs off the board? Is it keeping runners off base? Is it keeping the ball in the park? A combination of it all? Can a reliever win it? Let’s take a look. For the sake of the comparison, I’m going to use the top-6 in ERA, all of whom have at least 12 wins and an ERA under 3.
I would say a good measure of durability is answered by the question: Does the pitcher take the mound every 5 days? How many starts does he have?
Okay, so pretty even measures here. I know that Kyle Lohse has two more starts lined up for St. Louis so he will end at 33. He’s also in line to start a tie breaker or wild card game without skipping anyone around in the rotation. Clayton Kershaw is also believed to be out for the rest of the year.
I’d have to say it’s a push among our top-6.
I would say that a good measure of reliability is how many innings the pitcher has pitched. After all, a manager rarely leaves his starting pitcher in the game if he’s getting shelled. So by logic, if you pitch more innings, the more reliable you were to turn in a solid game.
RA Dickey – 212.0
Clayton Kershaw – 206.2
Matt Cain – 199.1
Kyle Lohse – 199.0
Johnny Cueto – 197.0
Gio Gonzalez – 186.1
All but Gonzalez should be locks to score over 200 innings pitched, which is a really good benchmark. There’s a couple things to factor in though. Dickey is already 12 innings ahead of Cain, so nobody’s going to catch him. But that also has to do with the type of pitcher that Dickey is. He’s a knuckleballer, so he doesn’t have the same stress on his arm much like another pitcher would.
I’d give the nod to Dickey in this one.
Runs off the board
Keeping runs off the board, you’d think is pretty easy. However, there really is two parts to this measure. Your earned runs and your unearned runs.
RA Dickey – 2.67 ERA, 7 unearned runs (20th)
Clayton Kershaw – 2.70 ERA, 6 unearned runs (14th)
Kyle Lohse – 2.71 ERA, 7 unearned runs (24th)
Johnny Cueto – 2.92 ERA, 4 unearned runs (7th)
Matt Cain – 2.93 ERA, 5 unearned runs (26th)
Gio Gonzalez – 2.95 ERA, 3 unearned runs (8th)
In parenthesis is their team’s rank in errors. So guys like Cueto and Gonzalez, whose defenses don’t allow as many errors, ought to have fewer unearned runs. Honestly, to me, Cain impresses me the most with the shoddy Giants defense and allowing just 5 unearned. Unfortunately, his ERA is too far behind that lead pack for me to really say he wins this department.
My final measure would be a push between Dickey and Lohse.
Runners off the bases
So basically we’re talking WHIP here. Walks and hits per innings pitched. Seems the most straightforward measure.
Clayton Kershaw – 1.02
RA Dickey – 1.04
Matt Cain – 1.05
Kyle Lohse – 1.08
Gio Gonzalez – 1.14
Johnny Cueto – 1.18
The leader is Kershaw in this department. But, he’s only got 12 wins and won’t finish the season, which Will Hurt his candidacy.
Dickey, Cain, and Lohse are all pretty even in this department.
Keeping the ball in the park
This would come down to home runs per 9. There are some issues here to be aware of while using this stat, because you need to understand that Johnny Cueto plays in a hitter’s park while a guy like Kyle Lohse plays in more of a pitcher’s park.
Gio Gonzalez – 0.4 (103)
Johnny Cueto – 0.6 (107)
Clayton Kershaw – 0.7 (94)
Kyle Lohse – 0.8 (100)
Matt Cain – 0.9 (86)
RA Dickey – 0.9 (92)
The number in parenthesis is Baseball Reference’s Park Factor for each player’s home ballpark this year. Over 100 favors hitters. So I’d say this one comes down Gonzalez and Cueto pretty easily. They lead this category in hitter’s parks, while guys like Cain and Dickey pitch in primarily a pitcher’s park and allow on average a homer every 9 innings.
Combination of all of them?
If you now sit and look at the nods, Dickey has 3, Lohse has 2, while Cain, Gonzalez, and Cueto each get 1. Kershaw falls out of the running. But we already figured Kershaw was out of it due to his injury.
If you hand out points based on a 6-5-4-3-2-1 scale, Dickey and Kershaw tie with 23 points each with Lohse in third with 19. I think what that means is, that no matter which way you slice it, Dickey has likely been the best pitcher in the National League this year.
But we have stats that are designed to combine all the other stats and determine a player’s true performance or value.
Like Wins Above Replacement, which tracks a pitcher’s value in wins above a replacement-level pitcher. ESPN puts Cueto on the top of the list with his 5.2 WAR, 0.3 ahead of Dickey and Kershaw.
Or how about ERA+, which factors in field and moving league average to determine how far above the average pitcher someone is. It’s Lohse that leads this department with his 142. Dickey is just a point behind at 141, with Kershaw coming in at 140.
Pretty much what this means is that you could write an opinion piece about any of those four pitchers about why they should win the Cy Young Award, and be right. It’s a wide open race and you can really make the argument for any of them.
My personal choice would have Dickey and Lohse as a coin-flip. Both have been incredible this year. I have a hard time supporting any one of the others. Gonzalez has weaknesses in his game this year, Cueto does too, and so does Cain. The three strongest pitchers in the majors have been Dickey, Lohse, and Kershaw. With Kershaw being out, that falls to the last two and I really can’t choose.
But since I’m a Cardinals’ blog, I’ll choose Lohse. But it’ll be Dickey.
And finally, to explain why Kimbrel, Chapman, & company didn’t make it into my discussion.
Can a reliever win it?
By all means, I believe that a reliever should be allowed to win the Cy Young Award. I don’t, however, think that most closers are worthy of winning it. Craig Kimbrell is the one people have pointed out with his 1.12 ERA and his 0.675 WHIP. Both impressive numbers, but it’s only over 56 1/3 innings. Kyle Lohse has three separate months of an ERA below 2 and a WHIP around 0.8. In those months he threw a total of over 100 innings. Which is more impressive?
To be eligible, I think the reliever ought to have made a bunch of appearances. While you’re pitching 100+ fewer innings than the guys you’re up against, that’s just not fair. While you will have a harder time coming back from one big mistake, they’ll have plenty more opportunity to make mistakes. In the case between Kimbrell and Dickey, almost four times as many opportunities.