Cy Young watch (cont.)
1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (3)
Season Stats: 16-5, 2.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 (207 K), 4.31 K/BB, 4 CG, 2 SHO
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 1.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 5.00 K/BB
Six weeks ago, Kershaw reappeared on this list at number five. Three weeks ago he was at number three. Now he's on top for the first time all season. Here's why: In his last 13 starts, dating back to mid June, Kershaw has gone 10-2 with a 1.65 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 105 strikeouts in 98 innings against just 19 walks. He has averaged more than 7 1/3 innings per start over that stretch, not allowed an earned run in six of those 13 starts, struck out nine or more men in six of them, and finished three of them, including a shutout of the AL Central-leading Tigers back in late June.
Those 13 starts account for nearly half of his season (27 starts total), and the other half was hardly lacking. Kershaw was 6-3 with a 2.62 ERA at the end of May with nine quality starts in 12 turns including four in which he did not allow a run and four in which he struck out nine or more. Two duds in hitters' parks (Cincinnati and Colorado) separated those 12 starts from his last 13, a reminder that he has had more success in his friendly home stadium. That's true of the majority of the pitchers on these lists, though, including Beckett and the three Phillies below, all of whom pitch in parks that typically favor hitters.
2. Roy Halladay, RHP, Phillies (1)
Season Stats: 15-5, 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 7.91 K/BB, 7 CG
Last Four Starts: 2-1, 3.29 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 7.50 K/BB, 1 CG
As great as Kershaw has been over his last 13 starts, Halladay is still right there with him in this race. Given that, it's tempting to give Halladay the edge because he pitches in a less-friendly home ballpark. However, Halladay has been a better pitcher at home than on the road this season, posting a higher strikeout rate, a lower walk rate, allowing far fewer home runs, and posting an ERA more than a half-run lower in Philadelphia, suggesting that he's not succeeding despite his home park but in some way has turned that ballpark into an advantage. That's to his credit, to be sure, but makes it seem less necessary to correct for his supposed disadvantage as a result. Also, because two of his last three starts were postponed by rain, Halladay no longer has his usual advantage in innings pitched. In fact, he and Kershaw have both thrown exactly 189 2/3 innings this season, which is second in the NL behind the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter and ninth in the majors behind Carpenter, four of the five men on my AL list, and three others. Halladay will take his next turn on Tuesday on eight-days' rest.
3. Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies (4)
Season Stats: 14-7, 2.71 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 4.90 K/BB, 5 SHO
Last Four Starts: 4-0, 0.58 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 4.57 K/BB, 1 SHO
Lee allowed one run in 42 innings in June, going 5-0 on the month, then posted a 4.91 ERA in five starts in July. You'd think he would have found some middle ground in August, but he's actually been nearly as dominant in August as he was in June. Lee has allowed a run in just one of his four August starts, and allowed just two tallies in that game. He has also struck out 32 men in his 31 innings on the month (an average of more than 7 2/3 innings per start). You can see his cumulative August results in the "last four starts" line above as he, like Halladay, has had two of his last three starts delayed by rain and will also take his next turn on eight-days' rest (on Wednesday). Throw those last three months together and you get a Kershaw-like 10-2 record and 1.78 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 106 innings against just 20 walks. Oh, and he, too, has been much better at home this season, going 10-2 with a 2.13 ERA in the City of Brotherly love and just 4-5 with a 3.54 ERA on the road.
4. Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants (5)
Season Stats: 12-10, 2.46 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 2.70 K/BB, 1 SHO
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 0.91 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 2.64 K/BB
June was a magical month for NL Cy Young candidates. Lincecum followed Kershaw's lead that month with what has now stretched into a 13-start run of dominance. Over that span, Lincecum has gone 7-5 with a 1.45 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings, while the Giants have scored a total of just five runs in Lincecum's five losses, two of which were 1-0 games, and one of which was a 2-1 defeat. Still, Lincecum has had his own problems, specifically wildness. He has walked four men per nine innings over that stretch, which has contributed to an inefficiency that has limited him to "just" 6 2/3 innings per start in that time, a fine number by any standard other than that of the men ahead of him on this list. Fortunately, he has been able to limit the damage those walks might have otherwise caused, in part by allowing just three home runs over those 13 starts, one of the many benefits of his posting a career-high ground ball rate this season.
5. Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies (2)
Season Stats: 13-7, 2.62 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 4.43 K/BB, 2 CG
Last Three Weeks: 1 GS: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 5 K, Loss
Since I last visited the Cy Young races three weeks ago, Hamels has made just one start, the results of which are listed above. Hamels' velocity was down in that game against the Nationals, and he left it complaining of a dead arm and shoulder stiffness. After a subsequent MRI showed mild inflammation in his pitching shoulder, he had one start skipped, then was placed on the disabled list retroactive to August 13. He's due to come off the DL Monday night to open the Phillies series against the Reds, and is in no way out of this race, but the Phillies will surely be careful with him from here on out. Their primary concern at this point is getting Hamels healthy for the postseason, so the odds are against him winning this award.
Speaking of the Reds, no, Johnny Cueto, who leads the major leagues with a 2.05 ERA, has not thrown enough innings this season to make this list. Putting aside closers, strike-shortened seasons, and Rick Sutcliffe, who only threw 150 1/3 innings in the NL the year he won that league's Cy Young award (he also threw 94 1/3 in the AL before a midseason trade from the Indians to the Cubs), no pitcher has ever won a Cy Young award with less than 200 innings pitched. After Sunday night's start, Cueto has thrown 140 1/3 innings this season. If he starts every fifth game the rest of the way, he'll make five more starts. Thus, even if he threw a complete game every time out, he'd only get to 185 1/3 innings, a figure five of the 10 men above (Beckett, Lincecum, and Hamels being the exceptions) have already surpassed, as has Ian Kennedy, who would be the sixth man on my NL list. Then again, if Cueto actually does throw five straight complete games in September, some voters might make an exception, but anything short of that likely won't be enough.