Cy Young Watch (cont.)
Honorable mention here goes to the Yankees' Hiroki Kuroda and Rangers' Matt Harrison, both of whom fair well in ERA+ (141 and 142, respectively) but lack the innings and peripherals to crash the party.
Off the list: Jered Weaver (3)
1. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds (2)
Season Stats: 16-6, 2.44 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 3.65 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 2 CG, 173 ERA+
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 2.67 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 9.67 K/BB, 7.6 IP/GS
The American League Cy Young race is a fairly straight-forward fight among six pitchers having outstanding seasons. By comparison, the NL race is somewhat segmented. There are a handful of pitchers having conventionally ace-like seasons, including the next three on this list and the Giants' Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, both of whom fell just outside my top five. There are a handful of pitchers who have been better than that group at keeping runs off the board but don't pitch as deep into games or have as strong peripherals (see the fifth spot on this list for more on that group). And then there's Johnny Cueto, who started the season as part of the latter group but has since pitched more like the former group and is once again the clear leader in this race.
Here's a quick look at Cueto's peripherals before and after June 1:
April-May: 5.8 K/9, 2.56 K/BB, 1.25 WHIP, 6.5 IP/GS
June-August: 8.1 K/9, 4.68 K/BB, 1.03 WHIP, 7.0 IP/GS
As the league leader in wins and ERA, Cueto shouldn't have much trouble garnering support from traditionalist voters, and as the league leader by a significant distance in key advanced stats such as Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement and ERA+, he should have the sabermetric crowd in his corner as well.
2. R.A. Dickey, RHP, Mets (4)
Season Stats: 15-4, 2.82 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 4.53 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 136 ERA+
Last Four Starts: 1-2, 2.79 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 4.85 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 1 CG
In his last five starts, Dickey has posted a 2.25 ERA and struck out 42 men in 36 innings. Three starts ago, he pitched a complete game against the Marlins, allowing just one run on a solo home run, walking no one, and striking out 10. Not only did that give him the NL lead in complete games, but it gave him the league lead in double-digit-strikeout games. Dickey has six. Stephen Strasburg has five. Dickey also leads the NL by one over Strasburg in games with nine or more strikeouts (9) and games with eight or more strikeouts (12)
3. Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies (N/A)
Season Stats: 14-6, 2.94 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 138 ERA+
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 10.00 K/BB, 8.2 IP/GS, 2 SHO
Toss out 2009, when his opponents had a fluky high .321 batting average on balls in play, and here are Hamels' ERA+ figures in the other five seasons since 2007: 135, 141, 133, 138, 139. Hamels' performance over the course of this season has been less consistent. Specifically, he has hit two rough patches. In four starts from May 28 to June 13 he posted a 6.08 ERA. More recently, he posted a 4.23 ERA in his four July starts. Both times, Hamels struggled with the longball. He gave up 12 home runs in those eight starts, but has allowed just nine in his other 16 turns this season. Hamels has been excellent since the calendar flipped to August, tossing consecutive shutouts on August 7 and 13 and striking out 19 men in 14 2/3 innings in the two starts that bookended the shutouts.
4. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (N/A)
Season Stats: 11-7, 2.87 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.17 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 132 ERA+
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 2.45 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 10.67 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS
In his last five starts, Kershaw has gone 4-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings against just four walks and two home runs. The first of those saw him shutout the rival Giants in San Francisco. The last of those, which came at home in Dodger Stadium on Monday night, saw him strikeout ten Giants in eight innings without allowing a walk or a home run only to lose 2-1 to Madison Bumgarner, who matched his innings, strikeouts, walks, and home run totals.
5. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Nationals (1)
Season Stats: 9-7, 2.54 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 156 ERA+
Last Four Starts: 1-1, 4.15 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 5.4 IP/GS
Zimmermann completed at least six innings in each of his first 21 starts this season, all but two of which were quality starts, but in his last four turns he completed six frames just once. That consistency was a large part of his first-place ranking three weeks ago, overcoming the fact that the Nationals won't let him pitch deep into games, never letting him work into the eighth and allowing him to throw a 100th pitch just once since June 22. With his streak broken, Zimmermann is hanging on primarily on the strength of the second best ERA and ERA+ in the league. He's also here representing comparable cases Kyle Lohse and Wade Miley (148 and 154 ERA+, respectively). Neither of those pitchers has a complete game or a strikeout rate higher than Zimmermann's, but all three have been among the best in the league at keeping runs off the board.
Off the list: Ryan Vogelsong (3), Matt Cain (5)