Lightning round (cont.)
1. R.A. Dickey, RHP, Mets (1)
Season Stats: 19-6, 2.66 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 (209 K), 4.02 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 5 CG, 3 SHO, 142 ERA+
Remaining starts: Thursday vs. Pirates, Tuesday at Miami
2. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (2)
Season Stats: 12-9, 2.68 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 (211 K), 3.64 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 143 ERA+
Remaining starts: Friday vs. Rockies
Dickey will get two shots at winning his 20th game against cratering teams, and if he gets it, he will likely sew this award up despite the fact that Gio Gonzalez got there first. Dickey, a 37-year-old knuckleballer, would be a deserving winner, but it's worth noting just how close this race really is. Bearing in mind the fact that Dickey has received roughly one more run of support per 27 outs, cover up his and Clayton Kershaw's records and look at the rest of the stats presented above. That's a virtual tie, isn't it?
Dickey's edge over Kershaw includes leading the majors in quality starts (25, tied with Yovani Gallardo, to Kershaw's 23) and quality start percentage (81 percent) and NL in innings pitched (220 to Kershaw's 211 2/3, both in 31 starts), and he holds several other small advantages in the stats above. He also had the most impressive stretch by any pitcher this season from late May to the end of June. All of that makes him the clear winner, something his two remaining starts will likely cement, but it's worth remembering just how close Kershaw came to winning back-to-back Cy Youngs at the ages of 23 and 24. If not for his bad hip, he might have done it.
Kershaw, who pitched well save some rust in his return to action Sunday night, will make at least one more start. However, with the Dodgers' elimination number at four (any combination of Cardinals wins and Dodgers losses adding up to four will prevent them from making the playoffs), he could well be pitching to save his team's season on Friday and may be shut down after that as his next turn wouldn't come up until the final day of the season and the Dodgers seem almost sure to be eliminated well in advance of that.
3. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds (3)
Season Stats: 19-9, 2.83 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.0 K/9 (164 K), 3.42 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 2 CG, 149 ERA+
Remaining start: Sunday at Pittsburgh
Cueto led this race for much of the season, but a 5.08 ERA in five September starts dropped him below Dickey and Kershaw. As it stands, he just barely edges out the Cardinals' Kyle Lohse and the Nationals' Gonzalez for the third spot, while Cole Hamels and Matt Cain have arguably out-pitched all three of them save for the one very important department of run prevention.
You may have noticed that I've gone all season without mentioning two closers, the Braves' Craig Kimbrel and the Rays' Fernando Rodney, with regard to the Cy Young award. Some might find that unusual given their season stats:
Kimbrel is about to set the record for the highest single-season strikeout rate by a pitcher with at least 21 innings pitched in major league history (in 2010 he struck out 17.4 men per nine innings in 20 2/3 innings, the record for any pitcher with more than six innings pitched). After striking out the only four men he faced (in a single inning, no less) on Wednesday night, he has struck out more than half of the 221 batters he has faced this season.
Meanwhile, only one man has ever saved 40 games while posting an ERA lower than that of either of the two men above, that being Dennis Eckersley in 1990, when he saved 48 games and posted a 0.61 ERA. Save for 10 extra walks, Rodney's performance, one of the most unexpected of the season, is a near-exact replica of Eckersley's 1990 season. Of course, Eck didn't win the Cy Young in 1990 either, and he shouldn't have won it two years later when he was also, incredibly, named the AL's Most Valuable Player.
The reason for omitting Kimbrel and Rodney is one stat that isn't list above: innings pitched. Kimbrel has thrown 60 1/3 innings and Rodney 71 1/3. I don't care how dominant a one-inning closer might be, I simply can't justify including them in a discussion with pitchers who have thrown three times as many innings. That's really the end of the discussion for me.
What Rodney and Kimbrel have done this season has been remarkable, but hasn't been nearly as valuable as the performances of Dickey, Verlander and their challengers above.
1. Wade Miley, LHP, Diamondbacks (1)
Season Stats: 16-11, 3.32 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 6.4 K/9 (134 K), 3.62 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS, 126 ERA+
Remaining start: Monday vs. Rockies
Miley seemed to have this award in the bag a month ago, but he has left the door open a crack with a 6.45 ERA over his last four starts, just one of which was quality. Fortunately for Miley, no one was really knocking on the door to start. Some portion of the electorate may reward Bryce Harper for becoming just the second teenager in major league history to hit 20 home runs in a season (the Red Sox's Tony Conigliaro became the first when he hit 24 in 1964).
However, while Harper's performance this year has been extremely impressive for a player of his age, and could see him finish with 20 steals as well (he stole number 17 Wednesday night), the Rookie of the Year has historically been about the best performance independent of age or experience outside of the league, not the performance most suggestive of future success. For all of the skill Harper has displayed, his battling line (.262/.332/.459) leaves me a bit cold.
2. Norichika Aoki, RF, Brewers (NA)
Season Stats: .289/.356/.440, 10 HR, 48 RBI, 76 R, 28 SB
Aoki, the 30-year-old Nippon Professional Baseball veteran, wins an apples-to-apples comparison with Harper of top-of-the-order outfielders. He has hit for less power, but leads in batting average and on-base percentage by larger margins than that by which he trails Harper in slugging, which gives him a significant edge as OBP is the most important statistic of the three. Aoki also has a big advantage in steals, swiping his 28 bags at a crisp 80 percent success rate. Harper's play in centerfield closes the gap, but not by enough. Aoki takes over this spot from teammate Mike Fiers, who has gone 1-3 with a 6.97 ERA in September.
3. Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies (N/A)
Season Stats: .274/.315/.540, 27 HR, 70 RBI, 66 R
Rosario leads NL rookies in home runs and RBIs and is just one behind Mike Trout for the major league rookie lead in home runs. Yes, Rosario plays in a favorable ballpark for such a thing, but that seems insignificant compared to the fact that he's come to the plate roughly 200 fewer times than Trout this season. By going 14-for-24 over the past week, Rosario has pulled his on-base percentage up over .300, and when I consider the fact that the average major league catcher has hit .249/.319/.401 this season, the only thing that keeps me from ranking him higher is his relative lack of playing time.
Out of the Top 3: Mike Fiers (2), Todd Frazier (3)
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (1)
Season Stats: .323/.395/.551, 28 HR, 78 RBI, 124 R, 47 SB
Never mind 2012, this is the greatest rookie season in the Live Ball Era. Trout will win this award unanimously.
2. Yoenis Cespedes, LF, A's (2)
Season Stats: .288/.349/.494, 21 HR, 78 RBI, 63 R, 16 SB
It's amazing how completely Cespedes has been overshadowed by Trout this season, particularly given the hype that surrounded Cespedes prior to his signing with the Oakland and the A's surprising performance this season. Cespedes has been a big part of the A's success, particularly in the second half, in which he has avoided the disabled list and hit .307/.366/.515 while the team has gone 45-24 (.652). Not that team performance is relevant here, but it's just surprising how little discussion there has been about how much Cespedes has lived up to the hype. He just might get his due in the postseason, assuming Trout and company don't ruin that as well.
3. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers (3)
Season Stats: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 (214 K), 2.43 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 116 ERA+
Remaining start(s): TBD
Darvish came down with a stiff neck prior to his last start and it remains to be seen when he'll start next. If he feels better in time, he'll start Friday against the Angels then again against the A's in Oakland on the final day of the season. If not, he'll likely make just one more start, likely on Sunday against the Angels.
Whatever the final week holds for Darvish, he has secured this third spot in the Rookie of the Year voting thanks to his last seven starts, over which he has gone 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA with his usual plethora of strikeouts but newfound control that has seen him walk just 2.5 men per nine innings, good for a 4.29 K/BB ratio and a BABIP-assisted 0.79 WHIP.