It's coming to that time of the year where conversations about the Cy Young and MVP awards heat up. While I could touch on Matt Kemp's MVP chances, today I want to review how close Clayton Kershaw really is to winning the Cy. The contenders i've included in the statistical analysis are Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Ian Kennedy, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain. Players i've excluded based on being "on the fringe" are Johnny Cueto, Ryan Vogelsong and Jair Jurrjens (All based on innings provided, but the season isn't over of course!).
Winning the Cy Young generally revolves around basic statistics. In this day and age, we are blessed with a number of advanced metrics to rate pitchers (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, WAR) etc, and while I do wish they were taken into account more, it is what it is. Traditional numbers may not be the best way to do it, but that's just how it is done for now. Innings pitched, strikeouts, walks, ERA, WHIP (Walks + Hits/IP) and W-L record are usually the key numbers, so i'll focus on that mainly.
189.2 IP, 16-5 W-L , 2.51 ERA, 207 K/48 BB, 1.02 WHIP, 4 CG (2 SHO)
Our Dodger hope. Amongst the main contenders, ERA can quite often be a wash, as a variance of a few points doesn't matter too much. The numbers that stand out for Kershaw are obviously strikeouts, and wins. 207 K's in 189.2 IP equates to a 9.82 K/9, which is obviously just plain filthy. 16 wins on a team that has hovered around 10 games under .500 for the season is remarkable, and can only serve to be a positive when compared against pitchers from the likes of Philly, where run support is all but a given. With an estimated 6 starts remaining, he has a legit shot at 20 wins for the season. He has also been rather fortunate that the patchwork defense behind him, particularly in the infield, hasn't blown out the ERA. Kershaw's improvement over the last few years is remarkable, going from a Fastball/12-6 Curve pitcher, to relying more on his slider and developed changeup for outs. From 2 legit pitches, to 3 and a half (almost 4) plus pitchers makes him so hard to hit. Walks continue to decrease, strikeouts rise, baserunners still being limited, fantastic.
189.2 IP, 15-5 W-L, 2.56 ERA, 182 K/23 BB, 1.05 WHIP, 7 CG (0 SHO)
Roy Halladay is the ultimate in consistency. Year in, year out, you know what you will get out of him, and that is quality. Innings pitched and ERA are all but identical to Kershaw, but the main standouts for him are his ridiculously low walk rate (1.09 BB/9) and ability to go the distance. 7 complete games is very impressive, and he can add to that before the season ends. Halladay has the distinct advantage of being a veteran who is economical with his pitches, so he keeps his pitch counts down, and a longer leash to finish off what he started. Younger arms get nursed, and quite often get pulled earlier rather than later to save tax on their arm. Halladay can throw 120 pitches each start, comfortably.
186 IP, 14-7 W-L, 2.71 ERA, 191 K/39 BB, 1.06 WHIP, 5 CG (5 SHO)
When he's on, I don't think there is any better pitcher in baseball. He has the ability to flick the switch and give the opposing lineup absolutely no chance of scoring. In two seperate months this year, he has been impossible to score off, but unfortunately, his ERA has bloated due to some average performances in between. He is in between Halladay and Kershaw for CG's, but what stands out is that every one of his CG's has been a shutout, an incredible feat indeed. A late surge could make his numbers even more impressive than currently.
172 IP, 13-7 W-L, 2.62 ERA, 155 K/35 BB, 0.99 WHIP, 2 CG (0 SHO)
Check out that WHIP! Combining his walks and hits, he still gives up less than 1 per inning! Simple math, less baserunners quite often leads to less runs conceded. What may work against him is how many innings of work he puts in, voters generally prefer guys who try and finish their own work, rather than having to rely on the bullpen to finish it. Once again, a stellar K/BB ratio (seems to be a trend over there in Philly). ERA is once again around elite level.
179 IP, 12-10 W-L, 2.46 ERA, 189 K/70 BB, 1.15 WHIP, 1 CG (1 SHO)
Timmy continues to be a profilific strikeout pitcher, with one of the (if not the) sickest changeup in baseball. First thing that stands out is his 12-10 W-L record, which thankfully (as proved by King Felix's Cy) is of less importance now. But he still is going to lose votes for it from the traditionalists. He's been a victim of awful run-support, the Giants ranking near the bottom of every offensive category in the league. The most alarming factor is his walk rate, which in turn drives up his WHIP. While it's not bad by any means, it creates a negative when compared to the rest on this list. Still a very dominating pitcher, but may need a big surge to push himself towards the top of the list.
180.1 IP, 16-4 W-L, 3.09 ERA, 154 K/49 BB, 1.13 WHIP, 1 CG (1 SHO)
Without a doubt, the suprise package in this list. When Cy Young predictions were made at the beginning of the season, very few people would have even thought Kennedy would be a possibility. But he truly is. He has the best W-L ratio in the National League, despite playing for an at times (but still winning) erratic Diamondbacks team. As a pitcher, he sums up what the Arizona team is, a genuine suprise. Coming across from the New York Yankees, many thought he would be a solid #2/#3 starter in the NL West, but through a string of very solid pitching performances, he has carried his team to the top of the standings. A very productive amount of innings pitched, but an ERA above 3.00 does stand out. Not a huge strikeout pitcher, just a guy who finds ways to get outs. If he can continue to carry his team, and drop that ERA down over his last half a dozen starts, there will be more talk. I bet the Yankees want a mulligan and wish they could take Kennedy back and send Phil Hughes over instead.
180 IP, 10-9 W-L, 2.90 ERA, 148 K/45 BB, 1.08 WHIP, 1 CG (0 SHO)
This side of Philadelphia, probably the best "#2" starter in the majors. I don't think there is anyone in the league that gets less recognition than they deserve, more so than Matt Cain. He isn't overpowering, but he is a pure pitcher. Eats a lot of innings, puts up a quality ERA, simply does his job. Could be a #1 on many pitching staffs, should he ever leave the Giants. Like Lincecum, he is a victim of poor run support, so his 10-9 record does not reflect his true abilities as a pitcher. Like Kershaw earlier in his career, wins are harder to come by when the bullpen is required, so if Matt Cain found a way to go even deeper into his games, he takes the decision out of the hands of others.
Cueto, Vogelsong and Jurrjens are still candidates, but for one reason or another haven't thrown enough innings (I believe) to warrant proper consideration. I do believe Vogelsong is the most improved/biggest suprise pitcher of the year however.
When it comes to making a decision on who will win the Cy Young, there are quite a few factors to considering. Above all, individual performance is the key, however some smaller things could impact the race big time. Having Halladay/Lee/Hamels all playing for one team, there is a real possibility that they may steal votes off each other. Much like Lincecum/Cain in San Francisco. With multiple standouts in a particular area, voters may spread things a little more thinly, leading to an advantage for someone like Clayton Kershaw.
When all boils down, for all the quality arms in the league this year, I do believe it will come down to standoff between Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw. I hope the winner is blue, personally.