SAN FRANCISCO -- A few years ago, the Baseball Writers Association of America widened the Cy Young ballot from three places to five. This time, I found myself wishing for seven or eight.
I had an NL Cy vote this year, and there was absolutely no question who would win -- confirmed Wednesday when Clayton Kershaw’s name was announced. But there was plenty of intrigue as I filled out the rest of my ballot.
Here’s what I submitted:
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Adam Wainwright
3. Cliff Lee
4. Madison Bumgarner
5. Jose Fernandez
Kershaw was a lock. His 1.83 ERA led the league by a wide margin, and was the lowest by any qualified starting pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2000. Kershaw led the league in strikeouts again as well, and was second with 236 innings.
Wainwright was a clear No. 2, even though a couple of rough starts down the stretch plumped up his ERA to 2.94 -- seventh lowest in the NL. He led the league in innings (241.2), was third in strikeouts and also threw five complete games (two shutouts). Having Wainwright pitching every fifth day helps the Cardinals have a rested bullpen the other four.
Lee was third on my ballot, but he wasn’t there in my initial sketch. It didn’t take much research to realize that nobody besides Kershaw and Wainwright could match the value he brought to the Phillies. Only Kershaw had a better quality start percentage (83 percent to 77 percent) than Lee. He was third in innings, second in strikeouts and fourth with a 1.01 WHIP. Most impressively, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 6.94 -- far and away the best in the NL. (Wainwright was next, at 6.26.)
If WAR is your thing, then Lee ranked fourth behind Kershaw, Wainwright and the Mets’ Matt Harvey.
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There’s no way I was going to leave Bumgarner off my ballot, and if there’s bias involved, it’s only because I had the benefit of seeing him pitch every fifth day. His 2.77 ERA was fifth in the NL, a tenth of a percentage point lower than Lee, and his .203 opponent’s average lagged behind only Kershaw and Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez. Put another way: Bumgarner’s BAA was lower than Tim Lincecum’s in either of his two Cy Young Award seasons. Yes, the sabermetric stats show that Harvey and Fernandez had more valuable seasons. But Bumgarner exceeded 200 innings. To be clear, it wasn’t Harvey’s fault that he got hurt or Fernandez’s fault that the Marlins shut him down after 170 innings. But regardless of the circumstances, Bumgarner threw another three starts’ worth of high-quality innings than those guys did. That’s almost a tenth of a pitcher’s season.
Fernandez gets a mention in the No. 5 spot because he was just so dominant. Kershaw held hitters to a .195 average. Fernandez was the only NL pitcher who did better, all the way down to .182. Damn, son.
If I had a couple more spots, I would have given them to Zack Greinke, who probably makes the ballot if not for Carlos Quentin’s body slam, and Harvey. At least you can’t take that All-Star Game start away from him. Stephen Strasburg would’ve been a tough omission as well, but I actually preferred the season that his teammate, Jordan Zimmermann, contributed to the Nationals.
It’ll be interesting to see just how much support Kershaw will get on the NL MVP ballot. I generally don’t like to put starting pitchers on the MVP ballot, because games played is one of the actual listed criteria to consider. But perhaps Kershaw will get enough votes to be a factor in the final outcome.
As for Bumgarner, he just keeps getting better and better. If that trend continues, he’ll seize one of these Cy Young things before it’s all said and done. Hopefully he doesn’t leave it in his car for several months, as Lincecum so famously did.