Lee Dominates; Who’s Your Cy Young?

Cliff Lee threw his sixth shutout last night. That’s the most in the big leagues since Randy Johnson threw six for Seattle and Houston in 1998. It’s also the most in the National League since Tim Belcher threw eight for Los Angeles in 1989 and the most for the Phillies since Steve Carlton threw six in 1982.

Lee has a 0.37 ERA in his last six starts. Wow, you say? Wow, indeed. Elias Sports Bureau found only two other pitchers in Phillies history had a 0.40 ERA or better in a six-start span: Carlton in 1972 and Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1915. Here is something else interesting from Elias: Lee is 16-7 with a 2.47 ERA and Roy Halladay is 16-5 with a 2.49 ERA. The only other pair of teammates over the past 40 seasons with 16 or more wins and an ERA under 2.50 on-or-before Labor Day was Pedro Martinez (17-4, 2.22 ERA) and Derek Lowe (18-6, 2.33 ERA) for Boston in 2002.

Which brings me to this: Who is the National League Cy Young?

I understand why, but Phillies fans say it’s either Halladay or Lee. Period. It seems everybody here forgets about Clayton Kershaw, who is having an incredible season in Los Angeles. Let’s take a look at Kershaw, Halladay, Lee, Ian Kennedy (who leads the league in wins) and Cole Hamels (who would be more in the conversation if he had a couple more wins).

League rankings are in parenthesis:

  • Wins: Kennedy – 18 (1), Kershaw – 17 (2), Halladay – 16 (3), Lee – 16 (3), Hamels – 13 (9).
  • ERA: Kershaw – 2.45 (2), Lee – 2.47 (3), Halladay – 2.49 (4), Hamels – 2.63 (6), Kennedy – 2.96 (10).
  • Complete games: Halladay – 7 (1), Lee – 6 (2), Kershaw – 5 (3), Hamels – 2 (5), Kennedy – 1 (17).
  • Shutouts: Lee – 6 (1), Kershaw – 2 (2), Kennedy – 1 (4), Halladay – 0 (NA), Hamels – 0 (NA).
  • Innings: Kershaw – 205.2 (1), Lee – 203.2 (2), Halladay – 202.2 (3), Kennedy – 194.1 (6), Hamels – 185 (10).
  • Strikeouts: Kershaw – 222 (1), Lee – 204 (2), Halladay – 195 (3), Hamels – 169 (8), Kennedy – 167 (10).
  • Opponents OPS: Kershaw – .566 (1), Hamels – .572 (2), Halladay – .591 (4), Lee – .599 (6), Kennedy – .660 (10).
  • Base runners per 9 innings: Hamels – 8.90 (1), Kershaw – 9.28 (2), Lee – 9.50 (3), Halladay – 9.68 (4), Kennedy – 10.44 (8).
  • Strikeout-to-walk ratio: Halladay – 7.50 (1), Lee – 5.10 (2), Hamels – 4.45 (3), Kershaw – 4.44 (9), Kennedy – 3.27 (10).
  • WAR: Halladay – 7.2 (1), Kershaw – 6.2 (2), Lee – 5.9 (3), Hamels – 5.2 (4), Kennedy – 3.8 (11).

We can drop Kennedy from the conversation. He leads the league in wins, but wins aren’t truly indicative of a pitcher’s performance. (The bullpen blew leads in two of Halladay’s last three starts, which would have given him 18 wins.) I think Hamels would have a better shot, but in the end missing a couple starts will hurt his overall numbers when compared to Kershaw, Halladay and Lee. Now ask yourself this question: If you were a baseball writer in Milwaukee or Houston or Florida or Colorado, who is having the best season of the remaining three? Kershaw has more wins, innings and strikeouts; a better ERA, opponents OPS and base runners per 9 innings than Halladay and Lee. Halladay has more complete games and a better WAR and K-to-BB ratio than the other two. Lee has more shutouts.

Kershaw’s edge over Halladay and Lee in some of those categories is slight. Kershaw could have the edge nationally, but I’ve got to think a strong finish from Halladay or Lee, especially if Lee keeps doing what he’s doing, puts one of them ahead at the end. My vote? Halladay. He has been more consistent than Lee and he’s the undisputed ace on a rotation of aces. And the differential between Halladay and Kershaw in some of those categories is negligible. The tie goes to the best pitcher in baseball, who is playing for the best team in baseball.

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24 Comments

If the Cy Young Award is the Most Valuable Pitcher Award (which it is) and the Most Valuable Player Award almost never goes to a player on a losing team, how is Clayton Kershaw in the conversation for the Cy Young Award? How can a pitcher on a .486 ballclub win the Most Valuable Pitcher Award? Is Matt Kemp going to win the MVP Award? No.

Discuss.

The Cy Young has been awarded 99 times. The recipient has played for a 3rd place or lower team 25 times. The recipient has played for a losing team 15 of those 25 times and for a .500 team once which happened to be Cliff Lee with the Indians in 2008. So there is roughly a i in 4 chance that a Cy Young Award recipient plays for neither a 1st or 2nd place team and slightly greater than a 1 in 6 chance the recipient plays for a losing team. It is a stretch to say that the Cy Young “almost never goes to a player on a losing team”. After looking at it, I am surprised that it happens so often.

Read what I wrote. I didn’t say that the Cy Young almost never goes to a losing team, I said THE MVP AWARD ALMOST NEVER GOES TO A PLAYER ON A LOSING TEAM.
Thanks for your exhaustive research, but it’s not about what I said. Look up MVP awards now. :)

muleman, excuse me if I can’t follow your convoluted discourse. The long and short of it as far as the Cy Young Award is concerned is that it often goes to a player from a team with a losing record. The fact that Kershaw is a contender should come as no surprise based on the historical data. Your take away here should be that you can not conflate the Cy Young Award and the MVP Award. Two different awards, two distinct set of criteria.

Muleman, the Cy Young actually is not the Pitcher MVP. The award is for the Most Outstanding Pitcher. Simply put its supposed to be for the pitcher who has the most outstanding season. Thus team record has nothing to do with how outstanding a single individual was. Heres a pic of the award that confirms this:
http://cdn0.sbnation.com/imported_assets/546275/cy_20-_20zack_medium.jpg

simply put, its not the most valuable pitcher award.. its the most outstanding pitcher award.. check back thru history, there is a ton of precedent on pitchers from teams that dont make playoffs winning the cy young.. best example was right here in Philly.. Steve Carlton won 27 games and the Cy Young on a year the Phillies only won 60 games..

Simply put, the trophy says “Most Valuable Pitcher.” That’s what it is. Look at the trophy and you’ll see it. Simply put.

No it doesn’t. I just wrote this above but I’ll repeat it here as a direct response to you that the award itself states that its for Outstanding Performance. No mention of value. Heres a pic of the trophy:
http://cdn0.sbnation.com/imported_assets/546275/cy_20-_20zack_medium.jpg

I can’t argue with the Halladay consitent statement, but as of last night, I believe Lee to be the leader in the field. It’s hard getting around Doc having 6 complete games, and zero shutouts, Cliff going 6 and 6. Plus, Cliff has 5 more 7 inning or more shutouts. Kershaw is a worthy candidate, but I rightly or wrongly apply a you can’t just tie the champ, and see Lee’s dominance as an edge over him as well. Cliff’s better at home, but home is a hitter’s park. CK’s better at home, too, but his home is a relatively cozy pitcher’s park.

I’m glad I am not voting- that is a tough field if you ask me. I would love to see Cliff get it – has any team ever had 2 pitchers on their staff that has a Cy Young from each League?

I think if Lee finishes this month as he did the last he will be the clear cut favorite.

I say who gives a fuck i just want a parade..
gun to my head though? Roy

I agree with Al… Parade!!!
But if the season ends today, Roy. I think Lee can jump over him if he keeps pitching like a madman. And yes, Kershaw gets to pitch in Dodger Stadium!! Let’s take a look at the homers the Phillies’ pitchers have given up at home. I bet there was at least one scraper that wouldn’t get out at Dodger Stadium.

Unfortunately, Andrew, looking at the HR’s given up by Halladay and Lee at CBP: only two homeruns would not be out at Dodgers Stadium (one for each pitcher). Both were solo shots, so I really doubt taking away either HR would have a major effect on either games (a Halladay loss and a Lee ND). Taking away a single ER would also have a tiny effect on their ERA’s as well.

Good article. Unfortunately (assuming the candidates are in largely the same positions come voting time), I think Lee and Halladay will split first-place votes, both due to the closeness of their statistics (as you point out), but also because they are on the same team. As a result, Kershaw will be in a position to win the award. I’m not saying he wouldn’t be deserving; I’m saying the fact that Lee and Halladay are on the same team means it won’t be as close as it might otherwise be.

Great point! Best input I’ve seen, even though I don’t like the outcome. How about Roy for MVP, Cliff for Cy Young, and Worleybird for rookie of the year? Cole for another world series MVP. Not likely, but it would be awesome!

It’s basically a toss-up but right now Kershaw would be my pick. Currently first in all of the most important categories: ERA, WHIP, opponent OPS, strikeouts and innings.

Agree with Shaun that, historically, the Cy Young has not been interpreted as the MVPitcher.

Regardless of how it’s interpreted, it is the Most Valuable Pitcher Award. That’s why there is an MVP and a Cy Young Award. And it’s why discussing Verlander for MVP is equally ridiculous. Pitchers and players have separate awards.

Verlander is most definitely a candidate for MVP in the AL. In fact, you could list all the candidates for MVP on all the contending teams and Verlander probably has the most impact on his team’s success. That is the very definition of MVP.

If I had to vote today, it would be Kershaw. Kershaw leads in most of the important categories and he isn’t playing for a very good team. Todd doesn’t help his argument for Roy by using a category like WAR, the ultimate cybergeek category.

I had Lee third before the last week, but he’s jumped up to close to a tie with Kershaw, IMO. If he keeps this up for a few more starts, they won’t be able to deny him. Shutouts can’t be beat.

King Felix was the most recent example of team record not mattering (and wins/losses for that matter). The two runs that Lee has gone on this season would make me vote for him because of just how rare that is and the rest of his numbers stack up. The last month will definitely help determine a favorite, but right now I would also guess Kershaw.

Also @ Justin S. ballpark isnt negligible, but its hard to determine the worth. It may be true that theres only 2 balls that wouldve been caught in LA for our pitchers, but Im sure theres a few more doubles off the wall that would be caught in LA. That being said, theres probably more bloop hits that fall in LA when the OFs are deep (which is a larger % of hits that pitchers like those 3 give up than average pitchers who give up more hard hit balls) and more doubles that turn into triples.

Am I going to believe the statistics or am I going to believe my lying eyes? I am going with my lying eyes – Cliff Lee Cy Young Award winner hands down.

I feel like its hard to have seen that last two months that Lee has been having and not give him the Cy Young, he’s just been incredible.

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