In 2011 Clayton Kershaw did to the NL Cy Young voting what Justin Verlander did in the AL. He didn’t leave much doubt who the best pitcher in the league was and at 23-years old captured his first of what could be multiple awards. There are a few worthy candidates this season and I’ll take a look at a few in my top 5.
5. Gio Gonzalez (WSH): 11-3, 3.01 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 112 K, 95.2 IP
The Nats lead MLB in ERA, are tied for first in WHIP, and have given up the fewest hits. Stephen Strasburg is the name from the staff most people know but Gio Gonzalez has been equally impressive. He’s tied for second in wins, sixth in strikeouts, and sports the league’s best batting average against at .195. Of all qualified leaders with a 3.10 ERA or lowers Gio has given up the fewest hits (68) and home runs (4). He won all five of his starts in May and three in a row entering today’s start versus the Rockies.
4. Johnny Cueto (CIN): 9-5, 2.35 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 86 K, 114.2 IP
Cueto is second in the league in ERA and tied for fourth in wins but his strikeout total, WHIP, and batting average against are out of the top 10. In placing him fourth on my list I placed a bit more weight in that 5 of his 9 wins and 7 have come at home in Great American Ballpark, which leads all MLB stadiums in HR allowed and is seventh in runs scored to this point. He’s 5-1 at home with just 2 homers allowed in 47.1 IP and his ERA is better there (2.28) than on the road (2.41).
3. James McDonald (PIT): 8-3, 2.45 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 90 K, 103 IP
It feels weird putting a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher anywhere near the discussion for the Cy Young Award but largely going unnoticed McDonald has put together an extremely solid first half. His 8 wins are one short of his total from 2011 in 15 fewer starts. He’s fourth in ERA, third in WHIP, and second in opponents batting average (.197). Of all qualified leaders with an ERA below 3.00 McDonald has surrendered the fewest hits (72). Like Jake Peavy he’s been the victim of little-to-no run support on a few occasions or his win total would be higher. In his three losses (Giants, Astros, and Indians) McDonald allowed 5 earned runs over 19.2 innings pitched. The Pirates were shutout in all three games.
2. Matt Cain (SF): 9-3, 2.62 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 118 K, 120.1 IP
In April Matt Cain signed a $127 million contract extension making him the highest paid right-handed pitcher in MLB history. To show the Giants they made a wise investment all he’s done to this point is post the league’s fifth best ERA, second best WHIP, fourth most strikeouts, and held opponents to a .209 batting average (fourth). He’s also tied for the NL lead in shutouts (2). Last month Cain authored one of the most impressive perfect games anyone has ever seen. With presumed staff ace Tim Linecum struggling to regain his past form Cain has taken over as the team’s top starter and cemented his place among the best in baseball.
1. R.A. Dickey (NYM): 12-1, 2.40 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 123 K, 120 IP
There isn’t much that can be said about Dickey’s season thus far that hasn’t already been said. Prior to this season he was 41-50 with a 4.34 ERA and had never struck out more than 134 batters in a single season thru 9 years. In 2012 he is first in the NL in wins, second in strikeouts, third in ERA, first in WHIP, and third in batting average against (.203). Dickey put together a streak of 44.2 consecutive scoreless innings and headed into his start on June 24 versus the Yankess as the only pitcher since 1900 to to pitch back-to-back complete games allowing one or zero hits while striking out atleast 10. In his 120 innings pitched he’s allowed a mind boggling 86 hits and while throwing a knuckleball 86% of the time has only issued 26 walks. If he were to continue his pace at 37 years old Dickey wouldn’t be the oldest to win the Cy Young (Roger Clemens won at 42 in 2004) but it would definitely be a great story nonetheless.