With only 57 days until the last day of the regular season, it is time to talk Cy Young Award. With much of the regular season behind us at this point, we have a good clue on who is in the conversation at this point, but there are also pitchers who can play themselves into equation with strong finishes to the season.
ERA and wins are the most important statistics to research when dealing with the Cy Young Award. Over the past 40 seasons, there have only been two players to win the Cy Young Award with an ERA over 3.00. Steve Carlton in 1982 (3.11) and Brandon Webb in 2006 (3.10) are the two pitchers to pull off that feat.
In that same time span, there have only been four relief pitchers that have on the award. Mike Marshall, Bruce Sutter, Steve Bedrosian, Mark Davis and most recently Eric Gagne in 2003.
The only two relievers who fit into the NL Cy Young Award discussion this season are Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman and Atalanta’s Craig Kimbrel. Chapman has 25 saves to go along with his 1.34 ERA and his stunning 16.9 k/9 inning rate. Kimbrel has more saves (31) and a lower ERA (1.29) to go along with his 15.6 k/9 inning rate.
While both players are having standout seasons, neither have the total of saves needed to win the award in 2012. Gagne, the last reliever to win the award, finished the 2003 season with 55 saves, 1.29 ERA and a 15.0 k/9 inning rate. Expect Kimbrel and Chapman to get some consideration, but not enough to win the award.
1) Johnny Cueto (14-5) 2.52 ERA- Cueto is the definite favorite right now, as he leads the NL in wins, holds a top three ERA and is on the best team in all of baseball. Cueto’s 3.7 WAR ranks him fourth in the National League. Cueto, 26, has been a staple atop the Reds rotation for years now, but is now showing just how dominant he can be.
2) Stephen Strasburg (12-5) 2.97 ERA- Strasburg is the fearless leader of an incredibly strong starting rotation in Washington. The Nationals are in first place by three games in August and much credit should go to Strasburg. Strasburg leads all starters with a 11.31 k/9 inning rate. Strasburg had a couple rough starts in July, raising his ERA above 3.00 briefly, but has since recovered. Strasburg is facing the reality of being shut down for the remainder of the season soon, but until then should be considered one of the favorites in the NL Cy Young race.
3) R.A. Dickey (14-3) 2.72 ERA- Dickey might be most deserving of this award, but since the Mets have fallen out of the playoff picture that makes it harder on Dickey. Dickey, 37, has figured it out in 2012, as he leads the NL in WAR (4.0) for starting pitchers and is tied for the league lead in wins. Despite being on a losing team, Dickey can still make some noise in the voting. It would take an incredibly strong finish to the season to win the award on a losing team, but Dickey is absolutely in the conversation.
4) Kyle Lohse (12-2) 2.79 ERA- Lohse has been the unsung hero for the Cardinals in 2012, as he’s become the leader of the Cardinals staff. In what was thought to be a down season for St. Louis, the Cardinals sit only six games behind first place Cincinnati. Lohse’s 5.4 k/9 inning rate is not as impressive as the other Cy Young candidates, but his 12 wins and 2.79 ERA justifies his case for the award at this point.
5) A.J. Burnett (14-3) 3.19 ERA- Burnett is the only pitcher to make the top five with an ERA over 3.00, but with a favorable schedule and a solid squad behind him, it is not hard to envision Burnett winning 20 games and lowering the ERA even more. If it were not for one bad outing early in the season against St. Louis (12 ER, 2.2 I.P.), Burnett would have an ERA of 2.42. That outing did happen and it cannot be erased, but that gives a perspective on just how good Burnett has been in 2012.
In the conversation
While those are the top five candidates at this point, there are a handful of pitchers in the 9-13 win range that can certainly play themselves into the conversation by the end of September. Clayton Kershaw has the ERA (2.88), but doesn’t have the wins (9). Gio Gonzalez has the wins (13), but doesn’t have the ERA (3.34).
Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner both are hovering around the 3.00 ERA mark and can improve their stock with strong finishes to the season. Rookie Wade Miley can certainly work his way into the Cy Young Award talk with a strong finish as well, as his 11-7 record and 2.83 ERA are very impressive.