Preview: NL Cy Young

Josh Johnson

Halladay managed to rack up 6.6 fWAR, but Johnson, in almost 70 fewer innings(You Buster Posey voters, pay attention; if you voted Posey based on density of performance, you might have to vote Johnson as well, not that I’m bitter or anything—I’m really not, but I would like some consistency), racked up 6.3 fWAR (6.4 bWAR). How did he do that? Well, he did strike out 9.11 batters per nine innings and had a pleasant 3.88 K/BB ratio, but Halladay’s K/BB was a ridiculous 7.30. So, that wasn’t it. Halladay, as stated, threw 70 more innings, so that can’t be it. Oh, here it is. Johnson’s HR rate was 4.2%, which led to a 2.41 FIP that was much lower than Halladay’s 3.01 FIP. Halladay’s FIP was so high because of his 11.3% HR/FB ratio (Note: B-Ref counts actual runs scored against, and because Johnson’s ERA is better, he does better here). I’ve come around a little on pitchers being able to control home runs a little more, so the extreme difference doesn’t trouble me too much. The problem comes twofold, however. One, Johnson was 3% below his career HR/FB while Hallday was 1% over, so I think Johnson gets more credit than he deserves. Second, Halladay was in a tough park for pitchers (which is why I won’t get hot-and-bothered over the 1% hike in HR rate), and Johnson benefitted from the cavernous ________ Stadium in Miami. Thus, what was a close competition has become not so close, and Halladay retains the trophy for now.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Tied with Johnson for second with 6.3 fWAR (7.1 bWAR) was Jimenez. A scorching start had people legitimately wondering if 25+ wins were possible, but as you might expect, Jimenez cooled off in the second half. Though the start was somewhat fluky, Jimenez was legitimately good this season compiling a 19-8 record with a 2.88 ERA (3.10 FIP) in 221.2 IP. But that 2.33 K/BB rate is less-than-stellar, though still good (just not top-of-the-NL good), and that 5.1% HR rate is a little scary. But Jimenez’s mark was only 2% lower than normal, and he pitches in a park that promotes plenty of offense, which should give him some extra credit. So, Jimenez’s 6.3 fWAR feels more legitimate than Johnson’s. I get the feeling that people dismiss Jimenez out-of-hand because they realized the “win streak” wasn’t indicative of how well he was pitching, but you shouldn’t dismiss his season. He was truly great, and although the K/BB rate isn’t so good, he does a much better job than Halladay of preventing home runs. But in the end when the production is so close, I’ll give the slight edge to Halladay for pitching 30 more innings and bring slightly better in the process. Like I’ve said, you have to split hairs when we get this close, and though I like Jimenez, he just isn’t quite the best.

Adam Wainwright

Wainwright falls just behind Jimenez and Johnson in fWAR (6.1) and even farther back in bWAR (5.7). But he managed to throw 230.1 innings with a 3.80 K/BB and a 7.9% HR rate, which is right in line with his career mark. He never seems to get quite the attention he deserves, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s that he plays in the city that loves Albert Pujols. Maybe it’s splitting the rotation duties with Chris Carpenter. Maybe it’s because he does it with a big curveball instead of a big fastball. I don’t know why he doesn’t get more pub when we argue about the best pitchers in the game, but he’s awesome. Now, does that mean he’s the Cy Young? Sorry but no. He pitched fewer innings than Halladay, had a worse K/BB, and that 79 LOB% is a little scary, but he did have a better HR rate, which wasn’t fluky. But 0.5 and 1.2 WAR differences are hard to make up, and having to quibble won’t do it like it might have for Johnson and Jimenez.

In the end, Halladay still wins, but it’s not the blow-out many imagine it to be. Johnson was awesome but not as awesome as his WARs suggest. Jimenez was as good as his record suggests but not better than Halladay (or his record). And Wainwright was excellent but just not better than Halladay. It’s kind of funny how voting works out. Halladay will win by a landslide in the voting, but he’s not that much better than Jimenez or Johnson (or Wainwright). But it actually makes sense that he would win by a landslide. If we all agree that Halladay’s the best, then he should get all the votes because those that agree (all of us in this hypothetical) will always vote Halladay number 1, and the voting will look much different than the actual difference between players (30 to 0 makes the gap seem huge). None of that really matters, but I think the differences between the gap between votes and the gap between the actual ability of the players are interesting.  Maybe it’s just me … Anyone? … That’s cool. Oh well, Halladay should win the award, and I think it’s a lock for him to actually win the award. He might even get it unanimously.