For months, the NL Cy Young race was a complete foregone conclusion. The Colorado Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez rocketed to a 15-1 start, and as late as June 6, he had a sub-1.00 ERA. The man was pitching completely out of his mind, and it looked like he was an absolute lock to win the award.
And then the second half of the season happened, and things turned out a little differently than we imagined.
But that’s why they play the games, right? If we didn’t bother playing the games, Jimenez would have won the Cy Young, the Yankees would already have their 28th championship, and we wouldn’t have been able to see miracle seasons from the Padres and Reds.
That’s not to say Jimenez isn’t a contender, though. He’s on my short list, along with a few other pitchers you might have heard a bit about.
Let’s go through these guys one at a time and consider why they might earn some Cy Young votes.
The big things Jimenez has going for him are his outstanding first half and his record. (That, and his awesome name. My wife can’t remember it exactly, so she calls him “Hey Baldy”. I’m not actually sure if he has hair or not under that hat, but I like the nickname.) More often than not, voters are swayed by an impressive-looking record, and Jimenez has an excellent chance to get to 21 or 22 wins. His once-stellar ERA has dropped a bit to 2.71, and his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching – essentially ERA without the benefit of the defense behind you) is the highest on my list at 3.14.
What concerns me most about Jimenez is his low K/BB ratio (only about 2 strikeouts per batter walked, not good) and the low number of innings he’s pitched. He’s certainly put up some incredible numbers, but there are other pitchers who have matched that over longer periods of time. I expect Jimenez to rack up some votes (particularly if he passes 20 wins), but I don’t think he deserves to win.
Adam Wainwright, however, is a different story. His numbers are similar to Jimenez’, except for his much lower ERA (2.30), his slightly higher K/BB ratio, and the fact that he’s pitched almost 20 more innings (good for almost three more average games). Wainwright has been lethal this season, and if the St. Louis Cardinals hadn’t decided to melt down over the last couple of weeks, he’d be sitting at 20 wins at this point. Instead, we’re left to hope the voters look past his record and give him the votes he deserves.
Josh Johnson is in a similar boat. His 11-5 record isn’t bad, but if he were playing for a higher-profile team, we’d be hearing a lot more about him and his incredible 2.28 ERA. Instead, he’s playing for the third-place Florida Marlins and remains largely a mystery to us. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s racked up that ERA while still posting a .300 BABiP (batting average on balls in play – essentially, hits the pitcher can’t control, as opposed to strikeouts, walks, and home runs). That’s not too shabby. Ordinarily, I’d be torn between Johnson and Wainwright for my Cy Young vote.
But then we come to Roy Halladay, and everything changes. No matter how you slice it, Halladay has been absolutely incredible this year. Throw out those 10 losses inflicted on him by the anemic Philadelphia Phillies offense and he’s everything you could want in a Cy Young winner. He’s pitched more innings than the rest of the guys on this list and still has the best ERA and the highest WAR (by far). He’s managed all that on the highest BABiP on the list, and has a staggeringly high K/BB ratio – nearly twice as high as his closest competitor. Halladay’s 190 Ks are the biggest reason he dominates his opponents so completely. If the Phillies could just score some runs, we’d be looking at 20 wins easy, and this wouldn’t even be an argument.
So I expect these other three to get their fair share of votes, but if there’s any justice in the world, Halladay ought to win this year’s Cy Young in a rout.