NL Cy Young Award Rankings: Brandon Beachy Moves Up, Chris Capuano Looks in

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterJune 1, 2012

NL Cy Young Award Rankings: Brandon Beachy Moves Up, Chris Capuano Looks in

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    Another week brings more shuffling among the top contenders for the NL Cy Young Award.

    Keeping the list at five is difficult, with so many pitchers having excellent seasons. Putting these rankings together sometimes feels like trying to shut the door on an attacking horde of zombies. (Lance Lynn wants in!) At the very least, we might need a bulletin board with index cards to move around.

    Clayton Kershaw gets squeezed out this week, though giving up seven earned runs in 12.2 innings is certainly not terrible. Seven walks is a bit of a concern, however. So is getting batted around by the Brewers and Astros, two of the worst teams in the NL. 

    As always, your suggestions for who should be included among the top contenders are welcome. But here are the players we think are the best candidates for the NL Cy Young Award this week.

Honorable Mention: Chris Capuano, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    If Clayton Kershaw wants to know why he got bumped from our NL Cy Young rankings this week, he might want to chat with one of his teammates. 

    Is Chris Capuano one of the best pitchers in the National League? I doubt anyone would consider him one of the elite arms, certainly not an ace. Yet his numbers are so good right now that it feels like they have to be mentioned here.

    Capuano's 2.14 ERA is currently the third-lowest among NL starting pitchers. His WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 1.00 is tied for the fourth-best in the league with Kershaw. Opposing batters are hitting .190 against him, which ranks third. And with 58 strikeouts in 63 innings, his ratio of 8.3 Ks per nine innings is the best of his career. 

    There is a little bit of deception behind those numbers. Capuano is helped by a Dodgers defense that Fangraphs says is the best in the NL. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.27 and an xFIP of 3.90 confirm that. 

    While mentioning a pitcher's wins as a measure of success is a quick way to get shouted down these days, it's worth noting that Capuano's seven wins are tied for the second-most in the majors. Most of those victories have been logged against lackluster competition (Padres, Pirates, Cubs Astros), but Capuano does have wins over the Braves and Nationals on his belt too. 

    Maybe this is the last time we'll see Capuano in these rankings. But the season he's having is definitely worth mentioning.

5. Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Last week: Honorable Mention

    We were ready to boot Zack Greinke from these rankings after he was shelled for seven runs and 10 hits in 2.1 innings by the Arizona Diamondbacks, in one of his two starts this past week. That was pretty awful.

    But Greinke came back in his next outing and held the Dodgers to one run over six innings. So we just couldn't quit him.

    Greinke is throwing strikeout stuff on the mound. His 69 strikeouts rank fourth in the NL, and if he maintains his current ratio of 9.6 Ks per nine innings, it would be the second-best mark of his career. 

    Yet Greinke is giving up a lot of hits. He's averaging more than a hit allowed per inning, with 70 in 65 innings. That doesn't seem to mesh with the number of strikeouts he's racked up.

    But a deeper look into his numbers reveals that Greinke is getting punished by the Brewers' defense, which ranks among the bottom third of major league teams. His 2.04 FIP and 2.50 xFIP are far lower than his 3.46 ERA.

    If Greinke's fielders caught the ball more behind him, his numbers would look even better than they already do. 

4. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    Last week: No. 2

    Taking the biggest drop in this week's NL Cy Young Award rankings is Stephen Strasburg, who looked like the front-runner for the honor in the season's first few weeks. 

    Strasburg has won his past two starts, but he labored in each of them and hardly appeared dominant. Maybe that has something to do with the competition, as he faced the Orioles and Braves, two of the better teams in baseball. But it's also beginning to look as if Strasburg is getting tired. 

    In his past three starts, Strasburg has pitched five innings or less. Prior to that, he pitched at least six innings in each outing. The Nationals were already keeping a close watch on his innings and pitch counts as he tries to build up back to full strength two years removed from Tommy John surgery. But Strasburg is confirming that he's not yet ready for a heavy workload.

    A good test for Strasburg will be his scheduled Friday start against the Braves. How will he fare against an opponent seeing him in consecutive starts, let alone one that has one of the best lineups in baseball?

3. Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves

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    Last week: No. 5

    Maybe we've been a bit harsh on Brandon Beachy in these NL Cy Young Award rankings. High strikeout numbers show dominance over opposing hitters. But with 51 in 66 innings, Beachy doesn't have as many as the other top pitchers in the NL. 

    A 3.18 FIP and 3.98 xFIP show that he's being helped out by a Braves defense that ranks among the top third in the majors. If only Zack Greinke was getting that kind of help in the field. 

    Yet changing his approach, pitching to contact and more efficiently, instead of trying to blow away batters, is clearly working well for Beachy. His 1.77 ERA leads the big leagues by a rather substantial margin. His 0.94 WHIP ranks second in the NL, while an opponents' batting average of .182 is also second-best in the league.

    Beachy has lost his past two starts, but he faced stiff competition in the Reds and Nationals. And it's not like he was bombed in either of those appearances. In 12 innings, he allowed five earned runs. He also struck out 12 in those two games, so he can get batters to swing and miss when he needs to.

    Maybe he just needs to stay away from Great American Ball Park, where he gave up three homers and a season-high four runs to the Reds. 

2. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Last week: No. 4

    Perhaps I tipped my preferences in an earlier blog post when I predicted that Cole Hamels would eventually win the NL Cy Young Award this season. However, at this point, he's not quite the best pitcher in the league.

    But he's pretty darn close. Hamels' 72 strikeouts rank second in the NL. His current ratio of 9.2 Ks per nine innings would be the best rate of his career, if he can maintain it through the rest of the season. 

    Hamels isn't walking many batters either, issuing only 14 in 10.1 innings. Perhaps staying in the strike zone is why he's allowed 57 hits thus far. The Phillies' defense hasn't been terrible, ranking in the upper third of major league teams. So when opposing batters do make contact, those balls are apparently dropping in for hits.

    The left-hander has also been a workhorse, pitching 70.1 innings in his 10 starts. That's the fourth-highest total in the NL. He'll need to keep shouldering the burden for the Phillies now that Roy Halladay is out with a strained right shoulder. But Hamels was already pitching like the team's ace, so he should be more than capable of the responsibility. 

1. Gio Gonzalez. Washington Nationals

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    Last week: No. 1

    Staying on top of our NL Cy Young Award rankings for the second straight week is the left-hander who is absolutely dominating the senior circuit.

    Gio Gonzalez leads the National League in strikeouts with 79. Only Justin Verlander has more among major league pitchers. But Gonzalez's ratio of 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest in baseball. 

    Opposing batters are hitting just .156 against Gonzalez. That's the lowest average in the majors—and by a rather significant margin. His .094 WHIP is second in the NL, just one percentage point higher than Matt Cain.

    If those numbers weren't enough of an indication that batters aren't touching Gonzalez's stuff, consider that his 4.8 hits allowed per nine innings leads the big leagues.

    The Nationals won't have to worry about Gonzalez wearing down through the season, either. He pitched 200 innings in each of his past two seasons with the Oakland Athletics. 

    As with Strasburg, Gonzalez will face the Braves in back-to-back starts, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against a lineup that just saw him. But in his previous outing against Atlanta, Gonzalez struck out 10 and allowed just one hit in seven innings. He will very likely be just fine.