Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner could very well be listed among the top five candidates for this year's honors.
So why isn't Clayton Kershaw in our top five, especially after pitching a five-hit shutout on July 29? He just hasn't put together a consistent, dominant string of starts. In the start before that shutout, he allowed eight runs. He'll give up one run in two consecutive starts, then get roughed up for five runs the next time out.
Kershaw is third in the NL with 143 strikeouts. His 2.95 ERA is the seventh-best among the league's starting pitchers. With a 1.06 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), he's tied for fourth. Opposing batters have a .220 average against Kershaw, the NL's fourth-best mark. And his 149.1 innings are the most in the league.
Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants
We keep wanting to put Ryan Vogelsong in the top five of these rankings. He leads the majors in ERA at 2.22. His 1.13 WHIP ranks seventh in the NL. And perhaps most impressively, opposing batters are hitting only .218 against him. That's the third-best mark in the league.
Vogelsong has allowed one run in each of his past three starts, one against the Dodgers and another versus the Braves. He's only given up more than three runs once this season.
Despite that success, however, is Vogelsong the beneficiary of a good defense behind him and a large ballpark?
Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) ranks the Giants defense as the sixth-best in the league. AT&T Park is the most pitcher-friendly stadium in the majors, based on park factors. An FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.68 says Vogelsong isn't pitching as well as his ERA indicates.
Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
Here's the name that probably deserved Cy Young Award consideration a few weeks ago. Should we just put the whole Nationals rotation in these rankings?
Jordan Zimmermann has the second-best ERA in the majors at 2.28. His 1.06 WHIP ranks seventh among NL pitchers. Baseball-Reference rates him as the second-best pitcher in the NL based on WAR (wins above replacement). At 4.4, he's just behind Johnny Cueto.
With that kind of performance in the middle of the starting rotation, no wonder the Nats feel confident about shutting Stephen Strasburg down before the end of the season.
Like Vogelsong, Zimmermann benefits from a good defense (the Nats rank fifth in UZR as a team) and working in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. But keeping the ball down, getting ground ball outs and walking only 1.6 batters per nine innings is obviously an extremely effective way to win ballgames.