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2011 NL Cy Young Award: The Top 10 Candidates

Michael FoglianoAnalyst IAugust 31, 2011

2011 NL Cy Young Award: The Top 10 Candidates

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    It's already that time of year, baseball fans-- September is almost upon us and we are just one month away from the postseason as teams are placing their bids for scarce playoff spots.

    It all comes down to this. 

    But aside from the playoff mess (and NL MVP mess), this is also the time of year when the elite pitchers declare themselves as "Cy Young worthy".

    Today, we are getting down to the bottom of who the real candidates are. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Ryan Vogelsong- 10-5, 2.63 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 112 K's, 147 IP - At the age of 34, Ryan Vogelsong is putting together the best season of his career and deserves a lot of credit for it. Although Vogelsong's numbers are very attractive, he does not have a lot of innings pitched. Had Vogelsong racked up more innings, he would be a top contender.

    Shaun Marcum- 11-5, 3.24 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 135 K's, 169.1 IP - Despite the recent surge of the Milwaukee Brewers, Marcum does not get much attention by most fans. He ranks ninth in the league in WHIP while holding solid numbers in the other categories. Marcum is definitely less likely to win it, but he deserves to be recognized for the season he has put together.

    Johnny Cueto- 9-5, 2.05 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 97 K's, 140.1 IP- There is no doubt that Johnny Cueto has been nothing but flawless since returning in May. In previous seasons, he gave up a lot of home runs, however it seems as if Cueto has learned what to do and it definitely helped him improve. What really kills Cueto is clearly his lack of innings pitched compared to the other pitchers. If Cueto started the season healthy, I think he would be a top five candidate.

    Zack Greinke- 13-5, 4.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 162 K's, 135.2 IP - In his first season with the Brew Crew, Greinke definitely had success. Despite his high ERA, he ranks seventh in the NL in strikeouts. But what makes that even more respectable is that he has only started in 21 games, opposed to those ahead of him who have at least 25 starts.

    To be honest, all of these guys could make a case to crash the top ten. And although most may be more dominant than a few others that pop up, the reason why I left most of these guys out was because of their lack of innings pitched. 

10. Jair Jurrjens

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    Stats: 13-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 90 K's, 152 IP

    Jair Jurrjens started out the season in spectacular fashion. In the first month of the season he finished with an ERA of a 1.23. Followed by May where he finished with an ERA of 1.65. 

    Jurrjens was 7-1 in his first nine outings, with an ERA below two. And to top it all off, he entered the All-Star Break with a record of 12-3. At the time, he was a top three candidate.

    Unfortunately, Jurrjens slowed down, encountered a small injury and just has not seemed the same since.

    However, if Jurrjens can turn things around and lead the Braves to win the NL wild card, his stock could easily rise. 

9. Tim Hudson

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    Stats: 13-8, 3.10 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 126 K's, 177 IP

    At 36 years old, Tim Hudson is still pitching strong, but also still receiving little credit.

    Hudson has been nothing but consistent this season. Aside from his last outing, Hudson has not given up more than three runs in a game since June 5th.

    Had it not been for a couple of hard-luck losses, Hudson could easily have 15 wins right now.  

8. Yovani Gallardo

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    Stats: 15-8, 3.37 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 158 K's, 176.1 IP

    Yovani Gallardo sparked in May when he recorded five wins and a 2.25 ERA. And last night he really cemented his value in an outing against the Cubs where he went seven innings deep and struck out a whopping ten.

    At the age of 25, Gallardo is establishing himself as a real ace as he has clearly made improvements. Since 2009, Gallardo has lowered his walks, ERA and WHIP while at the same time increasing his wins. 

    If Gallardo keeps things up, he can have as many as 20 wins by season's end. And if he comes up clutch in winning the Brewers the division, then his stock can easily go sky high.

7. Ian Kennedy

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    Stats: 17-4, 3.03 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 161 K's, 187.1 IP

    What a dark horse pick for the Cy Young.

    Ian Kennedy goes unnoticed by most baseball fans, yet he has put together one of the best seasons this year among every other pitcher in the league.

    Overall, Kennedy leads the National League in wins, is fifth in innings pitched, seventh in strikeouts, eighth overall in WHIP, and is one place shy of the top ten in ERA.

    Kennedy is on pace for 20+ wins this year and if he plays a major impact in helping the Diamondbacks win the division down the stretch, you can guarantee Kennedy as a top five candidate.

6. Matt Cain

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    Stats: 10-9, 2.87 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 154 K's, 188 IP

    Despite the average record, believe it or not, Matt Cain is having the best season of his career.

    Cain's resurgence really started in the month of June where he went undefeated with an ERA of 1.65. His ERA on the year, which currently ranks ninth best among NL pitchers and his WHIP which currently ranks fifth among pitchers are the best of his career.

    Although he is just one game above .500, Cain has received three losses when giving up two runs or less, and one additional loss when he gave up three runs.

    Furthermore, Cain has nine no-decisions on the year. In six of them, he gave up two runs or less, one of which was a shutout. As for the other three, he only gave up three runs. "Hard luck" is written all over this guy.

    However, the voting committee has been more friendly when it comes to wins. And in this case once again, Cain has the division and wild card race to help out his stock.

5. Tim Lincecum

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    Stats: 12-11, 2.58 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 193 K's, 185 IP

    Just Tim Lincecum having another great year as usual. 

    After winning back-to-back years, he slowed down a bit in 2010. Perhaps he is not pitching as well as he did a couple years ago, but he is still dominant.

    Lincecum currently ranks fourth in ERA, second in the league in strikeouts, but also second in walks with 74.

    Although I do not believe he is pitching as well as he should be, he is still putting together a very solid year. 

4. Cliff Lee

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    Stats: 14-7, 2.71 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 191 K's, 186 IP

    Cliff Lee's start to the season was average, but had a red hot month of June. And when I say red hot, I mean red hot-- 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA, three complete games and an NL leading five shutouts.

    Now we are in August and Lee is having another one of those months. This month, Lee is 4-0 thus far with an ERA of 0.51 and three shutouts, one of which was a complete game.

    Lee has recorded at least 10 K's in a game eight times this year and currently ranks second best in the NL.

    He has been nothing but dominant this season, and his stuff looks even nastier than last year.

3. Cole Hamels

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    Stats: 13-7, 2.58 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 162 K's, 178 IP

    Supposedly the third guy in the Phillies starting rotation, Hamels is putting together a Cy Young type year and is a sure thing top three candidate.

    Hamels posts the best WHIP in the NL, and second in the entire league behind Justin Verlander. As for ERA and strikeouts, he ranks sixth best among NL pitchers. Keep in mind Hamels missed a start.

    Although Hamels is pitching even better than last year, he is still a victim of poor run support. In three of his losses this year, he gave up just two runs. The record is not what it shows.

    As the "third guy", Hamels generally falls behind the scenes of Lee and Roy Halladay. But he just might surprise everyone and snag the award.  

2. Roy Halladay

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    Stats: 16-5, 2.47 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 191 K's, 196.2 IP

    When is he not competing for Cy Young?

    Roy Halladay is as good as they come and the numbers don't lie. In fact, Halladay currently ranks third in the NL in ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and wins. 

    Not only that, but Halladay has the ability to go deep into games as he leads the NL in complete games with seven. Seven!

    But to go on even more, Halladay has walked just 25 batters this season, the fewest among all qualified pitchers. Plus, he has the best strikeout to walk ratio in the entire MLB with a 7.91. To prove how good that is, the next closest in the entire league is Dan Haren, and he has a 5.89.

    Halladay's chances are looking very strong entering September and if he keeps it up, he could be looking at back-to-back Cy Young Awards. 

1. Clayton Kershaw

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    Stats: 17-5, 2.45 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 212 K's, 198.2 IP

    If I had the power to cast a vote that mattered, it would go to this guy. 

    Although Halladay's numbers are incredible, Clayton Kershaw has just been tearing it up this year (and this is coming from a Phillies fan).

    Kershaw, who is just 23 years old, has always been regarded as having a lot of potential. This is the season where he put it all together.

    When you take a look at the stats, Kershaw dominates-- first in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts and second in WHIP and ERA. Plus he is second in strikeouts per nine innings with 9.60. His stuff is just plain old filthy

    Just like Halladay, he can go deep into games and his five complete games (second in NL) clearly demonstrate it.

    Kershaw has been nothing but a workhorse this year and even if the Dodgers are not doing well, Kershaw still deserves to win the award. 

Conclusion

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    It certainly is the year of the pitcher and it will definitely be a very close Cy Young race. 

    But rankings aside, all of these pitchers deserve to be recognized for the season they put together this year. And there are even more pitchers that I did not include on this list that easily deserved a mention, such as Hiroki Kuroda.

    In the end, I think it will be a Halladay vs. Kershaw showdown and it will be a very close outcome.

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