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No, Jayson Stark, Craig Kimbrel is not the NL Cy Young

Sep 22, 2012, 5:16 PM EDT

Craig Kimbrel AP

ESPN’s Jayson Stark built his Cy Young case for Craig Kimbrel in Friday’s column. It’s chock full of some delicious statistics that demonstrate Kimbrel’s unprecedented accomplishments, and it’s well worth reading. It’s actually a really good column. I just totally disagree with the premise.

Now, I’m not one to say relievers don’t deserve consideration for the Cy Young Award. But it would have to be a truly epic season for a reliever to trump the league’s top starters.

And in a way Kimbrel is having that epic season. His strikeout rate is ridiculous. His .128 average against is insane. He’s incredible, and there’s no one I’d rather have pitching the ninth for my team right now.

That said, Kimbrel’s sole job is pitching the ninth inning with a lead of one, two or three runs. Of his 57 1/3 innings this season, 55 have been the ninth. He’s gotten one out in the eighth, and he’s twice pitched in extras.

And Kimbrel has blown three of his 41 save chances. That’s very good, maybe even great, but it’s far from historic.

When Eric Gagne won his Cy Young award in 2003, he was a perfect 55-for-55 converting save chances. He also threw 82 1/3 innings. Kimbrel figures to finish at about 60 innings.

Kimbrel is one of five closers this season with at least 34 saves and no more than three blown saves. Jim Johnson is 46-for-49. Fernando Rodney is 43-for-45. Joel Hanrahan is 36-for-39. Joe Nathan is 34-for-36.

Last year, Jose Valverde was 49-for-49 saving games and John Axford was 46-for-48. Valverde finished fifth in the AL Cy Young balloting and Axford was ninth in the NL.

Now, Kimbrel is more dominant than those guys and maybe that should matter, given that Cy Young is for “best pitcher” rather than “most valuable pitcher.” But unless that “best” is adding more wins to his team’s total, I find it hard to put weight to it. Because the closer’s role is so specific these days, the guy who routinely strikes out the side in the ninth isn’t doing anything more to help his team than the Todd Jones-type nail-biter who always puts two guys on before securing the save.

Give me a reliever who works the eighth on occasion, throws 80-90 innings and picks up several wins in tie games and maybe he could be a Cy Young winner. Something along the lines of Tyler Clippard‘s 2011, only better. As is, I’m taking the starter. In this case, it’s R.A. Dickey.

  1. willclarkgameface - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    The NL Cy Young should go to NOT Strasburg because he didn’t pitch an entire season, yet another reason they should have kept him around.

    Don’t give it to Kimbrel.
    Don’t give it to ANY Nats.

    Give it to RA DICKEY. Dude deserves it.

    • paul621 - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:35 PM

      Why even bring up Strasburg? He has nothing to do with this article.

  2. dcfan4life - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    Should baseball have a seperate award for best relief pitcher? Just saying, there are as many relievers as starters and very few do both. And those few who start and relieve would never be considered for such an award (usually demoted). So why not? An article with that topic should get tons of responses.

    As for Kimbrel winning the Cy Young, no chance…

    • Matthew Pouliot - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:27 PM

      If you read the article, Stark says he proposed adding a BBWAA award for relievers and had the idea shot down.

      • dcfan4life - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:45 PM

        The whole concept of just 1 pitcher in each league winning an award in todays baseball is silly. People dont start or finish nearly as many games as they did when the Cy Young Award was first given. Baseball always has had trouble evolving to todays game, keeping tradition in areas they could easily adapt to. I also remember when steroid testing was brought up in the 90s and shot down…

    • crpls - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:29 PM

      Don’t they still have the Rolaids Relief/DHL Delivery Man/whatever it’s called now? It’s not voted on, but still…

      • Matthew Pouliot - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:32 PM

        Yeah, the DHL Delivery Man Award. It is voted on by a panel (it used to be voted on by the fans). Not BBWAA-related.

        The old Rolaids Award was determined by a formula.

    • chill1184 - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:30 PM

      That’s an interesting topic to explore, why not make a separate award for relief pitchers given the erratic nature of bullpens.

  3. Matthew Pouliot - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    One more thing I could have mentioned here: I’d probably vote Medlen before Kimbrel. 125 innings of a 1.51 ERA ain’t half bad. If I had a vote, I’d probably put him fourth or fifth anyway.

    • proudlycanadian - Sep 22, 2012 at 6:20 PM

      Good thing that Craig does not have a vote. He would be tempted to vote for Kimbrel.

  4. thefalcon123 - Sep 22, 2012 at 6:23 PM

    Weak excuse to talk about something vaguely on topic time…

    …you want an epic season by a closer that is largely ignored? Try Dennis Eckersley’s 1990. It’s ignored in large part because 1). He (stupidly) won the Cy Young and MVP in his inferior 1992 season and 2). Bobby Thigpen brokes the saves record in 1990.

    How about this:
    48 saves in 50 chances
    0.61 ERA in 71 innings
    4 Walks…all year. Only 3 of which were intentional (and one of them was, improbably enough, to Dante Bichette who couldn’t draw a walk to save his life!)
    18.25 SO/BB ratio
    603 ERA+
    Gave up just 2 home runs
    Opposing batters had a .172 OBP against him

    …For the record, he didn’t deserve the Cy Young that year either.

    • jahiegel - Sep 22, 2012 at 7:30 PM

      And yet he would have been more meritorious, one imagines, than that year’s winner, Bob Welch, whose well outpointing Clemens was altogether indefensible (or, rather, defensible only in reference to useless metrics). Not infrequently a player who is third-most valuable on his team nevertheless wins an MVP award (Morneau in 2006, for instance), but such a contemptible result should be less likely to eventuate in Cy Young balloting, the class of candidates for which is smaller, and yet it was managed here (Welch has to be classed behind Dave Stewart and Eckersley); rarer still–and present here, in fact perhaps uniquely, too–is a player’s winning an award amongst the top 25 (objectively-determined) candidates for which he is not situated.

  5. phillyphannn83 - Sep 22, 2012 at 6:23 PM

    You know, I started reading this because Jayson Stark made his bones here in Philly and because its a column about Kimbrel, naturally I assumed it was a Craig Calcaterra piece. By the end, I had gained a new found respect for CC that he would not agree with Stark despite it being props for one of his beloved Bravos. As a writer who makes his bones trolling Phillies fans and being a homer for Atlanta I thought, wow, I was wrong about this guy, he CAN be objective! He is even being intelligent and picking R.A Dickey, a most deserving candidate.

    Then I scroll to the top and see this brilliant, thoughtful piece of writing is actually Matthew Pouliot. *sigh*

    Nice work btw, Matt.

    • Francisco (FC) - Sep 22, 2012 at 6:58 PM

      LOL I seriously doubt Craig would vote for Kimbrel. You take Craig’s bait WAY too seriously.

  6. tfbuckfutter - Sep 22, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    Josh Beckett for AL Cy Young.

    I mean come on….name one pitcher who had a bigger impact on his team.

    • Francisco (FC) - Sep 22, 2012 at 7:00 PM

      I thought said impact had to be… you know… Good?

      • tfbuckfutter - Sep 22, 2012 at 7:03 PM

        He got them out of the Carl Crawford contract.

        He’d get my vote.

  7. Charles Gates - Sep 22, 2012 at 7:29 PM

    Melky Cabrera is still eligible to win this award. He should be in the conversation.

    • micker716 - Sep 22, 2012 at 9:39 PM

      He requested not to be considered. Bud’s on board.

  8. onbucky96 - Sep 23, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    I’m a Brewer fan, and I don’t believe relievers should get Cy Young awards, no matter how much they pitch. Sorry Rollie, keep greasing the ‘stach!

  9. movaughnsanis - Sep 23, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    Lucas Harrell should get some votes. He is 10-10 with a chance to finish above .500 FOR THE ASTROS! That would be a pretty amazing feat, in line with Carlton’s 1972 effort pretty much. Harrel for Cy Young! You heard it here first.

  10. phillyphannn83 - Sep 23, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    Fransisco, I enjoy the back and forth with calc. There are a bunch of people who get their panties in a wad after his posts but I’m not one of them. I know he baits us but I like to try to prove him wrong as he usually is. I’m just hoping, maybe with a little assisstance from Matt, he sees my comment. I think it was rather comical and Craig should get a good chuckle from it.

  11. socalyankeejetfan - Sep 23, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Has anybody on here noticed that Gio Gonzalez of the Nats is the first 20-game winner in MLB and is pitching for the team with the best overall record in either league? Dickey pitches on a horrible team that would be considered a laughing stock if they didn’t have the Miami Marlins of South Florida in their same division. Remove both pitchers from their respective rosters and where would their teams be? Gio should not only win the CY, he should also be in the running for the NL MVP IMHO

  12. phillyphannn83 - Sep 23, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    socalyankeejetfan, thank you for providing the comic relief of the thread. You should stick to commenting on AL teams because you clearly aren’t familiar with the organization of the NL East. BOTH the Nats and the Mets are in the Marlins division. I have LITERALLY just laughed hysterically at your expense. For that, I thank you.

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