September 19, 2011

Kershaw, Halladay or Lee?

19-5, 2.30 ERA, 0.98 WHIP. 236 strikeouts. 159 ERA+, 5 complete games, 2 shutouts.

18-5, 2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP. 211 strikeouts. 165 ERA+, 8 complete games, 1 shutout.

16-7, 2.38 ERA, 1.02 WHIP. 223 strikeouts. 163 ERA +, 6 complete games, 6 shutouts.

Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee. Who's the NL Cy Young?

You could make a case for any of them. Kershaw's numbers are just a smidge better overall, but Halladay's adding yet another excellent season to his veteran resume (and holds the lead in Baseball-Reference.com's WAR for pitchers statistic) and Lee's enjoyed a few lengthy stretches where he's absolutely unhittable.

There's been a lot of talk this fall about what "most valuable" means, but -- for whatever reason -- the Cy Young award isn't handed out like the MVP. It goes to the best pitcher, not the most important to his team's success.

With that in mind, does the winner have to be Kershaw? He's allowing 6.8 hits per 9 innings, behind only Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett for tops in baseball, and he'll end up winning 20 games and taking home the National League strikeout crown. Hard to argue with numbers like that.

But will Halladay's veteran presence sway voters? He's not as flashy as Kershaw, Lee or even Cole Hamels, but he's consistently excellent every single year. There's something to be said for leading the National League in complete games at age 34, having a few Cy Young awards already on the shelf and owning unquestioned "head ace" status on baseball's best team with the best rotation, even if that kind of stature is unquantifiable.

And how about Lee's brilliance? Shutout streaks of 34 and 31 innings, not to mention his 10-0 record and 0.33 ERA in the months of June and August combined. And that all, of course, came after a rocky April that left Lee's ERA at an un-Cliff-like 4.18. It's been sinking like a stone since. Talk about a good free-agent signing.

It has to be one of the closest races in recent memory. Here are some of the statistics where Kershaw, Lee and Halladay all rank in (at least) the National League's top 5:

WAR for pitchers, ERA, wins, win-loss percentage, WHIP, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, K/BB ratio, ERA+

And that's not even counting adjusted pitching runs, adjusted pitching wins and a boatload of other fun sabermetric statistics that I don't quite understand.

Still, at the end of the day -- and barring an epic collapse tonight versus the St. Louis Cardinals -- Roy Halladay will win his third, and probably final, Cy Young. Even if Kershaw ends up first in numerous categories, the voters won't ignore Doc's contributions to both a sterling Phillies team and baseball in general. This'll be one last hurrah for one of the best pitchers of the last two decades.

The future belongs to Kershaw, Hamels, Tim Lincecum and maybe even Ian Kennedy. They've got a bunch more award opportunities ahead. But 2011? This is one more year for the Doc.

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