Why R.A. Dickey isn’t the best choice for Cy Young

Unless my polls are skewed, the 2012 NL Cy Young Award will go to the Mets’ R.A. Dickey.

And it will be a popular pick — Dickey is quirky enough to have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, generous enough to devote time and money to the Third World, courageous enough to have overcome childhood sexual abuse. He’s a writer and an avid reader, and often rides the subway to home games, where presumably, he’d be nice enough to give up his seat for John Rocker (Dickey would no doubt be selfless enough to to hold his book with his left hand and hold on to the subway car’s pole with his pitching hand).

His pitching has been just as worthy — Dickey has won 20 games for a fourth-place team, he leads the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts and he’s been good enough that, as one fan’s sign said, “Every fifth day, the Mets don’t stink.”

That’s some impressive removal of noxious fumes.

Dickey is a knuckleballer whose career is like a bad TV show returning from a commercial break for the third or fourth time — it’s hard to remember what happened in the first couple of segments (anyone remember the five games Dickey won for the Mariners in 2008? Or that the pitching-poor Twins had Dickey twice and let him leave twice, trading him once for minor-league catcher Jair Fernandez?) Dickey’s 20 wins this year are nearly a third of his major-league total of 61 — and he’s 37 years old.

Give enough voters Dickey’s background, sprinkle it with a dash of Oprah, present it with a New Yorker’s air of expectation and Dickey is likely to win by acclamation.

Who could possibly be enough of a curmudgeon to object?

OK. So someone has to yank the chain and stop the train, and my hand is up. Because for all of Dickey’s admirable story lines and quality pitching, there’s only one qualification for who should win the Cy Young: who’s been the best at getting hitters out. I don’t think that’s Dickey.

There’s some judgment involved — Dickey’s pitched almost a full game more than anyone else in the NL, and that means something. Every inning he didn’t pitch is one likely to be done so by Jeremy Hefner.

But that’s Dickey’s strongest case. Because when it comes to retiring batters, and the degree of the damage when they don’t, the Nats’ Gio Gonzalez is better. For that matter so is the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. And it’s not any closer than the Mets are to contention.

Gonzalez pitches for the winningest team in baseball, and he’s won 21 games, but he’s earned them. His .582 OPS against is the best in baseball for a starter, and 52 points less than Dickey’s. Batters are hitting .209 vs. Gonzalez, 19 points less than Dickey, and slugging just .299, 58 points less than Dickey. And that’s with Dickey having the advantage of pitching in Citi Field — the sixth-most favorable to pitchers, according to ESPN.com’s park factors — instead of Washington’s Nationals Park, which is just 21st.

Gonzalez’s biggest detriment is he hasn’t yet reached 200 innings, but he will in his next start. Kershaw is already at 219.2 innings, within eight of Dickey, and like Gonzalez, better than Dickey in OPS against (.600), batting average against (.213) and slugging (.328).

Yes, Kershaw won the Cy Young last year, and no, he’s not as good this year, but he’s still better than Dickey.

(I could also entertain the thought of Atlanta reliever Craig Kimbrel — 1.03 ERA, .357 OPS against, .124 batting average against, 113 strikeouts — if he had pitched more than 61.1 innings).

There’s a reasonable case to be made for all three — if Dickey does win, this won’t be 1983 and LaMarr Hoyt stuffing the trophy under his oversized shirt and sneaking out of the awards banquet.

I just won’t be making the case for Dickey.

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2 Responses to Why R.A. Dickey isn’t the best choice for Cy Young

  1. Mike says:

    Not surprisngly to you, I’m certain, I have to disagree. A couple of points:

    1) This is not the MVP. There is no requirement or even suggestion that the Cy Young winner must be from a contender.

    2) If it came down simply to OPS-against – or any other one statistic for that matter – we could save everyone the time and agony of voting. It is about the body of work. And in this season Dickey has been quite remarkable.

    3) Citi Field isn’t the pitcher’s dream it used to be. I’m going to give ESPN the benefit of the doubt and assume those park rankings were updated for the changes the Mets made to the park this year. Even if they are, offense is clearly on the rise with the new dimensions and yet Dickey is still pitching like it’s 1968.

    4) I hope the fact that he stunk for much of his career or because he gets people out in an unconventional way are not held against him. Few can do with that pitch what he has done and you have to give anyone credit who can come up with a new way to play this game after 150 years where tens of thousands of top-notch professionals have tried and mostly failed to do something unique (and legal) that gave them an edge.

    5) I’ll go back to body of work. His numbers are outstanding in almost every possible category and he still has another start in which he’s likely to add a win and another 8-10 strikeouts, making the case even more impressive.

    • not at all brother. In fact, i look forward to the debate.

      1. Agreed. But neither should Gonzalez be punished because he pitches for a better team. Its easy to say Gonzalez won 21 game for the winningest team in baseball and Dickey won 20 for the Mets, so Dickey must have pitched better. And for the record, the Mets aren’t a terrible team — when Dickey pitches. They’ve scored 149 runs in Dickey’s 32 starts — that’s almost 4.7 a start. The Dodgers, despite their better record, have scored 125 in Kershaw’s 32 starts — that’s just 3.9 a start. Kershaw’s nine losses include two by 2-1, two by 2-0, one by 1-0 and one by 3-1. If he had Dickey’s run support, he might be 17-5 instead of 13-9.

      2. Agreed again. But I’m not sure what makes Dickey’s body of work more remarkable than Gonzalez’s or Kershaw’s. The extra innings? Perhaps. But he’s pitched only eight more than Kershaw, and Kershaw is better in almost every regard: ERA, OPS, hits allowed, home runs allowed, etc. OPS shouldn’t be the only factor, but it’s the most important I know, and when there’s such a large gap between Dickey and Gonzalez, it speaks volumes.

      3. There’s no bias in the numbers. Citi Field is nicer to pitchers than Nationals Park. By quite a bit.

      4. I actually think Dickey’s career struggles add to his candidacy. It’s a far better story. It’s commendable, and he deserves all the accolades. Just not the Cy Young because of it.

      5. His numbers are great. But they’re not better, in my eyes, than Gonzalez’s or Kershaw’s. It won’t be a travesty if he wins — he’s a good candidate, but not the best one.

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