How Good is Johnny?

Johnny Cueto has had a good season this year.   He has been dominant at times and has rarely failed to deliver a sub standard performance.  How does he stack up against the best the National League has to offer?

I have read many varying opinions about what statistics are important.  Lets walk through some of the expected standards.

  • Strikeouts:  Nice clean way to get an out but it requires a lot of pitches and reduces the pitchers ability to go deep in the game.  A first pitch groundout is just as effective a means of moving through the game and it doesn’t wear the pitcher out.  I do not view this as an important statistic.
  • ERA:  Critical number.  The number of earned runs/9 innings is the number of runs the offense must eclipse.  Remember Cueto has lost two complete games this year where he gave up just 3 runs combined.
  • Wins:  This number is very deceptive but important none the less.  This year I have watched with astonishment at the W-L totals of two players; they are the Reds Dontrelle Willis who cannot buy a win with his arm or his prolific bat.  The other is Madison Bumgarner for the San Fransisco Giants.  Bumgarner, who I covet for the Reds, is just 21 years old.  This season he has pitched 19 quality starts yet lost 6 of them and earned no decisions in 5 others.  He has a 3.59 ERA and his record is 8-12.  He has pitched much better than this record would indicate..
  • WHIP:  Walks and hits/innings pitched.  I like this number as it gives a sense of how lucky the pitcher is.  The higher the number, the more the pitcher is relying on luck as opposed to skill.  Baserunners equal opportunities to score and if you allow men on base you are living on borrowed time.
  • Innings Pitched.  I detest Chris Carpenter but I am envious of the innings he has thrown this year.  Roy Halladay is even more amazing.  In the past 9 seasons Halladay has pitched 2,150.2 Innings.  To put this in perspective, Bronson Arroyo has only pitched 1837 innings in his 12 year career and he has broken the 200 inning barrier 6 seasons in a row and is currently at 160 innings this year.
  • Complete Games:  This stat gets little or no attention in these days where 6 innings and 3 runs is inexplicably considered a “quality start”.  The life of a relief pitcher in 2011 is not an easy one.  They may only get credited with pitching 70 innings in a season but when you add the hours of warmups before outings or prospective outings based on the performance of the starter and these guys throw as much or more than the starters.  A complete game may not give the entire bullpen the night off, but it reduces their workload exponentially.
  • Shutout Games:  I am giving double credit for this stat as obviously it fits in with complete games also.  In this case the entire bullpen gets the night off if the offense has any success at all.  If they don’t, the workload created is still not the starters responsibility.
  • ERA+:  Finally I decided to include a sabermetric statistic that I have never referred to before.  After reading the definition this one sticks with me as a very reflective statistic.  I do not want to dig deeply into how determines park factors but I like the idea of taking into account the fact that hitting in Great America Ballpark or Citizens Bank Park is not the same as hitting in PetCo Park or AT&T Park.  It may not be a clean equation as I prefer but it accomplishes something that I think is important.

In order to arrive at my conclusion of who deserves to be the NL Cy Young Award winner I looked at each of these statistical categories and gave pitchers a descending score for finishing in the top 10 in each category.  ie: 10 for 1st, 9 for 2nd etc.  If there was a tie, I averaged together the places and divided by the number of places and came up with an average.  Here are the results removing all pitchers who earned less than 10 points out of a potential 70.

The results are a bit surprising but in my mind the conclusion is dead on.  Clayton Kershaw is not a member of the best team in the National League and yet he has delivered the best performance from April through August.  I do not consider strikeouts to be predictive of success and yet if you dig deeper you discover he leads the league in strikeouts as well.  I know the common wisdom is you must pick a member of a playoff bound team for these awards and I find that idea ludicrous as teams in the playoffs are just that:  teams.  Just as I think Jose Bautista deserves to be the AL MVP, he may not receive the award because his teammates are not as good as the Yankees surrounding Curtis Granderson or the Tigers surrounding Justin Verlander.

Johnny Cueto’s bid to be the Cy Young award winner is a credible one but is severely damaged by missing the first 6 weeks of the season.  Given his season long performance, how much better would his numbers be if he had been with the team when they played the best brand of baseball all season as they did in April and the beginning of May while leading the Central Division?  It is a question with no answer, but one we would long to have witnessed.  If Johnny had 3 or 4 more wins this result may have changed a bit but I still think Kershaw would come out on top.

For those who like Roy Halladay and think the shutout category that he fails to mark in is the reason he is not on top subtract those 8.5 points from Kershaw’s total and he still outpoints Roy because of his exceptional ERA, Wins (for an inferior team), and WHIP.  To me the question is answered clearly.  If I were voting, I would pick the Dodgers Ace while reluctantly wondering what could have been for the Reds and Johnny Cueto.

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