Cy Young Smackdown: R.A. Dickey vs. Craig Kimbrel

There’s already been plenty of discussion about the relative merits of starting pitchers and relievers for Cy Young consideration. I am in the camp that believes that (a) relievers absolutely should be considered and (b) they should need to truly blow away the starting pitching competition in order to win.

The last reliever to win the Cy Young was Eric Gagne in 2003, and I believe (PEDs aside) that he deserved it. It wasn’t just the .133 batting average or .375 OPS allowed, or the K/9 rate near 15 (though those helped). It was the fact that he went the extra mile to get all the late outs his team really had to have. He was always there, with 77 appearances, including 4 days in a row 3 times, and 3 days in a row an additional 4 times. He wasn’t allergic to the 8th inning, saving 8 games he entered in the 8th. There were a few bumps in the road, but when it came to his number one responsibility, saving games, he was a perfect 55 for 55.

Despite all that, if the voters had given the award to Jason Schmidt or Mark Prior, I would have simply shrugged. I would have disagreed, but I wouldn’t have been furious, or called the writers idiots or biased. Why? Because being great for 220 innings is harder, and more valuable, than being extra super great for 82 innings.

(“Harder?” Remember Gagne’s tenure as a starting pitcher? Not pretty. Likewise Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, and pretty much every closer who ever started besides Eck and Smoltz. “More valuable?” Does anyone doubt that Halladay, Hamels and Lee would all be fantastic closers? Does anyone not think their teams would have been idiots to use them that way?)

This brings me, at last, to Craig Kimbrel and R.A. Dickey. Kimbrel is striking batters out at an epic rate, and challenging Gagne’s batting average and OPS records. He is the closest thing around to unhittable. And yet, he’s no 2003 Eric Gagne:

• He’s not perfect in save chances – in fact, he’s only fourth in the majors in save percentage this year.
• He’s not getting every important late out all by himself. Thanks to a smart/paranoid Braves management, he’s had perhaps the cushiest usage in the game, pitching in 60 games, 59 of which saw him begin an inning and record exactly three outs. He’s pitched 3 straight days twice all season, and never 4 straight.

All those classic arguments about closers pitching too little to measure up to starters really, really ring true for me in this case. Gagne was an exception, going beyond the role of the modern closer. Kimbrel is not. He’s the epitome of the modern closer. 15 pitches and done.

Through September 28th, here’s Kimbrel’s line. R.A. Dickey had a stretch of starts earlier this year that looked rather similar.

Kimbrel: 60.1 IP, 26 H, 7 ER, 14 BB, 111 K

Dickey: 60.2 IP, 31 H, 9 ER, 9 BB, 74 K

For 8 starts, Dickey was almost as effective as Kimbrel (fewer Ks and worse ERA, better WHIP and K/BB rate).

And then on top of that, Dickey has made an additional contribution (also through September 28th):

167 IP, 164 H, 59 ER, 45 BB, 148 K

That’s a 3.18 ERA, a shade better than Cliff Lee for 10th in the National League (in enough innings to qualify among the league leaders, no less.)

So, what’s the difference between Kimbrel and Dickey? It’s basically Tim Hudson:

172 IP, 163 H, 69 ER, 47 BB, 98 K

But with, you know, 10 fewer runs and 50 more strikeouts. I could just as easily have picked Wade Miley or Ryan Vogelsong, but I think the esteemed Mr. Hudson makes the point more strikingly.

Even subtracting Kimbrel’s exact line from Dickey’s, what you get is Ross Detwiler, who, while the least famous member of the Nats’ rotation, has more than held his own.

Detwiler: 162 IP, 145 H, 59 ER, 47 BB, 102 K (1.19 WHIP, 3.28 ERA)

Dickey minus Kimbrel: 167.1 IP, 159 H, 61 ER, 40 BB, 111 K (1.19 WHIP, 3.28 ERA)

So, dear Cy Young voters, my request is simple. If you think Tim Hudson has some value, perhaps even significant value… then vote for R.A. Dickey over Craig Kimbrel. If you think Wade Miley, or Ryan Vogelsong, or Ross Detwiler have value, perhaps even significant value… then vote for R.A. Dickey over Craig Kimbrel. Yes, Kimbrel has been pitching in pressure situations. (Though if you want pressure, try pitching with the Mets’ bullpen and defense behind you.) He’s been getting the last 3 outs in close (or at least fairly close) games. He gets some extra credit for that. But if he wanted a full Tim Hudson worth of extra credit, he should have gone 55 for 55.

(NOTE: the stats in this post were correct as of Friday, September 28. – Ed.)

Opinion and Analysis

About the Author

David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design

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