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.)

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
  1. Izzy October 1, 2012 at 4:31 pm
    Starting and closing are so distant in the types of jobs they are, there should be 2 awards, the Cy Young for starters and a seperate but equal award for closers, not the Rolaids award which is pure stats for wins losses saves, but a Cy Young for relievers, named after a reliever, like Rivera, or whomever the first great closer was.
    • Tomahawk chop October 9, 2012 at 2:16 am
      the first “official” closer was Hoyt Wilhelm a TRUE knuckleball legend and considered by many as the first TRUE knuckleball pitcher. Knuckleballers like Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, and Tim Wakefield all wear number 49 to pay they’re respect to Wilhelm the man that paved the way for the knuckleball. He and Niekro are also the only two knuckleball pitchers in the hall of fame and to have thrown no hitters.
      • Joe Janish October 9, 2012 at 9:09 am
        Tomahawk, thank you so much for stopping by.

        Like we Mets fans, I imagine you suddenly have a lot of time on your hands, what with the Braves’ season ending a day after the Mets’.

        I’m not sure anyone has been anointed the first “official” closer, but I imagine that the person closest to such a title would be Joe Page, a.k.a., “The Fireman,” who began regularly closing games for the Yankees in 1947, when he recorded 17 saves — a full five years before Hoyt Wilhelm’s MLB debut.

        Further, there were dozens of knuckleballers prior to Wilhelm. For example, Eddie Cicotte won over 200 games using the knuckleball as his main pitch (his nickname was “Knuckles”). He didn’t make it into the Hall of Fame partly because he was thrown out of baseball due to his involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, but he did throw a no-hitter in 1917.

        Otherwise, all of your facts check out. It’s a long winter, so there’s plenty of time to research.

        • Tomahawk chop October 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm
          Thanks for the nod of approval, I was unaware I was in the presences of a baseball historian. Nice little fun fact on Joe Page but uh how many saves did he finish his “illustrious” closer career with? Oh that’s right 76. And as for the whole played for 5 years prior to Hoyt sorry no, Had it not been for WW2 and Wilhelm’s service it’d only be one. Here’s a stat though to back up the Wilhelm as the “official” first fireman, until 1980, Wilhelm’s 227 career saves was the MLB record until broken by Rollie Fingers. As for Cicotte, well aware of his existence, (I saw the movie Eight Man Out, inaccurate but saw it) as well as one hit wonder Gene Bearden for the 1947 world champion Indians but it is known through the baseball world that Hoyt is grand daddy of the Knuckleball, he even passed his knowledge down to Wilbur Wood who was a dominate left handed knuckler in the 70s before a line drive finished his career when they both played for the white soxs. Other knucklers before Hoyt include Dutch Leonard, (who inspired Hoyt to learn it), Johnny Niggeling, Roger Wolfe, Mickey Haefner, and even Early Wynn threw it occasionally but again, Hoyt is credited for paving the way. Thanks for the New York sarcasm and “one up” mentality but I’m good. And my December will be a lot easier knowing my club was 94-68, made the playoffs, and has all its core players coming back, compared to your way below average 4th place 74-88 and a team that’s about to blow up all it’s players except Wright. Enjoy “rebuilding” and reruns of the 86 world series til your club ever has an above .500 season again. Don’t pay your next free agent pick up too much or they’ll end up like every other over paid guy your team picks up that does nothing for your team: Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana, Fransico Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Victor Zambrano, well, I don’t have to tell you.
        • Joe Janish October 17, 2012 at 8:43 am
          Tomahawk, you’re very welcome, and thanks for returning so quickly.

          Also, thanks very much for acknowledging my superiority as a baseball historian as well as for my ability as a fact-checker and researcher. You’ve done an outstanding job of making me look even smarter than I thought I was — you’ve made my day!

          So let’s review your version of the “facts”:

          - Ed Cicotte won over 200 games as a knuckleballer from 1905 to 1920, but Hoyt Wilhelm is the “first TRUE knuckleball pitcher.” OK, you got me there.

          - Joe Page saved those 76 games and finished 145 before Hoyt Wilhelm threw his first Major League pitch, yet Wilhelm was the “first official closer.” Gosh, you’re right again!

          - Hoyt Wilhelm didn’t reach MLB until 1952, but since he served in WW2 we don’t count those years that Page was closing out games from 1946 to 1950. Silly me, I was under the impression that MLB games played during the war counted in the record books.

          BTW, to set one more fact straight: the sarcasm is from New Jersey. The skill comes from living in New York’s shadow.

        • Tomahawk chop October 18, 2012 at 12:04 am
          Wow could you be anymore sarcastic. I’ll take a page from you though. Your welcome, if it took a 19 year old Braves fan commenting on his free time with valid stats to make you realize your worth kuetos to you. I know you’ve probably spent a lot of time at your computer doing your research, (your rebuttal 6 days later and tacking on the 145 saves to your man Page but you fouled up he only finished with 76, but even “greats” like you make mistakes I suppose) and thinking up all those quick witted comebacks, but I also have to thank you for setting a great example for Mets fans and know it all jerks out there, you are sure set the bar high. Can’t best you even with all the baseball stats in the world. It’s funny cause you never once provided a single individual stat or fact that wasn’t twisted from another’s logic and wrap it up with what you call “fact checking”. I’m pretty sure what your doing has a couple names, playing devils advocate, contradictory, arguing for the sake of arguing but i guess when you have as much free time as you it’s not that much of a stretch that you invest so much poor effort into blogging nonsense. Enjoy your self glorified ego, you can relax it is untarnished by logic, a young mans love of baseball and it’s past, and the pure and simple truth that someone else provided perspective and stats that you didn’t have in that menagerie of wisdom of yours. Its great to know that Mets fans not only refute anything that isn’t painted blue and orange but also they’re knowledge defies the history of America’s pastime. Truly “amazing”! You can keep your blog if an outsider can’t even join the debate, no rather the one tracked mindset statement that just for Mets fans. Next time you kids should have a “sorry only mets fans allowed” under a condition of joining the conversation. Even crazier that I actually have more respect for the Yankee guy!
        • Joe Janish October 18, 2012 at 9:28 am
          “your rebuttal 6 days later and tacking on the 145 saves to your man Page but you fouled up he only finished with 76, but even “greats” like you make mistakes I suppose”

          No foul-up, as I didn’t tack on 145 saves — I stated he FINISHED 145 games. Relievers who come into games and then finish them are generally called “closers.”

          “It’s funny cause you never once provided a single individual stat or fact that wasn’t twisted from another’s logic and wrap it up with what you call “fact checking”.”

          What’s twisted about the facts I stated? Ed Cicotte was a knuckleball pitcher before Hoyt Wilhelm was born, therefore it’s impossible for Wilhelm to be “the first TRUE knuckleball pitcher.” Or maybe I don’t understand what the word “true” means (perhaps it has a different meaning below the Mason-Dixon line?). Joe Page was a closer for the Yankees before Wilhelm pitched in MLB, and “official” is an objective term that you are using subjectively. If anything you are the one twisting words, facts, definitions, and the English language in general.

          “You can keep your blog if an outsider can’t even join the debate, no rather the one tracked mindset statement that just for Mets fans. Next time you kids should have a “sorry only mets fans allowed” under a condition of joining the conversation.”

          I’m not sure how/where/why you came to this conclusion. The erroneous “facts” you stated had nothing to do with anyone’s fandom. I corrected your statements because they were wrong, not because you are a Braves fan. “Outsiders” comment on this site all the time and are treated with the same respect as anyone else. I don’t care whether someone is a Mets fan or not when it comes incorrect information or inflammatory remarks — that person will receive an appropriate response.

      • argonbunnies October 12, 2012 at 1:57 am
        I’m actually a big Wilhelm fan. Check this out:

        1959 – led the league in ERA, as a starter
        1965 – put up the kind of sick .175 / .226 / .277 line you might see from a modern closer — but in 144 innings!

        His ’65 rates continued as he transitioned to a lighter workload in his mid-40s. Over, from 1965-1968:
        .184 / .244 / .258
        I’m pretty sure he was the first guy to do anything like that. Or, well, at least since Walter Johnson.

        Stat nerd alert: Wilhelm benefited from a ridiculous .218 BABIP. Whether that’s weak knuckler contact, great White Sox defense, or the lack of hitting in the late ’60s, I don’t know. Probably all of the above.

        • Tomahawk chop October 17, 2012 at 12:22 am
          Amazing, this guy was a work horse and was hard to hit. And his highlights of the 1954 world series closing out the Indians is proof of him being a relief ace. Played until he was 49!
        • Joe Janish October 17, 2012 at 8:46 am
          I’m also a Wilhelm fan, his numbers were sick. It’s astounding that MLB scouts continue to rely on radar guns to find pitching — if they didn’t we’d likely see more kids learning the knuckleball at a young age, and seeing more knuckleballers in MLB.
  2. Dan B October 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm
    Rivera Reliever Reward. Love that idea!
    • Joe Janish October 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm
      Agreed! The Triple R award!
  3. plcn October 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm
    you nailed it! I was doing nearly this exact exercise the other day, comparing kimbrel to gagne as well as to gagne’s CYA competition. I was left feeling pretty certain Gagne’s season was so much more impressive – a big part of Gagne’s award is no doubt that the other starters really didn’t have uber-impressive numbers (no 20 game winners, e.g.), let alone the record-breaking save conversion streak

    that equation is pure brilliance:
    kimbrel = dickey – hudson.
    love it love it love it!

    we got a batting title consolation last season; a Cy Young one this year would be nice…

  4. argonbunnies October 3, 2012 at 2:42 am
    Yeah, Kimbrel’s been awesome, but in such limited duty… it’s like a starting pitcher who leads the league in WHIP and ERA but pitches only 170 innings. Would anyone vote for that guy over Verlander? Of course not. 2003 is a good example:

    Roy Halladay: 266 IP, 3.25 ERA, 6.9 K/9, .247 AVG and .665 OPS allowed
    136 points in the Cy Young vote

    Pedro Martinez: 186.2 IP, 2.22 ERA, 9.9 K/9, .215 AVG and .586 OPS allowed
    20 points in the Cy Young vote

  5. argonbunnies October 3, 2012 at 2:52 am
    Also, relative to their peers:

    Dickey, among NL starters in Games and Innings: #1, #1

    Kimbrel, among NL relievers in Games and Innings: #53, #41.

  6. Tomahawk chop October 9, 2012 at 2:06 am
    Mets fans are such sore losers even before the seasons over. The only reason this article exist is because with all of Dickey’s “amazing” starter numbers, ( yes the mets pun refers to ininngs pitched, strikeouts, whip, shutouts, complete games, batting average against) there’s still a shadow of doubt he won’t win the cy young. Why? Afraid the voters might pick the pitcher with the greatest strikeout ratio EVER in baseball, (16.7 Single season record, 15.9 career MLB record) A closer who struck out 49% batters he faced, (that translates to AT LEAST a strikeout every appearance by the way struckout 4 COUNT EM 4 batters in one inning for a save on 9/26/2012) Go ahead try and justify it with some horrible arithmetic that if that was your logic you might as well give the cy young to Johan Santana for throwing the Mets first no hitter. Kimbrel is lights out, (something that can’t be said of any of the Mets revolving door of closers Fransico, Rauch, Parnell) Kimbrel has been absurdly dominant, 1.02 ERA (second only to Fernando Rodney’s MLB record 0.60) MLB leading whip of 0.654, NL leading 42 saves, AND if you don’t believe he’s been dominant check this stat out: ONLY 27 hits allowed 7 ER, 7 R, (remember 231 batters faced, 116 strikeouts ONLY 27 HITS!) Are you kidding me???? If your gonna compare apples and oranges or in this case Starters to Closers, compare them by the criteria they’re judged by. Either way Dickey might of had a “magical” season but Kimbrel is only getting better and has well established himself as the BEST closer in baseball and put up the BEST numbers by one in a single season. And the best comparison and argument you can come up with is Eric Gagne and his save percentage? Weak…. But what can you expect from fans of a team that choked after the allstar break crashing in a ball of fire back to the snake bitten franchise that other teams beat up on to make it to the postseason. Either way if the only thing you guys have to cling to is one award for a journey man pitcher who the Mets will probably trade away anyway, maybe the voters will throw you guys a bone. From Braves country, looking forward to watching the Bravos spank you guys in 2013 and years to come!
    • Joe Kurioo October 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm
      you mad bro ?.
    • James October 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm
      I’m willing to bet anything that you were one of those fans throwing trash at Turner Field the other day.
    • argonbunnies October 12, 2012 at 1:48 am
      Ooh! Come back to read replies! Please! I have this to say:

      HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! Nice throw, Chipper. How does your kid feel about being named for a big chunk of concrete that got blown up when he was 4?

      • Tomahawk chop October 18, 2012 at 12:32 am
        What a poor missed sloppy shot at LARRY “Chipper” Jones. Weak…….Show some respect to the greatest Mets killer, your team did at Citi Field. Although I will admit I definitely respect your baseball stat talk.
    • AJT October 12, 2012 at 7:51 am
      I am available to proofread your future posts, at the cost of $10 per 500 words. I have mastered basic grammar, including the use of contractions.
    • Tomahawk slop October 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm
      LOL. I love it when Braves fans get all out of whack when their team chokes in the playoffs.

      As for the Braves’ future fortunes, have you seen their record this year with Chipper out of the lineup? Not pretty. Unless he’s pulling a Brett Favre, I wouldn’t count on the Braves doing anything of significance next year (or years to come).

      As for Mets fans worrying about Kimbrel stealing the CY from Dickey, I don’t think that’s a real concern. The real concern would be (1) Kershaw and then (2) Gio. Maybe Kimbrel will come in 4th in the CY voting — if he’s lucky!

      • Bronx Bombers October 17, 2012 at 12:54 am
        First of when was the last time the Mets did anything in the post season. 2006 choke game 7 with the best record in baseball. 2008 crash and burn at the end of the season Phillies win division. 2000 World series, gets they’re asses spanked in the subway series by the REAL New York team and my personal favorite player of all time Mariano Rivera, 1999 choke again, 1973, Oakland A’s beat up Tom Terrifc and Berra’s crew for they’re second ring in a three year span. Your team sucks, sucked when they joined MLB, will never have another hall of famer, I mean you guys didnt even have a 2000 hitter before Wright and will definitely never have a 3000 hitter or 300 winner. Even when Glavine got 300 with your club he came back to Retire as a brave. I’d love to see your mediocre Mets even come close to a .500 season again. Mets fans are the crappiest fans on the planet. Your pretentious douchebags with shitty mangement that doesn’t care about its fans, over pays for scrubs, and under produces every year. Keep clinging to those Mircale Mets of 86 and Amazing 69 cause you guys will never even win a pennant again. At least the Braves got Aaron, Spahn, Niekro, Murphy and future hall of famer Chipper in Cooperstown, you’ve got Seaver and Carter. Wow……Real Dynasty you got brewing over there in flushing. I love going to Citi Field and seeing all those empty seats when my Yankees are beating that ass. You guys keep saying “next year” and Kiss the 27 rings!
        • Joe Janish October 17, 2012 at 8:52 am
          HA! Yankees go down 3-zip and now look who’s showing up?

          Come, come, all fans of teams whose seasons are ending — as Mets fans we are happy to embrace you, share your pain, and lead you in your winter-long recovery. We are all losers together!

        • Bronx Bombers October 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm
          This pretentious d-bag has an answer for everything. Hey bro remind me again, what did your precious Mets do this season? Did they even finish with a wining record? What did the “playoff cotending” Mets do again after the allstar break? When was the last time they even made to a playoff let alone a NL championship? World Series? Division winners? Yeah you might wanna rethink that way of thinking cause you might wanna save all those great zingers of yours for the regular season when your clubs getting stomped. When you get a chance come by Yankee Stadium and take a look at what a REAL Baseball dynasty looks like. Kiss the 27 rings chump.
        • Joe Janish October 17, 2012 at 11:18 pm
          Actually I’m more condescending than pretentious, but I appreciate the comment!

          Funny, it’s as if you believe that Mets fans allow their team’s success or failure define their mood and state of their lives. News flash: we don’t allow the results of a sports contest or contests rule our emotions, because we’re quite happy with who we are and don’t have enormous holes / feelings of inadequacy in our lives.

          Thanks for the invite to Yankee Stadium. In fact I made my first visit this summer and found it to be impressive, cold, and lacking in feeling. I think that was partially due to the stark architecture, but also due to the preponderance of tight-assed business suits yapping on their cell phones in the stands and the ushers, who stifled every attempt at creative rooting by the few enthusiastic fans who somehow slipped through the turnstiles without being apprehended by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. I feel bad for you and other Yankees fans, who have to hold in all your feelings — it must be tough, walking around all day with pent-up frustration, especially with all the other baggage you’re carrying around.

          It’s OK. We Mets fans are here for you. We don’t judge — this is a safe place.Take a deep breath, and then let it all go. Once you do, you’ll feel so much better.

        • Tomahawk chop October 18, 2012 at 12:20 am
          He really does, you couldn’t even insult him without him correcting you. “Actually,….” He’s like that horrible politican that talks over you in a debate. I’m not even bothering with these rabid morons. They like to hear themselves talk or rather see they’re comments.
        • Joe Janish October 18, 2012 at 9:30 am
          WE are the “rabid morons”?

          Funny stuff.

    • Bronx Bombers October 17, 2012 at 1:06 am
      Yo Tomahawk, don’t even sweat these douchbags, they got nothing better to do than bitch and wine cause they’re team sucks every year. They love dick riding Dickey. They can’t even come back with with any stats to or facts to back up they’re weak ass shit. What can you expect from from fans that are bent over and spanked year after year by the Phillies, your Braves, and my Yankees saying “thank you sir can I have another”. Kimbrel is a beast, dude is a strikeout monster and will be the best closer in baseball after my dude Mariano retires. Dickey is a shitty, old, one year wonder and probably not even be with the Mets that long. They can’t even fill seats to throw shit IF they’re team could even GET to the postseason. Postseason or Win isn’t even in they’re vocabulary.
      • Joe Janish October 17, 2012 at 8:54 am
        Way to stay classy – the one thing we can always count on from Yankees fans.
        • Bronx Bombers October 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm
          These Mets fans are all here to just circle jerk each other tell themselves how great they’re club is. Afraid other baseball fans are invading your turf with stats and facts? Oh no, people are telling us what we already know, our team sucks! Quick rally together and stop the wining clubs fans from changing our loser mentality!
        • Joe Janish October 17, 2012 at 11:22 pm
          Again, great job representing Yankee fans — you are a stellar example for others to follow.

          No one here has ever suggested that the Mets are “great.” Quite the opposite, actually. You really have absolutely no clue as to the difference between Mets fans and Yankee fans.

          But please, keep it coming if you feel that’s what you need to do. It’s great entertainment for us, and maybe it will make you feel better to let all of your frustrations out.

      • Tomahawk chop October 18, 2012 at 12:13 am
        Haha it’s cool, I’m just a Braves fan trying to back up his club and favorite player but these guys came with pitch forks and torches rather than facts or stats. Wow I never thought I ‘d agree with a Yankees fan after what they put my team through in the 90s. I never thought I’d agree with a Yankee fan period. Hahaha.
  7. JR October 11, 2012 at 4:14 pm
    That 4 strikeouts in an inning thing has been done like 65 times, including 8 times this year. So keep your panties on about that…it’s not new.
  8. TONI October 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm
    Leave it to the Skankee fan to trash talk…get over yourself