By Jon Weisman
This was the kind of thing I was afraid to say out loud, because it almost sounds too silly. But this post by Dave Cameron at Fangraphs gave me the opening I needed.
Even though Clayton Kershaw won’t finish the 2016 season with enough innings to qualify for the National League ERA title, when all is said and done in October, he could still be the league’s best choice for the Cy Young Award.
Cameron explains why at length, so I’ll just bullet-point a few of the main arguments:
- During the time that he was pitching, Kershaw was galaxies ahead of any other pitcher in baseball. His fielding-independent ERA remains more than half a run better than anyone else in the NL.
- Even with more than two months on the disabled list, Kershaw has a surmountable 0.1 deficit for the NL lead in wins above replacement, behind only Noah Syndergaard. Aside from Jose Fernandez of the Marlins, no one else is even close.
- The fact that Kershaw has missed so much time doesn’t mean so much when you look at what the other pitchers have done with their extra innings.
As Cameron notes:
… It’s an interesting year to be asking that question, given all the talk about Zach Britton as an AL Cy Young candidate. After all, if a reliever who throws 70 innings can be considered a serious contender, shouldn’t a starter who has already thrown 120 innings, and might end up around 140, be a legitimate option as well?
It seems like public sentiment isn’t so clear on this. In talking with people about the NL Cy Young vote this year, when I bring up Kershaw, the general response is something like “he’s missed too much time.” It seems to many, the question isn’t really number of innings, but percentage of games he was supposed to appear that he was able to. The idea that the Dodgers had to make trades for a guy like Bud Norris, because Kershaw was hurt and couldn’t make his turn, limits his value in many people’s eyes, even as they acknowledge no one was as good as Kershaw when he was on the mound.
But, really, how much credit do we want to give a pitcher for just taking the mound, even if he doesn’t perform all that well. For fun, here’s a table showing the innings and runs allowed differences between Kershaw and all the other pitchers we’ve named.
There’s a good debate in the comments of the post at Fangraphs that ping-pongs the pros and cons of Kershaw’s case.
If Kershaw is activated from the disabled list on, say, Friday, the Dodgers will have played 63 games without him. An absence that size could wipe him completely off the ballot for some voters. But the fact that him winning the award could even be reasonably discussed is amazing.
Of course, Kershaw winning another individual trophy is the least of anyone’s worries right now. Dodger fans will be happy just to see him pitching in a game for them again. But should he return and throw a couple dozen innings down the stretch — let alone with a sub-2.00 ERA and FIP and that insane strikeout-walk ratio — you might just see a race where a pitcher will have spotted the field nearly 40 percent of the regular season, and still have lapped it by the finish line.