Last night, Ian Kennedy and the Diamondbacks beat Tim Lincecum and the Giants in a pivotal contest that may have sealed the NL West for Arizona. The Snakes are now six games up with 23 to play, so a comeback is not impossible, but even if the D’backs slump to an 11-12 finish, the Giants would have to win 18 of their last 23 with virtually no offense (Pablo Sandoval leads the team with just 106 hits and 16 home runs) to return to the playoffs.
During yesterday’s Red Sox-Rangers tilt, Fox showed a graphic trumpeting the evening’s Kennedy-Lincecum pitching matchup. The ever-sage Tim McCarver noted that the matchup was a classic, as Lincecum has won two of the last three Cy Young Awards and Kennedy is a contender for this year’s award.
Now I know it’s easy to pick on McCarver, who’s about 127 years old and probably took a bunch of Bob Gibson fastballs off his catcher’s mask back in the sixties, but he presumably made this declaration based solely on the number of wins below Kennedy’s name in the graphic. Aren’t we better than that by now?
Even if McCarver had slept through the entire baseball season to this point (and I won’t rule that out) and had nothing but a wins/ERA graphic on which to base his speculation as to who might win this year’s Cy Young, it’s clear that Kennedy, with a 17-4 record and a 3.03 ERA, was not even the best pitcher whose image was on screen, as Lincecum was 12-11 with a 2.52 ERA.
Of course, basing a Cy Young pick solely on ERA is only 10 to 20 times more reasonable than looking only at wins. ERA ignores unearned runs, which are certainly reflective of a pitcher’s abilities. Lincecum throws half his games in a pitchers’ park, while Kennedy works in an extreme hitters’ park. And the graphic didn’t tell us who had pitched more innings, struck out more batters, or walked fewer.
So which of last night’s starters is a true Cy Young contender? Neither, really. Anyone with an internet connection can easily see the whole picture. Kennedy has pitched four more innings, two of which he added last night (he went seven innings while Lincecum lasted just five), and both are among the league leaders in that category. Lincecum has struck out 9.47 hitters per nine innings, third best in the National League, but his 3.65 walks per nine keep him from being elite. Kennedy has struck out 7.73 per nine, 17th best in the league, and walked a 20th-best 2.36. Lincecum’s ERA ballooned to 2.75 after last night’s outing, while Kennedy dropped his (as most pitchers do when they face the Giants) to 2.96, an equally impressive number given their surroundings.
In terms of value, Lincecum and Kennedy have been worth 4.1 and 3.5 fWAR, respectively. Meanwhile, three Phillies have been worth at least 5.2 fWAR, paced by Roy Halladay’s 7.2. Clayton Kershaw is second in the league with 5.8. While I’m not suggesting that a Cy Young ballot should mirror the WAR leaders (Kershaw should be in the discussion with Halladay), a glance at the leaderboard makes it clear that there have been several pitchers in the NL better than both Lincecum and Kennedy this year. Both have impressed, but in The Year of the Pitcher v3.0 (or is it more like 29.0?), neither should be more than late-ballot fodder on a five-man Cy Young ballot.
Ian Kennedy improved to 18-4 last night, and has been one of the many reasons the Diamondbacks probably locked up a playoff berth with their 7-2 win. But unless the Phillies move to the American League and Clayton Kershaw fails to get out of the first inning in each of his last four starts, Kennedy is not a serious Cy Young contender in 2011.