Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014 NL Walter Johnson Award

It’s time for the End of the Year Awards.  This is one of my favorite articles to write each year.  It’s also a mandatory article per my affiliation with the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  However, it’s not a problem as I love writing these and always hope my vote helps pick the individuals I deem as the correct recipients of each individual reward.  So let’s continue with the….

Walter Johnson Award (Cy Young)


1.             Clayton Kershaw
2.              Johnny Cueto
3.              Adam Wainwright
4.              Jordan Zimmermann
5.              Julio Tehran

Like my AL Walter Johnson post, in the NL there was a clear winner at the top.  But making the rest of my top 5 list was the real challenge.

When you look for the top pitcher in any league, there are a number of things to consider.  For me the most important is ERA.  Keeping runs off the board is the most basic component of winning games.  After that, I like to look at innings pitched and strikeouts.  It’s possible to be a dominant pitcher without being a horse and overpowering hitters, but being able to do those two things makes you worthy of recognition.  Beyond that, I look for a low WHIP and low BAA (batting average against).  They are specific measures of how you do in important pitching aspects; whether it is against opposing hitters overall (BAA) or how well you keep runners off base in an average inning (WHIP).  That’s how I put together my top 5.

There were others to consider besides the guys I listed.  Just like the AL, there were tons of great pitchers in the Senior Circuit.  Doug Fister was 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA.  Cole Hamels had a 2.46 ERA and 198 Ks.  Henderson Alvarez was 12-7 for a below average Marlins team and turned in a 2.65 ERA.  Stephen Strasburg was tied for the league lead with 242 Ks.  Madison Bumgarner won 18 games with a 2.98 ERA and 219 Ks.  Tanner Roark, Tyson Ross, Alex Wood.  They were all great.  The man who came closest to my list but just missed was Zack Greinke, who went 17-8 with a 2.71 ERA and 207 Ks in 202 IP.  But all those pitchers fell short somewhere, whether it was a higher WHIP or BAA or perhaps not as many Ks.  All were great, but to make a top 5 list you have to nitpick a little bit.  And that’s what I did.  So let’s look at the guys who did make my list.

Number 5 was Julio Tehran of the Atlanta Braves.  Tehran was the ace of a pitching staff with a lot of talent.  He was also one of the few bright spots on a team that fell apart at the end of the year.  And he still found a way to win 14 games on a team that was a mess for the second half of the season.  He threw 221 IP, which is a ton, while recording 186 Ks.  He wasn’t as overpowering as others on this list, or even as overpowering as others who didn’t make the list.  But he pitched to a 2.89 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 232 BAA.  He added 4 CG and 2 shutouts.  He was very good and very valuable on his team.  It all combined for him to take the 5th spot on my list.

Right above him in the fourth spot was Jordan Zimmermann.  Zimmermann went 14-5 for the NL’s top team, the Washington Nationals.  He also turned in a 2.66 ERA, good for 7th in the NL while notching 182 Ks in 199 IP.  He got a rest at the end of the year to prepare for the playoffs, which kept him from 200 IP and kept him from coming closer to 200 Ks.  But he still was phenomenal on the mound with a sparking 1.07 WHIP.  His 244 BAA was higher than others I considered, which is what kept him fourth on this list.  But don’t be fooled; on a pitching staff that featured NL strikeout king Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann was the ace.

My number 3 man was Adam Wainwright.  He was the first of a group of guys who need no explanation, because their numbers were just better than everyone else’s, even among the guys I that made my list.  Wainwright went 20-9 for the NL Central Champion Cardinals.  He also turned in a 2.38 ERA, third best in the league.  He logged 227 IP, second in the league.  And while his 179 Ks weren’t as good as others both on and off the list, having the third best ERA and WHIP (1.03) shows that he didn’t need to strike you out to take care of business.  And, let’s not be too picky.  179 Ks is still very impressive.

The number 2 guy had a great year.  The difference between him and the others on this list was huge, perhaps even a wider gulf between him and the man at the top of my list.  I’m talking about Johnny Cueto, who was phenomenal this season.  His 20-9 record was good enough for the second most wins in the NL (tied with Wainwright).  His 2.25 ERA was also second in the NL.  He had a league leading 243 IP and 4 CG and 2 shutouts.  He also had 242 Ks, which tied him for first in the NL with the mighty Strasburg.  His 0.96 WHIP was second in the league and his 194 BAA was first.  He was able to overpower hitters better than anyone in the league, but also shut down base runners and keep runs off the board better than anyone but one other pitcher.  While the top guy clearly won this award, people shouldn’t overlook how great Cueto was.  He was better than all the pitchers in the AL and all but one in the NL.  He was phenomenal and is deserving of recognition, especially on a Reds team that didn’t help him very much.  So while he didn’t win my award, he came as close to it as is humanly possible without actually being the winner.  Johnny Cueto had one of the best pitching years in recent memory.

But even with all those Cueto-superlatives, one other pitcher was better.  And that man was Clayton Kershaw.  He led the league with 21 Wins.  And he did that while only starting 27 games, due to an injury.  He led the league in CGs with 6.  He led the league in ERA at 1.77.  That’s about 50 points better than his nearest competitor.  He had the best WHIP in the league (0.86) and the second best BAA (196).  He had 239 Ks, second in the league.  But he likely would have had the league lead if he pitched a full slate of starts.  He is, without question, the best pitcher in baseball.  He can overpower hitters with the best of them.  And he clearly was the best at keeping runners off base and runs off the board.  He is easily my winner of the NL Walter Johnson Award, and may make another appearance on my award ballots later on.

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