It was a fantastic year for pitching in the National League, as well as a progressive one. 12 pitchers won 16 or more games, and none were named Halladay, Carpenter or Lincecum. It was a season where the youth movement continued to be served, but was defined as well by veterans taking on new frontiers and taking the road well traveled to new levels.
The Baseball Bloggers Alliance nod to pitcher of the year is named the Walter Johnson Award, and rightfully so. Johnson is the greatest pitcher of all-time, but often didn’t play on teams that gave much support to that stacking up in much championship hardware. However, despite this, he was dominant to the point where, while it’s a complete team effort, it sure wasn’t his fault the original Washington Nationals didn’t do much with his effort.
And in that spirit, the top two candidates for this year put up classic performances in the vein of the Big Train. Two teams that couldn’t ride their ace to October baseball, but puts no tarnish on what they accomplished. In the end, while one had much more story worthy ride through the summer, it was the defending holder of the game’s highest pitching honor that somehow became the sleeping dog, that’s worthy of the year’s biggest bone.
2012 Walter Johnson Award Winner—Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Last year’s numbers were sure sexier: 21 wins, 248 strikeouts and an anemic 2.28 ERA. He became the youngest pitching Triple Crown winner ever and established himself as the most dominant left-hander in the game. A year later the numbers were down, and up, across the board: down to 14 wins, 229 K’s and a 2.53 ERA. Those are still great numbers, but a digression is a digression right? And that shouldn’t be rewarded…unless it’s the type that was seen surrounding Kershaw.
However, Kershaw’s year was an anomaly of sorts, because the Dodgers were better than a year ago, and in the pennant chase until the next to last day of the summer. Much improved from the middling third place club from 2011. But what made them better was that they performed much better for the rest of the staff than for their stud 24-year-old Cy Young winner, which made for more wins. It’s understandable in a way; watching him toss it doesn’t seem like he’d need much help at all, but many a great effort can be understated due to a lack of victories being credited to the first guy that takes the ball. Ask Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez from 2009 and 2010.
But what Kershaw’s effort did this year was further the notion that’s becoming clearer and clearer: a pitcher’s wins are the most overrated measure of how good he is in a year.
Yes, Kershaw’s wins decreased by 7 from a year ago, and he only officially won five more than he lost, registering a 14-9 record. However, he also had 27 quality starts, which means some strong efforts were lost in translation after his work was done. In seven loses credited to him, the Dodgers failed to score more than two runs. He kept them in more than competitive shape, so much to the point where he became the fourth pitcher in the last 67 years to post back-to-back years of having the lowest ERA in the Majors. Overall, in his post-Cy season he led his league in Wins Above Replacement level at 6.3 and WHIP at 1.02. He was second in strikeouts and innings pitched only because he missed a late season start.
More importantly, he re-emerged when it counted most. Kershaw’s talents got a chance to be displayed when the pressure was the highest and the Dodgers’ year on the line, as he pitched as well can possibly be imagined over the last month of the year. In his last five starts, amid a full on Wild Card chase and sporting a right hip that narrowly avoided surgery, he bared down to the tone of 35 innings pitched, surrendering only three runs. That’s good for a 0.77 ERA, built on 37 strikeouts and only 21 hits.
The Dodgers record in Kershaw games in the final month: 3-2. Yet, once again, they lost another of his efforts 1-0….and also lost out on the Wild Card by one game. Can’t say they didn’t have a chance.
Best of the Rest
2. R.A. Dickey, New York Mets: It was as tough as possible not to give Dickey this nod. His amazing performance via a revamped approach at the knuckleball was remarkable. He was outstanding on a not very much so club. League leader in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts and wins.
3. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants: The Perfect Game and All-Star Game start were the highlights, but a career high in wins and low in ERA punctuated his undisputed rise to legit ace status in San Francisco and all of baseball.
4. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals: The Nationals traded a lot to land him in the winter, and rewarded their bounty dump by becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to win 20 games while throwing under 200 innings.
5. Johnny Cuerto, Cincinnati Reds: One of the most underrated, yet consistent performers in the game. Cuerto finessed his way to a career-high 19 wins, and the second best WAR total amongst NL starters at 5.8.
Hang on, later today we take this to American League as well….
MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS, Recap & Preview
October 9—Connie Mack Award/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter
October 10—Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper/Mike Trout
October 12—Stan Musial MVP Awards
For all complaints, claims of insanity on my part or the rare congratulations, hit the comment box below. For anything else, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.