How fitting that in the “Year of the Pitcher” we would be tasked with casting a ballot for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s Walter Johnson Award, choosing the top pitcher of the season for the National League.
Thankfully, this award is also based upon the regular season, which keeps us within the “Year of the Pitcher” and not the “Postseason of the Five-and-Dive”.
1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
Admit it, this was your pick before the season started. I know Halladay was mine. Yet when I sat down to make out this ballot, I knew that Kershaw had a fabulous season for the Dodgers and might challenge Doc.
I was wrong. Kershaw’s pitching Triple Crown season was a great one. Halladay’s season was better.
Halladay pitched as many innings with one fewer start, had a sick 6.29 K/BB ratio, and out-performed Kershaw in pretty much every metric that makes an attempt to measure pitching independent of fielding and other factors.
I certainly wouldn’t begrudge you a Kershaw vote here, but mine is Halladay.
2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
As previously mentioned, Kershaw had an incredible, breakout season pitching for the Dodgers. He was dominant, posting 9.7 K/9 while tying for the league lead in wins and leading the league in strikeouts and ERA. In any other season, or any other league, he’s likely the winner.
Oh yeah, and a 0.98 WHIP for a starter over the course of a season is gross. Just gross.
3. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
When Josh and I spoke with Eric Seidman from Brotherly Glove before the NLDS against the Phillies, Eric made a comment something to the effect of “how Cliff Lee continues to get outs and be successful with just decent stuff and pounding the zone” – I’m paraphrasing of course, but the gist of the discussion was how Lee manages to be so excellent year-in-and-year-out without really electric stuff and throwing as many strikes as he does (Lee led the National League in pitches hitting the strike zone, at 55.3%). Cardinal fans are familiar with this, as the Redbirds took advantage of all those strikes in the NLDS, battering Lee around for a bunch of hits.
Yet come the end of the season, Lee had again lapped most of the field with his performance, collecting 17 wins (his most since 2008) and a 2.60 FIP – good for third in the NL behind Halladay and Kershaw.
4. Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks
Everyone’s out-of-nowhere darling pick tied Kershaw for the league lead in wins. But of all the candidates on my ballot, Kennedy depended the most on his defense to win games. The lowest K/9 rate, the highest BB/9 rate, and a seemingly unsustainable success rate in getting flyball outs (Kennedy had a 38.6% groundball rate, but only 7.7% of the flyballs went over the fence) all left Kennedy’s season behind the previous three pitchers, in my opinion.
All of that said, hard to take away a 21-4 season from a staff ace that helped lead his team to the playoffs when many predicted them to be second division.
5. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Here’s my dark horse pick. Stick with me for a minute…
In the vein of Felix Hernandez last season, Bumgarner’s counting stats weren’t that great – he finished 13-13 with a 3.21 ERA. Dig a little deeper though and you find the 2.67 FIP, the 5.5 WAR (fourth among NL starting pitchers), and a walk rate lower than Kershaw’s.
I hate to go here, because I know these awards are meant to reward what actually happened on the field – but I can’t get over Bumgarner’s .322 BABIP against. Unlucky? Consider Kershaw’s .269, Kennedy’s .270, or even teammate Matt Cain‘s .260 and it’s easy to see an alternate ending to this season for Bumgarner’s win-loss record, and perhaps his Giants team.
This was a really tough ballot to assemble, and there are another handful of very deserving pitchers left off – I’ll be curious to see how the rest of the Alliance bloggers vote.
What’s your ballot? Post it in the comments below…