Every start by A.J. Burnett is must-see TV for a Pirate fan this year. His last 2 starts were a complete game 1-hitter and a so-close-c’mon-finish-it 8.2 IP/2 hitter. That oh-so-close game was against the Reds last Sunday and salvaged a very important win for the Pirates in that 3 game series. As a result, the drums are starting to beat on talk radio and the rest of the media about Burnett being a contender for the NL Cy Young award.
Let’s take a rough cut at who the competition may be. In this list are the triple slash stats for pitchers (ERA/FIP/xFIP) so we can see potential regression trends or who’s getting “lucky”.
As you can see, it’s a pretty deep crowd this year, with some teams (WAS, SF) having multiple contenders. In an attempt to winnow down the list, let’s take a look at certain candidates. Kyle Lohse has some large differentials between his slash lines, plus he has the lowest K/9 on the list, so eliminate him. Ryan Vogelsong continues to be a great story, but if you can’t make the case that you are even the best on your own staff, you get eliminated. Although Steve Carlton did it, it is very tough to win the Cy Young on a last place team, so Cole Hamels is probably not a realistic contender. And even though Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young with 13 wins in 2010, Clayton Kershaw’s win total is going to surpress his chances.
So keeping Burnett in this exercise, that leaves Burnett, Gonzalez, Strasburg, Dickey, Cueto, Bumgarner, and Cain. You could make a case for any of these 7, but realistically Burnett is the next guy to get cut from the list. Bumgarner and Cain have virtually identical stats, but Cain has a perfect game and 1-hitter on his resume this year, so Bumgarner will have to wait his turn. Cueto has been the most hittable and has the lowest K/9 of these 7 remaining contenders, so I’m crossing him off next. That leaves Gonzalez, Strasburg, Dickey, and Cain.
With the typical caveats that each of these pitchers still have probably 10 starts to make until the end of the season, I see this coming down to R.A. Dickey versus Stephen Strasburg. Dickey’s arcane arsenal of different types of knuckle balls makes for a great story, even if his team will be finishing under .500. If Strasburg gets shut down to preserve his arm, then his teammate Gonzalez will jump in as the “first place Washington Nationals Cy Young” representative. If I had a vote, I would go Dickey-Strasburg-Gonzalez as my personal 1-2-3 for the Cy Young.
Andrew McCutchen may be the clubhouse leader for NL MVP, but A.J. Burnett is the Pirates’ team MVP. He has set the tone for this season with his play on and off the field. He is the true stopper that this team has been searching for since 1992. Burnett has been Neal Huntington’s greatest acquistion to-date, but that does not make him a Cy Young candidate in 2012.