Clayton Kershaw: Making the Case for NL Cy Young

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is battling Phillies starter Roy Halladay for the NL Cy Young award this season, and the race is very tight. I am not dismissing the other Phillies ace, Cliff Lee, but I think Lee is a step below these two as far as 2011 performance goes at this point.

I was trading emails with another owner on Thursday, stating Kershaw's case for NL Cy Young this season, and I figured I had to post my thoughts here. Many are under the assumption that the NL Cy Young award is a slam dunk win for Halladay. I can see him winning, but it is not a slam dunk, and I would respectfully disagree. 

Why? Because the Dodgers ace is having a better season.

It is clear Kershaw has taken a huge step forward in 2011, as he is 19-5 with a 2.30 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.37 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, and a major league leading 236 strikeouts in 218+ innings pitched. He has increased his innings pitched from 171 in 2009 to 218.2 and counting this season. He has also increased his innings pitched per start from 5.52 in 2009 to 7.04 this season. 

Just as important, he has reduced his BB/9 from 4.79 in 2009 to 3.57 in 2010 to just 2.10 in 2011. When he came up to the big leagues in 2008, Kershaw struggled with control and it was evident in his first full season in 2009 as well. But, as you can see, he has made dramatic improvement in his control, which has resulted in him becoming the ace everyone projected of him since he was drafted with the 7th pick in the 2007 draft.

More on Kershaw after the jump:

Well, I now know that I am not the only one who thinks Kershaw deserves the NL Cy Young award. ESPN's Tim Kurkjian was interviewed the other day here and stated that Kershaw should win the NL Cy Young this season because every single pitcher who has lead in the pitcher's triple crown categories-Wins, ERA and strikeouts-has won the Cy Young award that season. Right now, Kershaw leads the National League in wins with 19, ERA at 2.30 and strikeouts with 236. Sure we have another week and a half left in the season, but right now, Kershaw leads in all 3 categories. I would say he has a very good shot at winning it.

Here are Kershaw's and Halladay's stats this season:

Kershaw-19-5, 218.2 IP, 2.30 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.37 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, K/9-9.71, K/BB-4.63, HR/FB-6.3%, WAR-6.8

Halladay-18-5, 219.2 IP, 2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 2.09 FIP, 2.63 xFIP, K/9-8.64, K/BB-7.03, HR/FB-4.8%, WAR-8.1

Kershaw would have a few more innings pitched had he not been thrown out of his last start in the 6th inning for hitting Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra with a pitch. Some may argue that Halladay pitches in a hitters park on a regular basis, but Citizens Bank Park ranks in the middle of the pack in runs scored this season, 14th to be exact. Dodger Stadium ranks 24th in runs scored, which is not surprising considering the offenses in the NL West, including the Dodgers lineup. Which leads me to another point in Kershaw's favor.

Here is a look at the lineup behind Kershaw in his last start:

Dee Gordon

Tony Gwynn

Matt Kemp

James Loney

Rod Barajas

Aaron Miles

Jerry Sands

Jamey Carroll

This lineup includes the leader in the NL MVP race in Matt Kemp and not much else. Aaron Miles, Tony Gwynn, Jamey Carroll and Dee Gordon have zero power, and Gordon and Jerry Sands are still getting their feet wet in the big leagues. James Loney does not strike fear in too many pitchers, especially this season.

If you look at run support, Halladay has a slight edge-4.71 runs per 9 vs 4.65 for Kershaw this season, so they have received comparable run support all season, even with the horrible lineup Don Mattingley runs out there everyday.

Let's compare Kershaw's stats vs the stats of the past three NL Cy Young award winners-Roy Halladay-in 2010- and Tim Lincecum-in 2008 and 2009.

Kershaw-19-5, 218.2 IP, 2.30 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.37 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, K/9-9.71, K/BB-4.63, HR/FB-6.3%, WAR-6.8

Halladay-21-10, 250.2 IP, 2.44 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 3.01 FIP, 2.80 xFIP, K/9-7.86, K/BB-7.30, HR/FB-11.3%, WAR-6.6

Lincecum (2008)-18-5, 227.0 IP, 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 2.62 FIP, 3.13 xFIP, 10.51 K/9, 3.15 K/BB, HR/FB-5.6%, WAR-7.5

Lincecum (2009)-15-7, 225.1 IP, 2.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 2.34 FIP, 2.83 xFIP, K/9-10.42, K/BB-3.84, HR/FB-5.5%, WAR-8.2

Kershaw has had a better season in the traditional pitching stats than the previous 3 Cy Young award winners, although Halladay won 2 more games than Kershaw at this point, but Kershaw has two more starts to equal Halladay's 21 wins. His ERA, WHIP and xFIP are lower than all three, and his FIP is lower than all but Lincecum's 2009 season. 

Kershaw had a very good first half where he went 9-4 with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.048 WHIP in 19 first half starts, but he has been absolutely Bob Gibson-like in the second half. In 12 second half starts, he is 10-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 0.886 WHIP, and an 89-16 K/BB rate in 88 innings pitched.

Halladay went 11-3 with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.019 WHIP in 19 first half starts, and has put up slightly better stats in the second half. Since the All Star break, he is 7-2 with a 2.12 ERA and 1.074 WHIP in 11 second half starts. So, Halladay had the better first half while Kershaw has had the better second half. And, for me, he has had the better season as well.

Kershaw has had 21 starts where he went at least 6 innings and given up 2 runs or less, while Halladay has had 19 of such starts. Halladay supporters will say he is pitching in a pennant race, so he is pitching under more pressure than Kershaw, but looking at the NL East standings, I see the Phillies with an 11.5 game lead. Not much of a pennant race if you ask me. And the Phillies have the best record in baseball.

Clayton Kershaw is just 23 years old and my choice for the NL Cy Young award in 2011.

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