Results tagged ‘ Clayton Kershaw ’

Nationals’ aces fill up NL Cy Young ballots

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by Mike Feigen

It came as no surprise that Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers earned the National League Cy Young Award Wednesday, unanimously capturing all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. After all, the southpaw led all of baseball in ERA, wins, complete games, WHIP and FIP (fielding independent pitching).

cyyoungHowever, down the writers’ ballots, another storyline emerged.

Three members of the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation — Jordan Zimmermann (5th), Doug Fister (8th) and Stephen Strasburg (T-9th) — finished in the top 10 of the voting, making them the only team in either league to achieve that distinction in the past three years.

Zimmermann, 28, went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA in 199.2 innings in 2014, concluding the season with the first no-hitter in Nationals history. The 6-foot-2 right-hander added a brilliant first-round performance in the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, surrendering just three hits in Game 2. In total, Zimmermann allowed a total of three hits to the final 62 batters he faced dating back to his September 20 start against the Miami Marlins.

Fister, acquired last offseason in a deal with the Detroit Tigers, lived up to his billing as a dynamic, big-game pitcher. Standing 6-foot-8, the lanky right-hander used his power sinker and array of off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance all season. Fister led the Nationals in ERA (2.41) and wins (16) during the regular season, then added a victory in Game 3 of the NLDS against Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

If not for Zimmermann’s late-season heroics, Strasburg would have easily finished the season as the Nationals’ hottest pitcher. The 26-year-old righty went 7-2 in August and September, including a 3-0 record with a 0.00 ERA over his final three starts of the season. In those contests, the right-hander allowed 10 hits and three walks over 20.0 scoreless innings, striking out 19.

Including Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.85) and Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57), the Nationals owned one of the finest starting rotations in all of baseball, with all five primary members deserving recognition for their excellent 2014 campaigns. Factoring in the excellent bullpen performances from relievers such as Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, the entire staff led baseball in ERA (3.03), FIP (3.18), fewest home runs per fly ball (7.5%) and lowest walk rate (2.15 per 9 innings). The team also set a Major League record by striking out 3.66 batters for every walk issued, the best ratio in history.

With Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg all earning BBWAA votes, the result doubled the number of times Nationals pitchers have received Cy Young votes since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005. Previously receiving tallies were Chad Cordero (5th, 2005), Gonzalez (3rd, 2012) and Zimmermann (7th, 2013).

The Most Valuable Pitcher

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For better or for worse, Major League Baseball’s top pitching and player awards are not determined the same way. Critics hem and haw over what exactly “most valuable” means when it comes to determining the league MVPs each year. But the Cy Young is simply given to the pitcher considered, objectively, to be the best overall. There is no such thing as the Most Valuable Pitcher Award. For the Nationals in 2012, that’s a shame, as no pitcher was more valuable in the National League than Gio Gonzalez.

Gio Gonzalez had plenty of reasons to celebrate this season.

We here at Curly W Live are fully aware that wins should hardly be the decisive metric in determining a pitcher’s value, but Gonzalez’s totals were, nonetheless, impressive. The southpaw was the first pitcher in baseball to 20 wins this season, finishing with a Major League-best 21 victories. In so doing, he became the first D.C. lefty to win at least 20 games since Earl Whitehill in 1933, 79 years ago.

But let’s dive into the statistics that really set Gonzalez apart. The Hialeah, Florida native led all qualifying pitchers in either league with a .206 batting average against. He also struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings pitched, the highest rate of any pitcher to throw as many innings (199.1) as Gonzalez did. The 27 year-old lefty allowed just nine home runs all season, for a league-leading rate of just 0.4 per nine innings pitched. Considering that he pitched half his games in the 14th-highest ranked offensive ballpark by Park Factor, those numbers are all the more impressive next to Mets ace R.A. Dickey’s (Citi Field, ranked 23rd) and Clayton Kershaw’s (Dodger Stadium, 25th).

Gonzalez won Nationals fans over with his great smile and his great stuff.

Gonzalez was particularly strong in August and September as well, when the team needed him to step into the role of the top pitcher in the rotation. After earning his second consecutive All-Star bid, Gonzalez led the Nationals pitching staff down the stretch. He won eight of his final 10 starts while fashioning a 2.00 ERA over that span to help Washington win its first-ever NL East crown. He was even stronger in his final six regular season outings, going 5-1 with a 1.35 ERA (6 ER/40.0 IP) holding opponents to a .171 average.

While Gonzalez won’t be able to celebrate with any official hardware like Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper and Manager of the Year Davey Johnson, he’ll no doubt take solace in the fact that he led his team to the playoffs, something to which neither of his fellow Cy Young finalists can lay claim.

Ghost Ride the WHIP

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With the postponement of Sunday’s game giving us likely the only consecutive days without Nationals baseball until the All-Star Break, we figured it might be a good time to take stock of the team following the first homestand and point out a few truly ridiculous numbers. For those of you well-versed in your statistics, we’ll make the following disclaimer: small sample size alert. After all, we’re only 16 games into a 162-game season (9.9%), and baseball is all about how trends play out in the long run, not a few handfuls of contests. Nevertheless, the following statistics are rather absurd.

Jordan Zimmermann has been downright historic so far this season.

For this discussion, we take a closer look at WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched), a very useful way of determining how effective pitchers are at keeping opponents off the base paths. Since 1901, only 140 pitchers who have qualified for the ERA title have posted a WHIP below 1.00, or an average of 1.25 pitchers per year. Since the year 2000, just 14 have accomplished the feat, three of which came last year (AL MVP/Cy Young Award Winner Justin Verlander – .920, NL Cy Young Award Winner Clayton Kershaw – .977, and Cole Hamels – .986). Needless to say, to be in the company of those select few puts one in rarefied air, among the top pitchers of the generation, if not all time.

Why is this so important? We all know that the Nationals starting pitching has been superb to this point, but for any to notch sub-1.00 WHIP would be quite a feat, something never accomplished by a qualifying starter since the move to Washington in 2005 (Jordan Zimmermann was the closest last season, at 1.15). As it turns out, there are multiple starters out of the five on this year’s staff currently posting sub-1.00 WHIPs. Specifically, there are five of them.

As a number five starter, Ross Detwiler has been better than most number ones.

That’s right, each and every one of the Washington Nationals starting five has allowed an average of less than one baserunner per inning. Ross Detwiler, who ranks second in the National League in ERA at 0.54, has the highest (aka, worst) of the lot at a 0.94 mark. Stephen Strasburg (0.92) and Gio Gonzalez (0.91) rank slightly ahead of Detwiler. Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson’s mark of 0.84 is even more eye-popping, and Zimmermann’s 0.71 is downright silly.

For some additional historical perspective, only one pitcher has logged a WHIP of under 0.90 since 1996, which was Pedro Martinez (0.74) in his historic 2000 campaign, widely regarded as the greatest single pitching season in the last generation. That year, Martinez notched a 1.74 ERA and 284 strikeouts in 217.0 innings pitched while throwing four shutouts for the Boston Red Sox, all in the midst of a hitter-dominated era.

Right now, Zimmermann is ahead of even that pace. Again, we are working off a small sample size, one that is hardly projectable for the remaining 90% of the season. Nevertheless, wow.

Last week, Curly W Live readers voted that the starting rotation has been the most impressive component of Washington’s hot start. So, we ask you now: who has been the most impressive starter so far? The best part about this poll: there are no wrong answers.

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