Roy Halladay or Clayton Kershaw: Who Really Deserves the NL Cy Young Award?

By Cody Swartz

The 2011 NL Cy Young award race is all but narrowed down to just two pitchers – Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw, two very deserving pitchers who each put together phenomenal seasons.

Halladay is the reigning champ, a veteran who has won the award twice, while Kershaw is an up-and-coming superstar looking to establish himself as one of baseball’s premier pitchers. (It should be worth noting that Cliff Lee and Ian Kennedy will each also receive consideration for the award, but the general consensus among experts is that it’s down to either Halladay or Kershaw).

Kershaw was voted by his peers as Most Outstanding Pitcher in the National League, and may very well get the honor as officially recognized by the BBWAA on November 17.

A quick comparison of their stats:

Name

W-L

GS

CG

SHO

IP

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

WHIP

OPS

ERA

FIP

WAR

Kershaw

21-5

33

5

2

233.1

0.58

2.08

9.57

0.98

.554

2.28

2.47

6.8

Halladay

19-6

32

8

1

233.2

0.39

1.35

8.47

1.04

.582

2.35

2.20

8.2

For the season, Kershaw threw 3,469 pitches and Halladay threw 3,468, so comparing the two certainly won’t be difficult in the fact that they threw about the same number of pitches.

Kershaw gets the nod in wins, strikeouts, and ERA, giving him the inevitable pitching Triple Crown, just the 11th such pitcher in modern NL history to do so. Halladay has the advantage in durability (7.30 innings per start to 7.07 for Kershaw), walk rate, and two of my favorite statistics – FIP and WAR.

FIP is what a pitcher’s ERA should be given the amount of base runners he allowed and WAR is Wins Above Replacement, simply what a player is worth to his team over what a replacement Triple-A level player would produce.

These are two stats for Halladay I can’t ignore, particularly the substantial lead in WAR. Halladay’s total of 8.2 ranks far better than the 6.6 he produced last year. In fact, this rates as the best season of Halladay’s career according to WAR, even better than his first Cy Young season of 2003 (8.0).

Halladay also tops Kershaw in a slew of sabermetric win-related statistics, such as Win Probability Added (3.82 to 3.48), Run Expectancy above average (39.43 to 34.71), and Clutch factor (0.22 to -0.65). Halladay had an opponent’s batting average on balls in play against of .298 while Kershaw’s was .269, and Halladay suffered three Tough Losses while Kershaw only had one, meaning Halladay suffered worse luck on the year.

There’s the argument that Kershaw played on a worse team, so therefore he should be credited more for winning 21 games on a mediocre team than Halladay, who won 19 on a first-place Phillies team. I’ve never been a big fan of looking at a pitcher’s win-loss record to determine Cy Young placement, but if you want to count this argument, Kershaw does get a little bit of an edge, especially when you consider Halladay was given 5.89 runs of support per game and Kershaw saw just 5.52.

It seems like a back and forth argument, and giving the award to one but not the other isn’t enough to lose sleep over. The edge goes to Halladay in my opinion for several reasons. He has a better FIP and a much better WAR, and he has been slightly more consistent for the whole season (78 percent quality starts to 76 for Kershaw).

Giving the award to Halladay would make Kershaw the first pitcher to win the Triple Crown and not go on to win the league Cy Young award, which I think makes it pretty safe to say that when the BBWAA officially decides to vote, Kershaw will get the trophy over Halladay.

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