Can Anything Keep Roy Halladay From the Cy Young?

Roy Halladay is having another ridiculous year, but he isn't alone in hunting for the Cy Young.

There are plenty of events that could stop Roy Halladay from winning his second Cy Young in as many years with the Phillies. Dissection by aliens who capture him to find out how he gets his curveball to move like that, for instance. Or a volcano erupting in his living room while he is watching re-runs of the Colbert Report from the night before. Or we find out that Halladay is actually a robot with a positronic brain, and he needs to sit out the rest of the season while we decide if we're ready to embrace the future foretold by Super Baseball 2020 all those years ago*.

*You know you would watch a movie where Roy Halladay was a Terminator sent from the future by Bud Selig III in an effort to slow down offense and preserve baseball and its hitting records. At the least, it would be better than Terminator: Salvation.

As for events on the field, though, the list is much shorter: teammate Cole Hamels and Dodger Clayton Kershaw are the likely impediments. Here is where the three stand, before Halladay's start tonight in Colorado:

Pitcher

IP

W

ERA+

K/9

BB/9

rWAR

fWAR

WARP

Roy Halladay

162.3

13

157

8.4

1.1

5.1

5.6

4.5

Clayton Kershaw

161.3

13

136

9.9

2.3

4.3

4.7

4.8

Cole Hamels

158

12

146

8.3

1.8

4.4

4.7

3.5

Keeping in mind the issues with looking at wins above replacement to determine award winners, they are close with two months to go. Halladay gets extra credit because of his home park, but he's not that far ahead of Hamels, and Kershaw, despite pitching in a friendlier environment, is right there with them in both actual and non-adjusted numbers. In fact, Baseball Prospectus's WARP has Kershaw leading the group. 

FIP doesn't clarify the issue any, as all three pitchers have ERA higher than their FIP, despite the fact the "worst" of them is 36 percent above the league average in ERA. Hamels is the lone pitcher of the trio with a BABIP comfortably below the league-average -- Kershaw is at .278 in a pitcher's park with an average defense behind him -- so there may be some regression there in the second half, but that's about the lone ding you can make in the record of these three. 

Why include wins? We've seen Cy Young voters move past wins to a degree, electing Felix Hernandez the AL's Cy Young in 2010 despite a 13-12 record. But that was (to those of us who have discarded wins) an obvious choice -- in the less apparent moments, such as who should finish in second and third in that AL Cy race, the voters went with the pitchers with the wins, even though they still weren't qualified by more advanced metrics compared to the likes of Jon Lester or Jered Weaver. With these three as close as they are, though, and no obvious first place candidate like Hernandez, wins may end up being a tiebreaker for some voters. 

Kershaw's walk rate is easily a career-best, but he's also in just his age-23 season, 106 starts into his career -- improvement is expected. The problem for him may be the team he is on. If wins do become important in this year's Cy race, he is at a disadvantage. They have a a below-average team True Average of .254 and a wRC+ of 90, and are scoring the third-fewest runs per game of any NL club. The Phillies are closer to average at .263 and 97, respectively, and sport the best record in the NL, while the Dodgers sit 10.5 games out in a weak division. 

It may turn out that Halladay, by nature of lacking any weaknesses at all in his game will be the victor in this race once again. He has the same limitations in his environment that Hamels does, but also a longer history of being this ridiculous. In fact, he's in the midst of a stretch that is putting him into the Hall of Fame discussion -- his last three seasons have been three of his four best despite crossing into his 30s, and if things keep up in 2011, it will be four of his top five. 

Since 2008, Halladay has walked 1.2 batters per nine innings and posted a K/BB of 6.4. His strikeout rate (7.9) in that stretch is 1.7 punch outs higher than in his previous 10 seasons, and he has led the league in innings in two of those three seasons, with a possible third time coming this year. He has gone from being (understandably) overshadowed by Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens' late-career resurgence, and other greats to making his own Cooperstown case. Another Cy Young would make the discussion that much more real. 

While we all want to see Hamels finally get the recognition he deserves, or for Kershaw to be noticed for the exceptional talent that he has, Halladay is the one with the weightiest narrative. If these three finish the year with the exact same value, that legacy, more than wins, more than strikeouts or walk rate, may be the tiebreaker that voters need. There is nothing wrong with that, either -- as Halladay's own career has shown, there will be time for Kershaw and Hamels yet.

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