Tonight R.A. Dickey goes after his 19th win of the season, taking on the Nationals the day after Washington’s Gio Gonzalez reached the mark at the Mets’ expense. Gonzalez, along with Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto and a handful of others, are Dickey’s competition as he battles for major league glory in the form of the NL Cy Young Award. Last week I prepared you for the worst with how R.A. could lose out on the title. This week I’m taking a complete 180 to give you three reasons why, assuming he pitches solidly the rest of the way, our knuckleballer will take home the award named for a man who won 511 games in his illustrious career. Think of it as a point/counterpoint, except both points are coming from the same guy (we all argue with ourselves in our heads – I’m just putting it to print).
1. He’s near the top in every category that matters
Last week Johnny Cueto’s ERA was hovering around 2.48, but after two bad starts in a row, including a thumping at the hands of the Astros on Sunday, that number has ballooned to 2.71. That puts Dickey and his 2.64 ERA in the National League lead. Not only is he now tops the most important pitching category, he leads or is near the top at every other one that matters. His 18 wins are second behind just Gonzalez, and that could change tonight if he gets to number 19. His 195 strikeouts are third in the league, but with Steven Strasburg’s shutdown over the weekend he’ll pass him easily and likely become the second man (after Clayton Kershaw) to reach 200 Ks this season. Those three categories make up the Pitching Triple Crown, and if Dickey were to win that there’s no way he could lose the Cy Young. Pile onto that his league leads in complete games (5), shutouts (3), and near-lead in WHIP (1.025, .003 more than Kershaw and unheard of for a knuckler), and you get a case strong enough that even those weary about Dickey’s pitch would be pressed between a rock and a hard place to pick anyone else.
2. The sentimentality factor
The least important of these three, but still one to note: people love a good story, and that of Robert Allen “Most Interesting Man in Baseball” Dickey is as good as it gets. Not just Mets fans but baseball fans everywhere were ticked off pretty awfully when Tony La Russa passed on having him start the All-Star Game in July. Can you imagine the reaction if he finishes with the kinds of numbers described above and doesn’t take home the title? Baseball would have an uprising on its hands with Dickey becoming the “People’s Pitcher,” if you will. It’s not that he wouldn’t be the best choice for the award anyway, but sentimentality is one more thing R.A. has in his corner. He leads the league in it.
3. He makes the Mets look good
One argument I put forward last week was that Cueto or Gonzalez might beat out Dickey simply because they play for better teams. After closer consideration and an appearance on the Phil Naessens Show, however, I realize that pitching for a worse team actually works to Dickey’s advantage. Unlike the MVP race, which almost always comes down to whose team did better (see Ryan Braun over Matt Kemp last season), the Cy Young race is more wide open because pitchers cannot be judged in the same way as everyday players. A typical starting pitcher only appears in about a fifth of his team’s games the whole season, so the best starter’s high performance will not show in the standings as much as that of the best position player. Thus, Cy Young evaluation should not be tied to overall team performance, and the award really should go to the man who pitches the best. In the last few years it has: Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez won in 2011 and 2010 despite the fact that they played for non-contenders.
The most classic example of the end-of-season hardware going to the cellar-dwellers comes from 1972, when Steve Carlton won his first of four Cy Youngs. That year he went 27-10, struck out 310, and posted a 1.97 ERA for a Philadelphia Phillies team that went 59-97. The best pitcher in the National League pitched for by far the worst team in the National League, and remarkably even that showed. He won almost half his team’s games! No one else on the whole roster won more than seven! He tossed more complete games (30) than the rest of the staff combined and doubled (13)! His ERA was under 2.00 and he still lost 10 games! That was a bad Phillies team, but without the future Hall-of-Famer they may have lost more than the ’62 Mets did. The Phillies were the worst team in baseball in 1972, but when Steve Carlton pitched, they were one of the best teams in baseball. Like then, in today’s case what it all boils down to is that on days when R.A. Dickey pitches, the usually-bad New York Mets are a good team.
“With R.A. Dickey on the mound [tomorrow]…perhaps a single run is all the Mets will need.”
That’s what I wrote last night on my own blog after the most recent Amazin’ offensive power outage. That sentence alone should sum up the kind of season Dickey has had. R.A. can, and should, win the Cy Young Award because he gives even this team a chance to win every fifth day.