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Craig Kimbrel probably isn't going to win the Cy Young, but is there anything we can learn from the nine relievers to win the award in the past?
In an earlier Braves-related piece, I referred to Aroldis Chapman as the best reliever in baseball. That was weapons-grade trolling right there. I knew that Craig Kimbrel had an excellent argument, but he didn't blow a save against the Astros this year, which hammered the point home. I'd apologize, but it was totally on purpose.
No, Craig Kimbrel just might be the best reliever in baseball. It's him and (a healthy) Aroldis, racing to the moon, while the rest of baseball is messing around with one of those turn-of-the-century airplane prototypes.
I mean, that's like a thought experiment that came out of a smoky dorm room. "What if that guy who threw a million miles per hour suddenly found a way to command it … oh, cool, cool. Yeah, that's about right." It's absurd. Everyone remembers that he walked almost six hitters for every nine innings he threw in his minor-league career, right? Just checking.
But he's probably not going to win the Cy Young. I'm not going to argue that he should, of course. He's thrown only 60 innings this season, and even if you're not wild about WAR, you can understand how it'd be better to have Matt Cain with a closer-by-committee instead of Mike Minor's 2012 season with Kimbrel closing.
There's still a shot, though. In another year, against different competition, he might have been the favorite. With this group, he's an underdog, but he still has a slight chance. Here's the formula for relievers winning the Cy Young.
Competition doesn't feature a 20-win pitcher
A season like Kimbrel's would have had a great chance. If there isn't a 20-win pitcher, the voters get antsy. This happened with Steve Bedrosian in 1987 and Rollie Fingers in 1981 (a strike year).
Competition features a 20-win season from a pitcher that clearly wasn't going to win the Cy Young
Jack Morris won 21 games in 1992. Pitcher of the '80s, y'all. He also had a 4.04 ERA, and the league average was 3.94. He wasn't going to win. Same goes with Russ Ortiz and Eric Gagne in 2003, or Mike Scott and Mark Davis in 1989. Also, you totally remembered that Russ Ortiz won 21 games.
Competition features several 20-win pitchers
When Sparky Lyle won in 1977, Jim Palmer, Dave Goltz, and Dennis Leonard all finished with 20 or more wins. When Bruce Sutter won it in 1979, a pair of Niekros won 20.
That last one is Kimbrel's shot. Gio Gonzalez has 20 wins, as does R.A. Dickey. Johnny Cueto has 19 wins and a start left. All three of them have Cy-worthy seasons going apart from the ERA. If they get split up like some big ol' electoral college, Kimbrel has a chance.
Dickey's probably in the lead. Gonzalez has a chance. There's a possibility that Cueto could get some Great American Ballpark-related sympathy votes that make up for his September stumble. But if there are factions for each, Kimbrel could sneak in.
He wouldn't be the best choice, but those arguments are tired. It wouldn't take away from his utterly ridiculous season.