Marty Niland: Cy Young for Gonzalez? Not a clear-cut choice

Several interesting discussions about the National League Cy Young Award broke out Thursday among some Facebook friends, as Mets fans congratulated RA Dickey on winning his 20th game of the season. Posters and commenters began comparing Dickey and Gio Gonzalez, the only other 20-game winner in the majors this season, and speculating on which pitcher would win.

So who does deserve to win the award as the league's top pitcher, Gonzalez or Dickey? Gonzalez won his 21st game Thursday night by shutting down the Phillies for five innings after getting knocked around in the first. Dickey notched win No. 20 against the Pirates, going 7 2/3 innings as the Mets came back from a 3-1 deficit and held on to win 6-5.

Dickey, the right-handed knuckleballer, has a lower ERA than Gonzalez, 2.69-2.64, has thrown more innings, 227 2/3 to Gonzalez's 193 1/3. Dickey has also struck out 222 batters to Gonzalez's 201 and walked 54 batters, 19 fewer than Gonzalez at 73.

Gonzalez, the Nats' hard-throwing left-hander, is holding opponents to an NL low .204 batting average, while Dickey's BAA is .224. Gonzalez is also second in the league with 9.36 strikeouts per nine innings, while Dickey is 11th at 8.78. Gonzalez leads the league with 6.66 hits allowed per nine innings, while Dickey's mark is 7.31. And while Dickey pitches in New York, the center of the media universe, while Gonzalez is the top pitcher on a team that's poised to win a division title with the best record in baseball.

Dickey also has more complete games (five) than Gonzalez (two), and goes deeper into games. But Gonzalez plays for Davey Johnson, who co-founded the idea of situational relieving in the 1980s. He has the luxury of playing for a team with an outstanding bullpen, compared to the Mets', which almost blew a three-run lead in Dickey's 20th win on Thursday.

But it might be more than just stats that determine who takes home baseball's most prestigious pitching honor. Dickey is easily the best pitcher in his team, and the Mets' only candidate. Gonzalez on the other hand, faces competition from his own teammates. Some voters may cast their ballots instead for Stephen Strasburg, whose planned surgery-related shutdown in early September, drew outrage from most places outside Washington, or Jordan Zimmermann, who lead the league in ERA for much of the season but suffered from poor run support.

If it were a clear-cut choice between Dickey and Gonzalez, the award would probably go to Gonzalez. But it's more complicated than that. With Gonzalez's own teammates drawing votes from him, the award could easily go to Dickey or even a dark horse like Craig Kimbrell, whose 40 saves and 1.04 ERA are the best in the league among relievers.

Nationals fans would love to see Gio Gonzalez win the Cy Young Award, and it might well happen. But a looming division title, a playoff series (or more), and likely Manager of the Year award for Johnson and Rookie of the Year award for Bryce Harper are a nice consolation if it doesn't.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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