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National Columnist

NL Cy Young Award conversation starts with closers Chapman, Kimbrel


Craig Kimbrel's teammates aren't the only ones hip to his accomplishments. (Getty Images)  
Craig Kimbrel's teammates aren't the only ones hip to his accomplishments. (Getty Images)  

R.A. Dickey is having a Cy Young sort of season. So is Johnny Cueto. Maybe a few other starting pitchers in the National League, too, but especially Dickey and Cueto. They're on pace to win 20 games, lose fewer than half of those and finish among league leaders in ERA and strikeouts -- which is to say, they're having seasons typical of a Cy Young winner.

But Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are having seasons that have never been done before.

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So let's give the Cy Young to one of them.

Problem is, Chapman and Kimbrel are relievers, and relievers aren't supposed to win this thing. A closer will win it from time to time, but usually he has to have some bitchin' facial hair or 50-plus saves or just do like Sparky Lyle did in 1977 and pitch for the Yankees.

Well, that's one problem with my position. There are several, all of which can be explained away, but only in the hands of an expert. Which is where I come in. But first, I'll take your top three complaints.

1. It's too early to be talking about the Cy Young!

In a vacuum, yes -- if this were a typical season for the NL Cy Young, meaning it would go to the best starting pitcher, it would be way too early. Lots of starts left. Dickey is beginning to fade. Cueto is coming on strong. Plus Matt Cain, A.J. Burnett and Clayton Kershaw are hanging around, putting up great numbers.

But this isn't a typical season, because Chapman and Kimbrel aren't typical candidates. They're not even typical closer candidates. Chapman has 25 saves, which is nice but isn't going to lead the league -- and Kimbrel might not lead the league either, seeing how he's one behind Joel Hanrahan's league-leading 32. How do you give the Cy Young to a closer who doesn't lead the league in saves (or have bitchin' facial hair or pitch for the Yankees)?

You don't. And if the season ended today, voters wouldn't. Without telling them why, I asked four baseball writers at CBSSports.com and one at Yahoo Sports for their top-three Cy Young ballot if the season ended today. None of them named Chapman or Kimbrel. So I'm here to get the word out, start a conversation about the NL Cy Young, because the right thing must be done. And the right thing is for Chapman and Kimbrel to be sitting in the lead at this moment.

2. Chapman and Kimbrel can't be THAT good.

They can, and they are. Again, they're historically good, both of them, which is weird because it's happening in the same season. Stats are funny things, and in the right hands they can say just about anything. I acknowledge that, but here are the stats that jump out to me for Chapman and Kimbrel:

A common sight lately: Chapman chalks up another save. (Getty Images)  
A common sight lately: Chapman chalks up another save. (Getty Images)  
Chapman is allowing four hits per nine innings. That level of stinginess has never happened over the course of a full season, not for a pitcher with at least 50 innings thrown (Chapman is at 53 2/3). Aroldis Chapman is the most unhittable pitcher in baseball -- or he would be, if Craig Kimbrel weren't having the season he's having. Kimbrel is allowing only 3.6 hits per nine innings, which is patently absurd.

Chapman is striking out 16.8 batters per nine innings, which means he has turned the National League into Little League. That's never been done either, by the way. No pitcher with at least 50 innings -- hell, no pitcher with even 25 innings -- has ever matched Chapman's strikeout rate.

Not even Kimbrel, who's at 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings. That, of course, has been done -- three times. In 100-plus years of Major League Baseball.

So what we have here are two closers who are (A) allowing less hits per nine innings than anyone ever has while (B) striking out more batters per nine innings than anyone has.

3. They don't work as many innings as starters.

No kidding. That's an argument-ender for lots of people, and on the surface, it makes sense. Dickey, Cueto, Cain, Kershaw -- lots of starters having great seasons are on pace to throw 200-plus innings, potentially tripling Chapman or Kimbrel.

But below the surface of that number are other numbers. Kimbrel's ERA is 1.29. Chapman's is slightly behind that at 1.34, but against National League foes, his ERA is 0.19.

Read that again, please.

Chapman's ERA in 48 1/3 innings against National League opposition is zero point one-nine. Again, that's Little League stuff.

Chapman had a bad stretch in June during interleague play, which counts and matters, but still. If we're talking about the National League's best pitcher, well, here's a closer who has held NL foes to 3.3 hits per nine innings while striking out nearly 20 batters per nine -- and who is getting better as the season goes along. In his past 19 appearances, Chapman is 17 for 17 in save chances with an ERA of 0.00. Of his 55 outs in that stretch, 39 have been strikeouts.

You can see who would get my vote Cy Young, if the season ended today: Aroldis Chapman. But I would settle for Craig Kimbrel.

Anyone else? There isn't anyone else.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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