Let's get this out of the way: I love R.A. Dickey about as much you can love a professional baseball player you've never met. He had a tremendous season and I hope he wins the Cy Young Award. Having said that, fandom and objective analysis are not mutually exclusive. And if I had a vote for the National League Cy Young Award, Clayton Kershaw would be my top choice.
Here are some stats that matter for determining the Cy Young Award winner:
1. Runs allowed with a park factor adjustment (ERA- accomplishes this in one stat; a lower ERA- is better, 100 is average)
2. Innings pitched
The next few stats are tie-breakers, should a clear winner not be evident based on runs allowed and innings pitched:
5. Complete games
Here are some stats that don't matter much for determining the Cy Young Award winner:
1. W-L record
Runs allowed is king. Defense-independent pitching statistics do not care about actual runs allowed, hence they are not terribly useful here. What actually happened > what should have happened. It would be ideal to know to what extent the defense played behind a pitcher factored into his success. Unfortunately, we don't. Here are the top contenders for the National League Cy Young Award, arranged from best ERA- to worst.
Note: I omitted Craig Kimbrel. He had a terrific season and would probably win the hypothetical Most Dominant Pitcher Award, but he pitched just 62.2 innings. Only once all season did he pitch more than one inning in an appearance. Sorry, Craig.
Each of these pitchers had a fine season. There is no runaway winner. Kyle Lohse can be eliminated from contention due to his ERA-, lower strikeout rate, and lack of complete games and shutouts. Matt Cain is close, but nothing about his stats stands out in the group. Gio Gonzalez's problem is innings pitched; he averaged just 6.1 innings per start, the lowest in this group. That leaves Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, and R.A. Dickey.
Cueto has a slightly worse ERA than Dickey but a superior ERA-, due to Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark being more hitter-friendly than Citi Field. However, Dickey's advantage in innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, and shutouts makes up for the ERA- deficiency. Cueto is a close #3 on my ballot.
Kershaw vs Dickey is tight, but it would be tough to claim intellectual consistency while preferring Dickey. Again, runs allowed is king, and Kershaw has Dickey beat in both ERA and ERA-. Dickey's six extra innings pitched aren't enough to compensate. My ballot goes:
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. R.A. Dickey
3. Johnny Cueto
The real voters have different criteria than I; they usually weigh W-L record more heavily. Dickey's 20-6 record has Kershaw's 14-9 beat. ESPN.com's Cy Young Predictor has Dickey #1 and Kershaw #9, mainly due to the W-L record difference. The voters also like a good story, which obviously favors the Dickster. Las Vegas sportsbook odds favor Dickey as well. Even the xFIP-loving FanGraphs staff picked Dickey, if only barely. All signs point to Dickey taking home the hardware on Wednesday.