Many worthy candidates in NL Cy Young Award race

Many worthy candidates in NL Cy Young Award race

Here's the secret to finding out what former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone thinks about any given topic.

Ask him a question. Then sit back and listen.

"I've pretty much got an opinion on everything," Mazzone said with a laugh.

It's a trait that comes in handy in his capacity as a morning radio sports talker on "The Rude Awakening" show on 680 The Fan in Atlanta.

There's one subject that stumps him, though. Mazzone had a tough time figuring out how he would complete a National League Cy Young Award ballot this season. And remember, this is a guy who knows something about winning Cy Young Awards. After all, Greg Maddux (four -- three with Braves, one with Cubs), Tom Glavine (two) and John Smoltz (one) seemingly owned the NL Cy Young Award during the 1990s, winning seven of eight from '91-98.

For starters, Mazzone limited his choices to starting pitchers.

"I know they're talking about [Cincinnati's Aroldis] Chapman and [Atlanta's Craig] Kimbrel as closers, and they've certainly been lights out," Mazzone said. "And I guess with the evolution of the game, closers are considered, too. But I feel that they get their Fireman of the Year Award and all that sort of thing. And I'm an innings-pitched guy, and always have been."

The trouble was, there were five NL starters with an ERA under 3.00 who pitched at least 211 innings: R.A. Dickey of the Mets, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Kyle Lohse of the Cardinals, Johnny Cueto of the Reds and Matt Cain of the Giants. Then there was Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals, who fell two-thirds of an inning shy of the 200-inning plateau, but finished with a 2.89 ERA and led the Majors with 21 wins.

And Mazzone's winner is ...

"If I have to pick one guy, for me, the best story is R.A. Dickey," Mazzone said. "I like his knuckleball and the adversity he's had to go through at the Major League level to do what he's doing. He's been absolutely outstanding.

"Look, it doesn't happen all the time, a guy with a knuckleball like that. He throws it harder than most knuckleballers. I just think he should win. That's who I'd vote for."

For Mazzone, the pure stats also speak for themselves.

"There's a lot of ways you could go, and I'm going to go with the knuckleballer," Mazzone said. "With the innings pitched [232 2/3, first in the NL], the wins [20, second], the strikeouts [230, first] and him pitching on a club that's not very good."

Dickey's 2.73 ERA was also the second lowest in the league, trailing only Kershaw (2.53).

Statistically, defending NL Cy Young Award winner Kershaw was neck and neck with Dickey. He led the league in ERA (2.53) and WHIP (1.02) while posting a minuscule 0.77 ERA over his final five starts.

"I think Kershaw is the best left-hander in the big leagues," Mazzone said. "No disrespect to Gio Gonzalez. He's had a great year, too. Gio Gonzalez [won 21 games], and he's got great touch on the ball."

Members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who have Cy Young Award ballots are asked to pick their top five candidates in order. Mazzone emphasized that this season has provided one of the closest races for the award in recent history.

"Oh, man, it's tough. I could give you my one through five and you could give your one through five, and nobody's wrong," Mazzone said. "It's an unusual year. Let me tell you something, it's unusual that you have that many candidates, but all well-deserving.

"I pretty much have an opinion on everything. But on this one, I'm going to pick Dickey, and then I'm going to sound like everyone else and say you can't go wrong with any of them."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.