AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Angels Lefty C.J. Wilson Emerging as a Legit Threat
The Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson on the exact same day this past offseason in a stunning turn of events that generated headlines for weeks.
Between the two of them, Pujols got all the attention at the time. He was the true superstar, and it was clearly going to be him who would lead the Angels back to the top of the AL West, and maybe to the World Series too.
Yet here we are nearly three months into the 2012 regular season, and Wilson has been the better signing of the two.
Like, by far.
He hasn't gotten the attention he deserves, but Wilson is putting together one heck of a season. He currently has the best ERA in the American League, and he hasn't given up more than one earned run in a start since the middle of May.
Wilson has steadily been moving up in my weekly AL Cy Young award rankings, and he's reached a new high this week.
Here's how the top five is looking right now.
Note: Feel free to check out last week's rankings.
Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles
Hammel has his ERA down to 2.87 after his one-hitter against the Atlanta Braves. He's a candidate to be in the top five, but I excluded him this week because he just posted a seven-inning start for the first time since late April. I'd prefer to see more of those.
Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers
Harrison has been one of the Junior Circuit's top pitchers in the month of June, and he is now tied for the AL lead with nine wins. He's been feasting on NL hitting, though, so we'll see if he can keep it up once interleague play is over and done with.
Colby Lewis, Texas Rangers
Lewis has also been feasting on NL hitting. His ERA is down to 3.00, his WHIP is down to 1.00 and he ranks fourth in the AL in innings pitched. What impresses me the most about him, however, is his AL-best 7.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
Price was No. 3 in my rankings last week, but then he got lit up for seven earned runs by the New York Mets. It was his first truly bad start in about a month, so he should be able to recover without any issues.
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Weaver is going to be activated off the DL on Wednesday. If he picks up where he left off, he'll be back in the top five in no time at all. Weaver was 6-1 with a 2.61 ERA at the time he had to go on the DL.
5. Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox
Last Week: Unranked (honorable mention)
Jake Peavy exited my top five for the first time all season last week, but I made sure to point out that he would be No. 6 if these weekly rankings were a top-10 list and not a top-five list. He was first in line to move back into the top five if a space opened up.
Peavy's numbers were solid to begin with, but he just so happened to have his best start in over a month against the St. Louis Cardinals last Wednesday. He went seven innings and allowed just one earned run on four hits and two walks, striking out six. Sadly, he was out-pitched by Lance Lynn in a game the Cardinals won 1-0.
Despite picking up his second loss of the season in that game, Peavy dropped his ERA back below 3.00 to 2.91—a figure that currently ranks seventh in the American League. His 0.97 WHIP ranks second in the AL.
Peavy also ranks in the top 10 in innings pitched, strikeout-to-walk ratio and opponents' batting average. His WAR of 2.1 ranks fourth in the AL among qualified starters, according to FanGraphs.
My one worry with Peavy is that he's giving up more fly balls than he has in the past, as FanGraphs has hit fly-ball rate at a 47.6 percent. Most of the fly balls he gives up are staying in the yard, but that's likely to change in the weeks and months to come. U.S. Cellular Field has a well-deserved reputation for being a launching pad in the summer months.
However, I won't put it past Peavy to make the proper adjustments. After all he's been through in the last couple years, making adjustments should be like a second nature for him.
4. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
Last Week: No. 5
Heading into this week, the perception in some circles was that CC Sabathia was actually the worst pitcher in the Yankees' starting rotation.
He wasn't bad, mind you. It's just that the rest of the rotation was really that good.
It didn't take long for Sabathia to shake that perception. He pitched a complete game against the Atlanta Braves on Monday night, striking out 10 in the process. He picked up his ninth win to move to 9-3 on the season, and his ERA dropped to 3.55.
That ERA isn't sparkling by any stretch of the imagination, but Sabathia's other numbers are. He ranks second in the AL with 101.1 innings pitched and second in strikeouts with 102. He's one of just seven starting pitchers in the AL with a K/9 over 9.00.
According to FanGraphs, Sabathia's 2.6 WAR ranks third in the American League.
Sabathia has been doing his workhorse thing lately. Since the start of May, he's only had one start in which he's lasted fewer than seven innings. He's given up his fair share of earned runs, but the Yankees can't complain about the fact that Sabathia has eaten a ton of innings so far this season.
As long as he keeps eating innings, his numbers are going to stay right about where they're at right now. If so, he's going to occupy a space in these weekly rankings for the rest of the season.
3. C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: No. 4
C.J. Wilson has been everything the Angels paid for this offseason, and then some. To boot, he's getting better and better as the year moves along.
Through 14 starts, Wilson is 7-4 with an AL-best 2.30 ERA and a WHIP of 1.10 that ranks seventh in the American League.
The one complaint that can be made about Wilson is that he's been wild this season. He's among the league leaders in walks with 38, and his 3.98 BB/9 puts him in the same company as guys like Ervin Santana and Clay Buchholz (who, to his credit, has really come around).
Wilson is able to get away with those walks, however, because he's the hardest guy to hit in the AL. He leads the league with a .188 opponents' batting average, and he also leads the league with a .262 opponents' slugging percentage. Both righties and lefties are hitting under .200 against him.
As I mentioned in the introduction, it's been a while since Wilson has given up more than one earned run in a start. He's given up a grand total of four earned runs in 38.2 innings over his last six starts, good for an ERA of 0.93.
He doesn't always make it pretty, but Wilson has been one of the AL's toughest pitchers all season.
2. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Last Week: No. 1
Chris Sale finally struggled when he last took the mound on Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was touched up for five earned runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings, striking out six in the process.
In five starts prior to that one, Sale had been a perfect 5-0 with a 0.98 ERA and 43 strikeouts over 36.2 innings pitched. This hot stretch was the main reason why I bumped him up to No. 1 in last week's rankings.
But let's face it. Sale was due for a return to earth sooner or later. The fact that this return to earth came at the hands of the Dodgers isn't such a cruel fate.
Despite his poor start on Friday, Sale's numbers are still solid across the board. He's 8-2 on the season with a 2.46 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP—figures that rank second and fourth in the American League. He also ranks fifth in the AL with a K/9 of 9.19, and his BB/9 of 2.46 is pretty good for such a young pitcher.
Sale has already reached a career high in innings with 80.1, and he's on pace to pitch just over 190 innings this season. He's officially in uncharted territory, and I've already noted that Sale is probably going to hit a wall at some point.
One thing we know for sure is that the White Sox aren't going to take any chances with him, as they've already freaked out over his elbow once this season. If their prize 23-year-old starts showing signs that he's breaking down, they'll be safe rather than sorry.
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Last Week: No. 2
With Sale moving up to No. 1 last week, Justin Verlander moved down in the rankings for the first time in a while. He hadn't been sharp in recent outings, so bumping him down one peg really wasn't all that difficult.
Verlander responded by pitching eight innings of two-run ball against the Chicago Cubs last Thursday. Not exactly the most fearsome opponent, to be sure, but that start qualified as a return to form for last year's AL MVP and Cy Young award winner.
Verlander picked up his sixth win, and he dropped his ERA to 2.66 and his WHIP to 0.97. He ranks fourth in the league in ERA and third in WHIP. He leads the AL in both innings pitched and strikeouts.
It may seem like Verlander is getting knocked around more than he did last year, but that's not really the case. His opponents' batting average of .205 ranks sixth in the American League, and his BB/9 of 2.04 is exactly the same figure he posted last season.
At the moment, Verlander leads all qualified AL hurlers with a WAR of 3.4, according to FanGraphs. The guy closest to him (Sale) is at 2.7.
It may not seem like it, but Verlander is still the best pitcher in the American League.
Last Week's Rankings
5. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
Movin' on up.
4. C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels
3. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
He's been in and out of the top five for much of the season. Since he's out now, it's probably just a matter of time before he's back in.
2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Back where he belongs.
1. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
We'll see what he has in his next start against the Milwaukee Brewers.
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