AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Chris Sale Tumbles Again as David Price Rises

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 31, 2012

AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Chris Sale Tumbles Again as David Price Rises

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    In the first half of the 2012 season, Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale was as dominant as any pitcher in baseball. He went into the All-Star break with an ERA of 2.19 and an opponent's batting average under .200.

    Sale has been a different pitcher thus far in the second half, and not in a good way. His velocity is down, his stuff is flat and he hasn't missed many bats. In three starts since the break, he's seen his numbers take a hike.

    As a result, Sale has gone from being an AL Cy Young favorite to being a guy on the fringe of the race.

    Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Rays lefty David Price has been one of baseball's hottest pitchers for over a month at this point. He nearly won the Cy Young award in 2010, and he's making another strong run at it this season.

    Scroll ahead to see where Sale and Price rank in this week's AL Cy Young rankings.

    Note: All stats are as of the start of play on Tuesday, July 31, and they come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions

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    Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers

    Harrison was as good as anybody for a period of about a month between June and July, but he's come careening back to earth in his last two starts. He's allowed nine earned runs over 13 innings and has seen his ERA rise from 2.87 to 3.19.


    Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

    Kuroda is proving to be a great addition by Brian Cashman. He's 10-7 in 21 starts with a solid 3.28 ERA, and he has an ERA of 2.72 in 11 starts since the first of June. He's allowed just three earned runs over 22 innings in his last three starts.

     

    Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox

    Peavy pitched well in his most recent start, allowing one earned run over six innings against the Minnesota Twins. He has an ERA of 3.15 this season, and he should have more wins than just eight. He's been a victim of poor run support.


    C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels

    Wilson has been up and down in his four starts since the All-Star break, but he still has a 2.88 ERA and a .215 opponents' batting average. He'd be in the top five if he had impressive periphery numbers (K/9, FIP, etc.), but that's an area where he's lacking.

5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    Last Week: No. 3

    Even when Chris Sale was dominating his way through the first half of the season, you could see it coming. No matter how many innings he pitched or how many batters he struck out, there was no escaping the sense that his arm had a very short shelf life.

    Sure enough, the word from the Chicago Tribune is that Sale is battling arm fatigue and that he needs a little time off to get up to speed. He's not going on the disabled list, but he very well could if the White Sox don't like what they see when Sale returns.

    Sale's tired arm resulted in three sub-par starts immediately following the All-Star break. He gave up 10 hits in a start against the Kansas City Royals and then followed that with a start against the Detroit Tigers in which he surrendered seven hits, four walks and five earned runs. He allowed five earned again on Friday against the Texas Rangers.

    For the season, Sale's numbers are still solid across the board. He's got a record of 12-3, and he ranks third in the AL in both ERA (2.61) and WHIP (1.02).

    Per FanGraphs, Sale is also still the American League leader in fielding independent pitching (or FIP) at 2.82. He's been every bit as good as his ERA indicates.

    He's down to No. 5 in the rankings this week because of how much Sale has regressed since the break. His ERA is 4.64 since the break, and his FIP is up from 2.58.

    Sale still has a chance to shoot back up the rankings, but he needs to get healthy and then go back to dominating like he was in the first half.

    Because he's already pitched a career-high 124 innings, that's a tall order.

4. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Last Week: No. 5

    David Price was not at his best on Monday night against the Oakland A's. They got to him for a couple of early runs, and Price choked when he allowed a crucial game-tying home run to Brandon Hicks, a .193 hitter.

    There's no point sugarcoating it. Price just didn't have his best stuff.

    ...Yet he still managed to pitch seven innings, allowing just three earned runs while recording 11 strikeouts.

    This gives you an idea how good Price has been lately. The numbers do too, as he's logged at least seven innings in each of his last eight starts while compiling an ERA of 2.08. He's struck out 63 hitters over his last 56.1 innings pitched.

    Price leads the American League with 14 wins, and his 2.64 ERA is good for fourth. Per FanGraphs, his FIP checks in at 3.20. That's good for fourth in the AL behind Sale, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander. He has a higher K/9 than all three of them at 9.06.

    He's not quite on the same level as King Felix and Verlander because he still has some catching up to do in the innings pitched department and because he still has a tendency to put too many runners on via the walk. 

    He's definitely progressing in the right direction, though. I considered ranking him at No. 3 this week, but it's hard to justify ranking him ahead of the next guy on this countdown.

3. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    Last Week: No. 4

    Jered Weaver was forced to battle in his most recent start against the Kansas City Royals. He only gave up a pair of earned runs, but he was done after just five innings and 101 pitches.

    Fortunately, he pitched well enough to pick up his 13th win of the season to run his record to 13-1. He leads the AL in winning percentage.

    He also leads the Junior Circuit with an ERA of 2.26, and his 0.95 WHIP ranks second. His .201 opponents' batting average also ranks second.

    Yet he's No. 3 in my AL Cy Young rankings. Shouldn't he be higher?

    It's clear enough that plenty of B/R readers think so, and quite a few of them have let me know where they stand in the issue. Some have used more eloquent language than others.

    So I'll reiterate why I'm not sold on Weaver as the man to beat in the AL Cy Young race.

    For me, it's a question of Weaver's dominance. His ERA is excellent, but his FIP is a slightly less excellent 3.41, according to FanGraphs. He's striking out fewer hitters this season, choosing instead to pitch to contact. He uses the Angels' excellent defense to his advantage.

    As such, Weaver's 2.26 ERA is half Weaver's pitching and half the Angels' defense. If he were pitching for any other team, he wouldn't be leading the league in ERA.

    I wouldn't operate any differently if I were him, and these criticisms shouldn't be mistaken for "hate." In fact, these criticisms barely qualify as criticisms. This is just a case of me pointing out that Weaver has had a greater margin of error than the next two guys on this countdown.

2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Last Week: No. 1

    Justin Verlander just can't seem to master the Cleveland Indians. They got him again in his last start, knocking him around for five earned runs over seven innings to hand him his sixth loss. That gives him two losses and a 4.20 ERA in two starts against them.

    Against everyone else, Verlander has an ERA of 2.44. For the season, he has a 2.60 ERA that ranks second in the American League and a WHIP of 0.95 that ranks first.

    Verlander also leads the AL in innings pitched with 155.2 and complete games with five. Nobody has been a bigger workhorse than him, which is a major bullet point on his Cy Young resume.

    Per FanGraphs, Verlander ranks third in the AL with a 3.10 FIP and third with a 4.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's tied for first in the league in WAR at 4.1.

    Frankly, it's amazing that Verlander is having as good a season as he is given the mediocrity of Detroit's defense. The Tigers rank towards the bottom of the league in both UZR and DRS (defensive runs saved). Their infield defense is particularly problematic, so it's no wonder that opponents are hitting .255 when they put the ball on the ground.

    Verlander has done himself a lot of favors when the going gets tough this season. With runners on base, he's holding opponents to a batting average of .190.

    He's down from No. 1 this week due to his poor outing against the Indians, and I'm not feeling too bad about moving him down right about now seeing as how he's struggling again against the Boston Red Sox as I'm writing this.

    But he definitely has a strong claim to the No. 1 spot. The guy ahead of him on this list has a very, very slight edge.

1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Last Week: No. 2

    Felix Hernandez pitched well once again in his most recent start, holding the Royals to two earned runs over seven innings. He allowed five hits, walked two and struck out six.

    Ho hum. King Felix has been hot for quite a while now. He's 5-0 in his last nine starts with a 1.60 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 67.1 innings pitched.

    This stretch has helped King Felix up his record to 9-5. His ERA is down to 2.79, which ranks fifth in the American League.

    Hernandez ranks second in the American League in innings pitched with 155, meaning he's recorded just two fewer outs than Verlander. Despite that, Hernandez has him beat for the AL lead in strikeouts with 153.

    So why is Hernandez ahead of Verlander this week?

    Like I said, it's extremely close. Hernandez gets the edge because he has Verlander beat in FIP at 2.93 to 3.10, according to FanGraphs, and because Hernandez has been just as good as Verlander despite a BABIP of .307. Verlander's is .241.

    Beyond that, Hernandez gets the edge because he's been better than any pitcher in the American League in the month of July. His 1.5 WAR for the month dwarfs Verlander's 0.6 WAR, not to mention Weaver's 0.3 WAR.

    It's close. Agonizingly close. But right now, Hernandez is the man to beat.

Last Week's Rankings

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    5. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

    Movin' on up.

     

    4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

    Also movin' on up.

     

    3. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

    Down this week, and possibly out by next week.

     

    2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

    It's good to be the king. [Slaps self].

     

    1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

    Down one, but still quite good.

     

    Feel free to check out last week's rankings.

     

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