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Jered Weaver and the Race for the 2012 Cy Young

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Jered Weaver and the Race for the 2012 Cy Young
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Weaver returned to Cy Young form last night after looking very shaky in his previous outing...

Now that’s more like it.

After watching Jered Weaver get rocked to the tune of nine runs in three innings of work in his previous start, I was pleased to see him revert back to the dominant pitcher he has been for most of the season when he went seven innings and struck out five to give the Angels their second win in a row over the Red Sox and keep them in the hunt for one of the two AL Wild Cards.

They are now three-and-a-half games behind Tampa and Oakland, with Baltimore and Detroit also standing in their way.

Weaver, for his part, is now 16-3 on the year and right back in the hunt to capture his first Cy Young award.  While that may be the furthest thing from his mind right now, it would still be a pretty admirable achievement and something worth keeping an eye on from a fan’s perspective.

The Angels have had two Cy Young award winners in franchise history.

Dean Chance took home the prize in 1964 after posting a 20-9 record with a ridiculous 1.65 ERA (low even for that era) and being at or near the top of the league in various other metrics.

Bartolo Colon received his for the Angels in 2005 due in large part (no pun intended) to his league-leading 21 wins and in spite of the fact that in every conceivable statistical measure, not to mention the naked eye, Johan Santana was the far superior pitcher that season.  

And now Weaver, by virtue of his stellar season in the making, looks to become the third Angels pitcher to win the Cy Young award, although his road recently got a lot rockier thanks to that “bad night” against Tampa last Friday.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Sale has been up there with the best but doesn't stand out in any one particular category...

Let’s take a look at where he and the rest of his competition stand with a little more than five weeks left in the regular season:

Weaver is tied with the Rays’ David Price for the league lead in wins with 16, but this is not 2005 anymore.  The BBWA has finally embraced the concept of advanced metrics, as evidenced by their giving Felix Hernandez the award in 2010 despite his “paltry” 13 wins that season.

But still, unlike Colon in 2005, Weaver’s 16 wins are reflective of his own personal dominance on the mound this year. Weaver's ERA constantly hovered around 2.00 before skyrocketing to 2.74 after his nightmare performance against the Rays.

There aren’t many cheap wins on his record, either.  

In fact, only two times this season has Weaver earned a win despite giving up more than three earned runs.

Needless to say, assuming he continues on this path, he will get full credit from the writers for his win total, which could easily reach 20.  

And, despite the spike in ERA, he’s still top-five in that category and leads the league in WHIP, another highly-respected metric these days.  

Sure, he doesn’t have the sexy strikeouts or the mountain of complete games that tend to influence the writers, but he definitely has the goods to take home the hardware.  

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
While 2012 may not be an MVP-caliber season for Verlander, he's certainly worthy of Cy Young consideration...

Of course, Weaver can only control so much, and there are three other aces out there making their own impressive cases for Cy Young consideration.

Last year’s runaway winner (not to mention AL MVP) Justin Verlander is right there in the mix, despite what appears to be a considerable drop-off in performance this season.

A closer look, however, reveals a pitcher that is every bit the Cy Young candidate he was last season, which is to say he is not MVP-caliber but is impressive enough to be designated pitcher of the year.

Verlander is currently second in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and innings pitched, and he leads the AL with six complete games.  

If he finishes the season in the top two of all the major categories, he will certainly get his share of consideration despite the low win total (12 as of today).

Chicago’s Chris Sale has a similar resume to Verlander's in that he ranks among the league leaders in several key categories.  

In most of them, however, Sale is slightly behind Verlander and would need to overtake him on those if he is to siphon votes away from the Tigers’ ace.

Sale does have the eye-catching record of 15-4 and stands an outside chance of winning if he ends up with something like a 21-5 record and if Weaver falters down the stretch.

With the other candidates being so closely bunched together, the writers might instinctively return to their record-heavy focus and give it to Sale, assuming his ends up being the best.

J. Meric/Getty Images
Price has been superb all season, but has really turned it on his last four starts...

Weaver’s main competition at this point is Tampa’s red-hot David Price, who has been on an absolute tear lately.

Think 15-4 is impressive?  How about 16-4?  That’s where Price stands now after winning eight straight decisions and 10 of his last 11.  

In his last four starts, he’s 2-0 with two no-decisions, during each of which he pitched eight innings and failed to give up a run.

That little stretch there has put him at the top of the leaderboard with a 2.28 ERA, nearly a quarter of a run lower than Verlander and nearly half a run better than Weaver.

He may be lagging behind in some of the other advanced metrics, but there’s no denying that, when you watch him pitch, you are watching one of the most dominant pitchers of 2012 and certainly someone who is worthy of the Cy Young.

So who’s going to win it?

This looks like one of those classic races where whoever finishes strongest might take home the prize.

On paper it seems a little ridiculous because, last time I checked, a start in April counted for just as much in the standings as one in September.  In reality, however, voters are only human and tend to put more emphasis on what a pitcher has done lately, especially in the heat of a playoff chase.

Don’t discount the player’s effect on his team’s outcome either.  That’s long been the standard for the MVP race, and some of that just might creep into the voters’ minds if they find they can’t otherwise distinguish one candidate from the other. Pitchers whose teams reach the playoffs might have an edge over those whose teams fell short.

This looks like one of those years, so if I had to handicap the race, I’d say Price is a 2-1 favorite to win it, Weaver is 5-2, Verlander is 3-1 and Sale is the moderate long shot at 5-1.

But with five weeks left in the season and six or seven starts apiece for each of the above, there’s still plenty of time for the lead to change hands.

It’s a horse race at this point, and they’ve reached the turn and are headed for home.

So if you are a fan of pitching as I am, buckle in and enjoy the ride because, as any good track announcer would say, “Down the stretch they come!” 

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