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AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Max Scherzer Makes His Debut in Top 5

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJune 3, 2016

AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Max Scherzer Makes His Debut in Top 5

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    By reputation, the best starting pitcher on the Detroit Tigers is Justin Verlander.

    Recent history suggests otherwise. Verlander is having a characteristically great season, but he hasn't been the Tigers' best starting pitcher over the last month or so. 

    No sir, that honor belongs to Max Scherzer.

    Scherzer is on a roll unlike any he's ever been on in his career. He's going at least seven innings every time he takes the mound, racking up strikeouts and putting very few runners on base. It helps that he's gotten his control, well, under control for the first time all season.

    Thanks to his recent hot stretch, Scherzer now looms large in the race for the American League Cy Young award. Scroll ahead to see where he ranks in this week's top five.

    Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions

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    Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

    Kuroda made his debut in the top five of last week's rankings, but the dominance that he was enjoying is starting to wane a little bit. He has a 4.43 ERA and a .247 opponents' batting average over his last three starts, giving up four home runs in 22.1 innings pitched. He's still having a very, very good season, but it will take a bounce-back performance or two to get him back in the top five.


    Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox

    Peavy has been hit or miss since the All-Star break, but he had his best start in weeks his last time out against the Kansas City Royals, allowing one earned run over six innings. For the season, he has a 3.22 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP, and he's closing in on the 200-inning plateau for the first time since 2007. He deserves better than his 10-10 record.


    Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays

    I'll reiterate that I don't think closers have any business winning the Cy Young award, but Rodney's 0.69 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 42 saves in 44 chances at least make him worthy of an honorable mention. No closer in the American League has been better.


    Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

    Weaver has a 4.24 ERA since the All-Star break, and his last start had to be pushed back due to a bout with shoulder tendinitis. His 16-4 record, 2.86 ERA and 1.03 WHIP all look great, but his 3.74 FIP (via FanGraphs) suggests that he has had a little bit too much go right for him this season. Plus, he hasn't exactly been durable—a quality that you want in an ace.

5. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

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    Last Week: Unranked (honorable mention)

    A month ago, Max Scherzer had a 4.72 ERA and a .270 opponents' batting average to his name. He had given up 20 home runs over 127.2 innings pitched in his first 22 starts.

    Ever since, Scherzer has been as dominant as any pitcher in baseball. 

    Over his last six starts, Scherzer has compiled a 1.26 ERA and a .195 opponents' batting average. He's struck out 53 and allowed only two home runs over 43 innings pitched.

    Suddenly, Scherzer finds himself sitting on a 15-6 record and a respectable 3.85 ERA. He also leads all of baseball with an 11.23 K/9, and he has a slight edge over Justin Verlander for the major league lead in strikeouts with 213.

    Some of you are probably sitting there thinking that a 3.85 ERA hardly makes Scherzer a worthy Cy Young candidate, strikeouts and win total be damned.

    You're not wrong, but Scherzer's situation is worthy of a deeper dive. 

    The truth is that his 3.85 ERA is misleading. It's largely a result of the absurdly high .358 BABIP he compiled over his first 22 starts. It was just a matter of time before that number leveled out, at which point Scherzer's ERA would more closely resemble his FIP.

    Sure enough, Scherzer's BABIP over his last six starts checks in at a far more reasonable .283, and there's not much of a disparity at the moment between his 3.85 ERA and his 3.33 FIP (via FanGraphs).

    For what it's worth, Scherzer's 3.33 FIP is the fifth-lowest mark in the American League. He's also tied for fifth in the AL with Yu Darvish in WAR.

    So don't think that Scherzer has a spot in these rankings just because he's been hot recently. He's pitched well all year. He's on this list simply because he's finally getting results.

4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    Last Week: No. 5

    Something unusual happened in Chris Sale's most recent outing against the Kansas City Royals. For the first time July 15, he didn't give up a single home run.

    Yup, Sale was dealing with a bad case of gopheritis for a while there. In eight starts between July 21 and September 2, he surrendered 12 long balls in 52.1 innings pitched. He had allowed a total of five home runs over his first 110.2 innings to start the season.

    Against the Royals on Saturday, Sale allowed only five hits and an earned run in six innings, walking one and striking out six. He picked up a win to run his record to 16-6.

    Not his best performance this season, to be sure, but an encouraging performance all the same. The White Sox will take as many of those as they can get seeing as how Sale's old dominance has been coming and going ever since the All-Star break. 

    Sale maintains a prominent place in these rankings despite his second-half slump because his numbers for the season suggest that he's been one of the more reliable pitchers in the American League. He ranks fourth in the AL in ERA (2.88) and WHIP (1.08), and he's tied for fourth with an opponents' batting average of .225.

    Furthermore, Sale has a FIP of 3.29 that ranks fourth in the AL behind Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and David Price, according to FanGraphs. His WAR of 4.2 actually ranks him just a tick ahead of Price for third in the American League.

    Sale's first-half dominance is probably a thing of the past, but he's still the best pitcher the White Sox have at their disposal. Because their staff also features Jake Peavy and the occasionally brilliant Jose Quintana, that's not an insignificant compliment.

3. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Last Week: No. 3

    When I last wrote about David Price, he was fresh off a 6.2-inning performance against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he allowed two earned runs and issued four walks. It wasn't his best performance, but he did pick up his 17th win.

    That was also the last time we saw him out on the mound.

    Price was scratched from his most recent start with what the Associated Press reported to be "general soreness" in his left shoulder. He's due to return to the mound this weekend against the New York Yankees.

    For the time being, Price is still leading the AL with his 17 wins and his 2.54 ERA. He ranks seventh in WHIP at 1.12.

    The fact that Price is leading the AL in wins and ERA should make him a shoo-in for the Cy Young award as far as some people are concerned, but you can tell that I'm not convinced.

    I have a couple minor gripes when it comes to Price, the first and simplest one being that he's only ninth in the American League in innings pitched. Justin Verlander has pitched close to 30 more innings than Price.

    There's also the fact that Price's 2.54 ERA is a lot lower than his 3.20 FIP (naturally, via FanGraphs). A 3.20 FIP is still really, really good, to be sure, but Verlander and Felix Hernandez both have Price beat in that category.

    Price definitely has a legit shot to win the award, but he'll need to go back to pitching like he was between June 19 and August 21, when he went 8-0 with a 1.56 ERA over 12 starts. No pitcher in baseball was hotter.

2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Last Week: No. 2

    Justin Verlander is showing signs that he is, in fact, human.

    The 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP winner wrapped up August by getting shelled for eight earned runs over 5.2 innings against the Kansas City Royals, and he allowed six earned runs in six innings his last time out against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday.

    I would say that the sky is falling...but in between these two starts, Verlander delivered a masterful eight-inning performance against the Chicago White Sox in which he gave up four hits and an earned run while striking out 11.

    Because of that start, I'm not totally convinced that Verlander is in the middle of some of kind of slump. He didn't pitch well against either the Royals or the Angels, but pitchers who are slumping don't suddenly put their slumps on hold to pitch eight brilliant innings against a division rival.

    Besides, even after his two recent subpar outings, Verlander still has a 2.91 ERA that ranks fifth in the American League, and he ranks second in WHIP at 1.06. He leads the AL in innings pitched with 210.1, and he's one strikeout behind Max Scherzer for the major league lead.

    Per FanGraphs, Verlander's 3.02 FIP ranks him just behind King Felix for the AL lead. The two of them are tied for the major league lead with WARs of 5.8.

    Verlander is not pitching very well at the moment, but his body of work this season is still as strong as anyone's.

    Except for the next guy on this list, of course.

1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Last Week: No. 1

    I want to say that Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez are in a dead heat statistically, but Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times beat me to it.

    It really is that close between the two of them. Verlander has a 2.91 ERA. Hernandez has a 2.67 ERA. Verlander has a 1.06 WHIP. Hernandez has a 1.08 WHIP. Verlander has pitched 210.1 innings. Hernandez has pitched 208.2 innings.

    And of course, there's the fact that the two of them have the exact same WAR at 5.8, according to FanGraphs. That makes picking one or the other for the top spot on this list kinda tricky.

    To make matters even more complicated, King Felix isn't pitching a whole lot better than Verlander these days. He's given up nine earned runs and 20 hits over 12 innings in his last two starts, both of which were made at Safeco Field. That doesn't bode well.

    So, why rank King Felix over Verlander?

    For me, his body of work is slightly stronger. The fact that he leads the AL with a 2.84 FIP, according to FanGraphs, definitely helps. He's also thrown five shutouts this season, one of which was a perfect game. Verlander has only thrown one shutout.

    It's close. Damn close. As close as it can possibly be.

    But from where I'm sitting, King Felix is still the man to beat.

Last Week's Rankings

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    5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

    One-up!

     

    4. Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

    Down and out, but I'd say he has first dibs to get back in if a spot opens up.

     

    3. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

    Steady as she goes.

     

    2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

    Ditto.

     

    1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

    Still No. 1, but his hold on the top spot is getting shakier and shakier.

     

    Feel free to check out last week's rankings.

     

    If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

    Follow zachrymer on Twitter

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