Is David Price the man to beat in the AL Cy Young race?
When it comes to the American League award races, the MVP race has hogged all the headlines. It's all Miguel Cabrera and all Mike Trout, all the time.
But never mind them for now. Though it hasn't gotten as much attention, the AL Cy Young race is just as intriguing as the AL MVP race, and has been for virtually the entire season. It hasn't inspired any wars the way the MVP race has, but I'd say it's at least inspired a few small skirmishes.
Just like the MVP race, there is no clear favorite in the AL Cy Young race. David Price is an excellent candidate with his 20 wins and league-leading 2.56 ERA, but guys like Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander are right there with him.
So who has the edge in the Cy Young race with the 2012 season coming to a close?
Good question. Behold the last set of weekly rankings you'll see this season.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Darvish looked pretty human in his last start, but as a whole the last seven starts he's made this season have been excellent. In them, he's compiled a 2.13 ERA and struck out 59 in 50.2 innings pitched with only 10 walks mixed in. For the season, he's 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 191.1 innings pitched.
CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
Sabathia has spent two stints on the disabled list this season, and he still managed to cross the 200-inning plateau in his start on Monday. He's helped himself by logging eight innings in each of his last three starts, compiling a 1.50 ERA in that span. He'll finish the regular season with a 15-6 record, a 3.38 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP (his best as a Yankee).
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Sale was in the top five for much of the season, but he'll end the season on the outside looking in. He just never could recapture his first-half dominance in the second half, going 7-6 with a 4.03 ERA and a .274 opponents' batting average. He'll end the season with a 17-8 record and a 3.05 ERA, which is far better than anybody figured he'd do. White Sox fans should be looking forward to seeing what he can do in the future.
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Scherzer's season has spiraled down to a disappointing end, but it looked for a while there like he was going to go into the postseason on fire. In six starts between mid-August and mid-September, Scherzer went 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA and 52 strikeouts and 43 innings pitched. He'll end the season with a 16-7 record, a 3.82 ERA, and an AL-best 11.2 K/9. Per FanGraphs, his WAR is currently higher than those of Jake Peavy, Jered Weaver and Hiroki Kuroda.
Last Week: Unranked (honorable mention)
To my recollection, I have yet to endorse a single relief pitcher as a top-five candidate for the AL Cy Young award. Call me a snob if you must, but I'm of the train of thought that relief pitchers don't belong in the same discussion as starters when it comes to determining who the best pitchers are.
That being said, here's Fernando Rodney. Feast your eyes.
Rodney is in the top five this week because if there's a reliever in the American League who deserves to be in the Cy Young discussion, it's him. His numbers are more than good enough.
To date, Rodney has saved 47 games in 49 opportunities. He has a 0.61 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP, both of which are tops among AL relievers. His .163 opponents' batting average is good for fourth in the AL among relievers, and none of the three guys ahead of him can hold a candle to his 1.82 BB/9.
There is, of course, a bit of history going on where Rodney's season is concerned. His 0.61 ERA ties him with Dennis Eckersley's 1990 season for the lowest ERA ever posted by a reliever with at least 50 innings pitched. He could very well set a new record before he puts a cap on his season.
I want to point out something else, and it has to do with Rodney's ridiculously effective changeup. Hitters are hitting .072 against it this season, according to FanGraphs. Naturally, Rodney's changeup has therefore convinced the PITCHf/x tracking system that it's pretty valuable.
Like, really valuable. PITCHf/x has the value of Rodney's changeup at 19.8.
The next-best changeup on the list among relievers belongs to Tyler Clippard, and it boasts a value of 8.1. Nuff said.
Last Week: No. 5
For the first time in his career, Jered Weaver is a 20-game winner.
It looked like we were going to be saying this last year, as Weaver was 15-6 with a 2.03 ERA with more than a month to go in the regular season. He wrapped up the year by winning three of his last six starts while posting a mediocre 4.24 ERA. He seemed to just plain run out of gas.
Weaver hasn't exactly been more durable this season than he was in 2011, but he has finished the season a lot stronger. He's gone 4-1 with a 2.72 ERA and a .234 opponents' batting average in his last six starts.
Weaver has one more start to make this season, but for the time being his Cy Young resume is already impressive. His 20 wins are all well and good, but what really matters is that he ranks third in the AL in ERA at 2.73, first in WHIP at 1.00 and first in opponents' batting average at .213.
The only complaints that can be made about Weaver's season are over his workload and exactly how good he's actually been.
Complaint No. 1 points to the fact that Weaver has only logged 187.2 innings this season, which ranks him well outside the top 10 in the American League.
Complaint No. 2 points to Weaver's 3.74 FIP (fielding independent pitching), which you can find on FanGraphs. FIP is a measure of what a pitcher's ERA should look like, and the divide between Weaver's FIP and ERA can be chalked up to the excellent defense Weaver has behind him when he takes the mound. He doesn't have such a low ERA without the Angels' fielders.
Combine Weaver's low workload and his shaky standing as far as the key sabermetric stats are concerned, and you get a pitcher with a WAR that FanGraphs has calculated at a pedestrian 3.0.
This is enough for me to keep Weaver away from the top three in these rankings, but he's been good enough in my book to warrant a No. 4 ranking.
Last Week: No. 2
At the end of August, King Felix was 13-5 with a 2.43 ERA, and he had just polished off a stretch that featured him pitch five shutouts in a span of 12 starts. One of those, of course, was a perfect game.
He was the man to beat in the AL Cy Young race at that point as far as I was concerned. Ever since, however...
Hernandez just wasn't the same pitcher when the calendar turned to September. In six starts after the first of the month, he went 0-4 with a 6.62 ERA and a shockingly high .861 opponents' OPS. Opponents hit .346 and slugged .471 against him.
Some are going to argue that Hernandez has no business being in the top five at all after his rough finish this season. I say you have to take his larger body of work into consideration, and his larger body of work is still very impressive.
King Felix did not come close to setting a new career high with his 13 wins, much less his 3.06 ERA or his 1.14 WHIP. To see the brilliance of his 2012 season, you have to look beyond these things.
For starters, the five complete-game shutouts Hernandez logged this year are one more than he had in his entire career coming into this season. To boot, no other pitcher has more than three shutouts to his name this season.
Per FanGraphs, Hernandez also set a new career high with a 2.84 FIP, a figure that currently tops the charts among American League starting pitchers. Seattle's defense was quite good this season, but Hernandez didn't get as many lucky bounces as he did in, say, his Cy Young campaign in 2010.
King Felix also posted a WAR of 6.1 this season, according to FanGraphs. That ranks him just behind Justin Verlander for the top pitching WAR in the AL, and well ahead of the next guy on this list.
Last Week: No. 3
David Price nearly won the Cy Young back in 2010, but he really outdid himself this season.
Price has established a new career high with 20 wins, and he's currently leading the AL with a 2.56 ERA. He ranks third in WHIP at 1.10, and he ranks in the top 10 in the AL in innings pitched and strikeouts.
Price is where he is today because he was a model of consistency over the course of the season. Of his 31 starts, he pitched at least seven innings in 23 of them. He failed to pitch at least six innings only five times.
His consistency mirrors that of Jered Weaver in many ways, but Price ranks ahead of him on this list because his success this season was a little less fluky. According to FanGraphs, Price's FIP this season is 3.05, which is good for third in the AL behind Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander.
Add Price's FIP to his high innings count and his strikeout totals, and you get a WAR that FanGraphs has calculated at 5.1.
Because Price is leading the AL in wins and ERA, the fact that he's not No. 1 on this list would seem to be yet another case of WAR obsession run wild. The argument against him is really no different from the argument against Miguel Cabrera.
It's not an unfair point to make, but there are legit grounds for believing that Price isn't the man to beat in the AL Cy Young race.
I'll explain on the next slide.
Last Week: No. 1
Justin Verlander's Cy Young candidacy was looking a little shaky for a while there, but not so much anymore. He finished off the season very strong.
In his last four starts, Verlander went 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 28 innings pitched. He struck out 27, walked only six, and held opposing hitters to a .567 OPS.
Verlander thus ended his season with a 17-8 record, a 2.64 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. He's going to end up leading the league in both innings pitched and strikeouts.
Verlander ranks ahead of David Price at the end of it all because the two finished with very similar ERAs, but Verlander achieved his while pitching nearly 30 more innings than Price. He helped himself by pitching six complete games, four more than Price.
According to FanGraphs, Verlander also has Price beat in FIP, 2.95 to 3.05. That's largely the result of his superior strikeout rate, and he very much needed that superior strikeout rate this season. Price played in front of a shaky defense most days, but he didn't have to worry about pitching with an awful defensive infield behind him the way Verlander did.
The fact that Verlander nearly matched Price's ERA while logging significantly more innings is therefore the ultimate testament to how effective he was this season. A second straight AL Cy Young should go to him.
Fare thee well, Chris Sale.
5. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Down and out.
3. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
King Felix was my preseason pick to win the award. He came darn close to being a lock.
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Name me a better pitcher in baseball right now.
Feel free to check out last week's rankings.
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