Ranking the Top 10 Cy Young Candidates for the 2013 Season
In Major League Baseball, these are the days of the pitcher.
Since 2006, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage have all regressed year by year, while strikeout rates have increased by the same annual trend (data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com).
Like last season, the league will be absolutely stacked with talented arms in 2013.
In 2012, the American League Cy Young race saw a very tight competition between Tampa Bay's David Price and Detroit's Justin Verlander. The National League Cy Young Award, which was won by 38-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, was one of the more surprising ones in recent years.
With fresh faces in new places this season, this year's Cy Young battle should be one for the ages in both leagues.
Without further delay, here are my rankings of the top five candidates for the award in each league.
AL No. 5: Chris Sale
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Chris Sale enjoyed a breakout year with the Chicago White Sox last season, going 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and a 3.27 FIP through 192 innings pitched.
The lanky left-hander is still very young, going on just 24 years old, and is poised for another great season. Chicago's ace hasn't had a bad year since being called up in 2010, and there's no reason why it shouldn't stay that way this year.
Look to see Sale rack up over 200 innings in 2013 and be in competition for the Cy Young once again.
NL No. 5: Cliff Lee
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Tough luck are the best words to describe Cliff Lee's 2012 season. Philadelphia's star southpaw won just six games despite putting up a very good 3.16 ERA over 211 innings.
After a rough first half of the year, Lee was phenomenal after the All-Star break posting a 2.45 ERA.
If he can pick up where he left off in 2013, he'll be pitching like the Cliff Lee we've got to know in the past five years.
AL No. 4: Yu Darvish
Yu Darvish had an impressive MLB debut last season with the Texas Rangers, going 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and a 5.1 WAR (which was equal to Cy Young Award-winner David Price's) through 191.1 innings pitched.
Although his ERA isn't really a Cy Young-caliber number, ERA estimators suggest that he was better than a 3.90 ERA pitcher in 2012. Darvish posted a FIP of 3.29 and a SIERA of 3.55. In other words, he would have had better numbers if he wasn't making half of his starts in the hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
The 26-year-old will likely only get better in 2013. His fantastic 10.4 K/9 rate that went along with a poor 4.19 BB/9 rate is one reason why I believe he'll improve.
Rookie pitchers with plus stuff who tend to strikeout many batters but struggle with control are considered to have a high ceiling for potential.
NL No. 4: Matt Cain
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Overshadowed by Tim Lincecum for the past five seasons, Matt Cain remains one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball.
Cain went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA and a 3.40 FIP in the Giants' 2012 championship season.
At 28, Cain is in the prime of his career, and he'll be be widely acknowledged as the World Champions' new ace entering the 2013 season.
AL No. 3: Felix Hernandez
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You know the American League is stacked with arms when King Felix isn't automatically considered one of the top two favorites for the Cy Young Award.
Hernandez wasn't anything short of spectacular once again in 2012, but was beaten out by Justin Verlander, David Price and Jered Weaver.
He posted a 6.1 WAR along with a 3.06 ERA and an AL-best 2.82 FIP through 232 innings pitched.
Hernandez has been amazing year after year for the Mariners, and he'll definitely give Verlander and Price a run for their money in the Cy Young race this season.
NL No. 3: Cole Hamels
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Hamels emerged as the Phillies' ace in 2012, going 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA and a 3.30 FIP over 215.1 innings.
Ever since being signed to a massive six-year deal worth $144 million last July, Hamels has been lights out.
The 29-year-old is at the peak of his career, so if he's going to take home a Cy Young Award, 2013 is the year.
AL No. 2: David Price
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David Price has his work cut out for him in defending his Cy Young Award this year.
The flame-throwing lefty went 20-5 with 2.56 ERA (best in AL) and a 3.05 FIP through 211 innings in 2012. The numbers were incredible, and just barely good enough to dethrone 2011's winner Justin Verlander for the award.
Price only seems to be getting better, so it was extremely hard for me not to put him as the No. 1 candidate here.
I may not be predicting him to win the Cy Young this season, but I would not be surprised at all to see him go back-to-back.
NL No. 2: Clayton Kershaw
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Clayton Kershaw was arguably the best pitcher in baseball last year, and after putting up such ridiculous numbers in 2012, it was very tough for me not to put Kershaw atop these rankings.
The 25-year-old southpaw went 14-9 with a 2.53 ERA and a 2.89 FIP in 227.2 innings for L.A.
Kershaw already won a Cy Young Award back in 2011 and just fell short a second straight in 2012. Expect him to finish in the top two again this season.
AL No. 1: Justin Verlander
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Like Kershaw, Verlander took home the Cy Young Award two seasons ago and just missed out an another in 2012 that he may have even deserved.
It's hard to say if his stat line—17-8 with a 2.64 ERA, a 2.94 FIP through 238.1 innings pitched—was Cy Young worthy over David Price's, but it's no use crying over spilled milk.
The fact is that Verlander remains possibly the best starting pitcher in the league with the best overall stuff in the league. His ability to throw 100 MPH from pitch one to pitch 130 and eat up innings is like none other.
He'll be great again in 2013; the question is whether or not he'll be able overcome the heavy AL competition and win his second Cy Young.
NL No. 1: Stephen Strasburg
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Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg has been the big subject of Cy Young talk entering the 2013 season.
Strasburg was shut down last year due to precautionary measures taken by the Nats as their 23-year-old ace recovered from Tommy John surgery the previous season.
This year, Washington is unleashing him without any innings limit, and we'll now see him go deeper into ballgames.
Strasburg went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA, 2.82 FIP, .226 opponents' average and an 11.13 K/9 rate (best among MLB starters) in 2012. Also worth noting was his high .311 BABIP.
With top-notch stuff and numbers like that, he's bound to have an even better season this year.
Strasburg's ceiling for potential is scary high. We could be looking at a multiple Cy Young Award pitcher here.