Last year, the American League Cy Young Award Winner was Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals. Greinke was by far the best pitcher in the AL, posting a 16-8 record, a 2.18 ERA, a 205 ERA+, a 1.07 WHIP, a 9.5 K/9 rate, and a 4.75 K/BB ratio. He even evaluated his own performance citing sabremetrics, posting a 2.33 FIP and leading all players in the American League with a 9.4 WAR. Yes, a pitcher was worth over nine wins to a team. That's how dominate he was.
This year, it's a different story. There is no clear frontrunner for the award. CC Sabathia leads the league in wins, Clay Buccholz leads the league in ERA, Jered Weaver and Felix Hernandez are tied in strikeouts, Cliff Lee leads the league in WHIP and K/BB. There is debate over which stat is more important, which could decide the winner of the award. Here is my take on the top five candidates for the 2010 American League Cy Young Award
Statistics: 24 starts, 159.2 innings pitched, 14-6 record, 2.82 ERA, 144 ERA+, 90 strikeouts, 48 walks, 1.046, 6.7 H/9, 2.7 BB/9, 5.1 K/9, 1.88 K/BB
Opposition statistics: .210/.275/.323/.599
Leads league in: OPS against
Why he won't win: He got called up in late April, which explains the low amount of innings and starts. He is on pace to throw only 194 innings. He has a poor K/BB rate, which is a product of Cahill's ability to pitch to contact rather than overpowering hitters and average walk rate. His FIP is nearly a run and a half higher than his ERA, which is likely due to the lack of strikeouts. For a sinkerballer, his groundball rate is only 55.2%.
Why he will win: Cahill has emerged as the ace of a young but talented A's pitching staff. Even though he is a contact pitcher, he has been unhittable, as shown by the excellent hit rate and low batting average against. The WHIP is outstanding, and the walk rate has improved. He has been able to win fourteen games despite having an awful A's offense supporting him, which is impressive.
Statistics: 26 starts, 172.2 innings pitched, 16-6 record, 2.92 ERA, 144 ERA+, 161 strikeouts, 67 walks, 1.239 WHIP, 7.7 H/9, 3.5 BB/9, 8.4 K/9, 2.40 K/BB
Opposition statistics: .230/.306/.355/.661
Leads league in: N/A
Why he won't win: He has been a bit hittable, especially in the second half (52 hits in 57.1 IP). He does tend to walk quite a few batters, which makes his K/BB ratio lower than it could be. In the first half of the season, he had a 2.42 ERA. Since the All-Star Break, he has had a 3.92 ERA. The Rays have scored six or more runs in twelve of his starts, and he tends to pitch better with run support.
Why he will win: Price, the Rays' #1 overall draft pick in 2007, has immediately emerged as Tampa Bay's ace in only his second full year. Part of his improvement over last year includes better control, thus giving up less walks and home runs. He is second in the league in wins tied with Phil Hughes and behind CC Sabathia. He is third in the league in quality start percentage at 0.77. His Rays have the second best record in baseball, and he's a big part of it. He is easily the best pitcher on this talented staff.
Statistics: 29 starts, 211.1 innings pitched, 10-10 record, 2.38 ERA, 169 ERA+, 200 strikeouts, 59 walks, 1.103 WHIP, 7.4 H/9, 2.5 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 3.39 K/BB
Opposition statistics: .222/.281/.324/.604
Leads the league in: starts, innings pitched, strikeouts, quality starts
Why he won't win: What King Felix has against him is his record. Voters tend to use wins and losses as a factor in their votes. There has never been a starting pitcher to win the Cy Young with a .500 record or worse (the only two were relievers Bruce Sutter and Eric Gagne). The Mariners average only 2.41 runs in his starts, so he gets no help to win.
Why he will win: Despite the lost season of high expectations for the Mariners, Hernandez has not disappointed. Many of his 10 losses are not his fault. He has only three non-quality starts all year. He has a majors' leading quality starts percentage of 0.90. Hernandez is a sabremetrician's dream. His K/BB ratio is excellent, especially for a power pitcher. His ERA is supported by a solid FIP of 3.00. He also has five complete games, which has helped put him on pace to throw 255 innings. He has truly emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball. The only question is whether the voters will ignore his poor record.
Statistics: 23 starts, 146.2 innings pitched, 15-5 record, 2.21 ERA, 197 ERA+, 101 strikeouts, 55 walks, 1.180 WHIP, 7.2 H/9, 3.4 BB/9, 6.2 K/9, 1.84 K/BB
Opposition statistics: .222/.297/.305/.602
Leads league in: ERA, ERA+
Why he will not win it: He sustained a hamstring injury in San Francisco, which caused him to miss a month on the DL. Thus, the low amount innings pitched. He's on pace to pitch 177 innings for the year, barring any injury, which would be a record for a Cy Young winner if he wins. Pitching for the Red Sox, he does get a decent amount of run support, as the Sox have scored six or more runs in ten of Buchholz' starts. The walk rate is a little high for that low strikeout rate, thus the unimpressive K/BB ratio.
Why he will win: With Josh Beckett and John Lackey having very awful seasons, Buchholz has really stepped up as the Red Sox ace. Even when missing a month on the DL, he still qualifies for the ERA title. After returning from injury, he went on a tear in August, going 4-0 with a 1.03 ERA, winning the AL Pitcher of the Month Award. He has pitched well both at home and away, going 7-3 with a 2.29 ERA at Fenway Park and 8-2 with a 2.13 ERA away from Boston. He has also been stellar with out run support, going 5-5 with a 2.37 ERA when the Red Sox score five runs or less. He'd be number one on this list if he could have posted these numbers with an extra month's worth of starts.
Statistics: 29 starts, 202.2 innings pitched, 19-5 record, 3.02 ERA, 132 ERA+, 165 strikeouts, 65 walks, 1.199 WHIP, 7.9 H/9, 2.9 BB/9, 7.3 K/9, 2.54 K/BB
Opposition statistics: .239/.303/.359/.662
Leads the league in: starts, wins,
Why he will not win: Obviously, wins are team dependent. The Yankees lead the league in runs scored by far. In Sabathia's starts, the Yankees have scored 3-5 runs in ten of them, and have scored six or more fourteen times. He does still have solid numbers when the Yankee offense doesn't score as often, posting a 1-4 record with a 3.79 ERA in five games in which the Yankees score two runs or less. However, like most pitchers, he pitches better with run support. His K/BB ratio isn't spectacular, mostly due to a slight increase in walks and slight decrease in strikeouts.
Why he will win: CC Sabathia is an example of a player that may not be the best pitcher in the league, but is the most valuable. He has anchored a Yankee rotation that is missing Andy Pettitte and endures a mediocre AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez.He has done what he is paid to do: be the ace of the staff. In his last start, he dominated his hometown Oakland Athletics, a team that has given him trouble throughout his career, going eight innings and allowing just one hit, walking three and striking out five. Although Yankee Stadium is known for being a premier hitters' park in its young history, Sabathia is unbeatable at his home park. In fact, he is literally unbeaten at the new house. He is 11-0 with a 2.27 ERA there. He is second in the league in quality starts to only Felix Hernandez. Sabathia is on pace to win over 20 games for the first time in his career.
Cliff Lee: 10-8, 3.37 ERA, 1.025 WHIP, 124 ERA+ 13.42 K/BB- He has struggled in Texas, which has booted him out of the top five. He still has the lowest WHIP in the league and the K/BB ratio is still phenomenal.
Jered Weaver: 11-10, 3.12 ERA, 135 ERA+ 1.099 WHIP, 200 strikeouts- His win/loss record is poor, but he has overpowered hitters all year having already set a career high in K's.
CJ Wilson: 14-5, 2.88 ERA, 150 ERA+, 1.188 WHIP, 6.7 H/9- Leads the league in walks, but has helped anchor the Rangers rotation
Jon Lester: 15-8, 3.27 ERA, 133 ERA+, 1.193 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 - Lester has struggled in his past eight starts (4.50 ERA) but remains a legit ace and top lefty in the league.