Although some of the more committed fans won't acknowledge it, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award is a two-horse race between CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez.
The New York Yankees' and Seattle Mariners' aces opened up a considerable window between themselves and the rest of the field as the season wore through its 162-game slate. Though the ratios and most of the stats tell a muddled story—with chapters of decent length devoted to Cliff Lee, Jered Weaver, Francisco Liriano, David Price, Justin Verlander, Clay Buchholz, Trevor Cahill and Jon Lester— there is one key number that separates Carsten Charles and King Felix.
That would be the number in the innings-pitched category.
The Stallions Were Also Work Horses
Hernandez led the American League with 249.2 innings pitched while Sabathia came in second with 237.2. Those two were head-and-shoulders above the other elite starters in the Junior Circuit, who wallowed between 224 and 200 (give or take a few outs).
That's not a huge lead, but considering how similar the totality of the other circumstances are, the difference becomes hugely significant.
Compare the two front-runners' numbers, complete with ranking in the AL, along with a couple of the second tier of contenders:
Hernandez: 249.2 IP (1st), 2.27 ERA (1st), 1.06 WHIP (2nd), .212 BAA (1st), .585 OPSA (1st), 3.31 K/BB (7th), 3.04 FIP (4th), 3.26 xFIP (3rd), 6.2 WAR (3rd)
Sabathia: 237.2 IP (2nd), 3.18 ERA (T-6th), 1.19 WHIP (T-2nd), .239 BAA (12th), .656 OPSA (11th), 2.66 K/BB (14th), 3.54 FIP (10th), 3.78 xFIP (10th), 5.1 WAR (8th)
Weaver: 224.1 IP (T-3rd), 3.01 ERA (5th), 1.07 WHIP (3rd), .228 BAA (7th), .622 OPSA (T-5th), 4.31 K/BB (2nd), 3.06 FIP (5th), 3.51 xFIP (5th), 5.9 WAR (5th)
Lee: 212.1 (10th), 3.18 ERA (T-6th), 1.00 WHIP (1st), .246 BAA (T-16th), .618 OPSA (3rd), 10.28 K/BB (1st), 2.58 FIP (1st), 3.23 xFIP (2nd), 7.1 WAR (1st)
Clearly both men were amongst the best in hurlers in baseball, regardless of which assortment of metrics you choose. Neither case is unassailable, but take one of the other studs and you can poke holes in their arguments as well.
Weaver was excellent across the board, but he was also behind Felix across the board (except for strikeout-to-walk ratio).
Lee, on the other hand, was statistically phenomenal, but he was a hired gun who switched allegiances midseason. Additionally, his innings-pitched total, earned run average and batting average against are considerable vulnerabilities.
The same exercise can be repeated for all the top dawgs.
Of course, the obvious two elephants in the room are the record and the degree of difficulty.
CC blows King Felix away in both regards...on the surface.
That's only half true—the keystone of the Bronx Bombers' rotation obliterated his counterpart in Seattle as far as wins and losses were concerned. The big fella boasted a record of 21-7 while Hernandez went 13-12, but that's more a function of the two teams involved.
New York finished with its customarily gaudy body of work, 95-67 to be exact.
Meanwhile, the Mariners limped to the second-worst record in Major League Baseball at 61-101. Only the tragically inept Pittsburgh Pirates were worse. Combine that with the current state of baseball—in which even the best and most durable starters average seven innings or less per start—and the win-loss record ceases to have much relevance.
But degree of difficulty isn't quite what it seems.
Context Is Everything, But It's Not Enough
Let's deal with an unpopular truth—performing in New York City, especially in pinstripes, is more difficult for 99 percent of human beings, with nutters like David Wells being the possible exceptions.
ESPN riled everyone up against the axis of sporting on the East Coast, so that many deny that obvious truth. But it is the truth and demonstrably so: Javier Vazquez and Randy Johnson aren't the only individuals who have wilted to some degree (or completely) under the unreasonable bright lights of the Big Apple.
Consequently, Sabathia's otherwise rickety numbers get a rather large bump, as they do for tossing his days away in the AL East—unquestionably the hardest division in baseball. Even though he didn't have to throw against the Yankees' juggernaut. CC still faced the unpleasant task of staring down barrels aimed by the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays.
And he had to do a lot of that work in the New Yankee Stadium, not the most flattering place for pitchers.
So the Vallejo native's season must be viewed through that jagged lens and only then can it be seen as potentially Felix Hernandez' equal.
But not actually.
Take arguably the top six 2010 AL offenses—the Yanks, Red Sox, Rays, Jays, Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins. Here's how each Cy Young candidate fared against the biggest boppers:
BOS—7.1 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 9 K
MIN—15 IP, 4 ER, 12 H, 2 BB, 13 K
NYY—26 IP, 1 ER, 16 H, 8 BB, 31 K
TB—DID NOT FACE
TEX—40 IP, 19 ER, 39 H, 12 BB, 31 K
TOR—8 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 5 K
TOTAL—96.1 IP, 26 ER, 73 H, 27 BB, 89 K
BOS—25 IP, 11 ER, 20 H, 8 BB, 17 K
MIN—DID NOT FACE
NYY—DID NOT FACE
TAM—34.2 IP, 13 ER, 29 H, 14 BB, 29 K
TEX—6 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 9 K
TOR—8.1 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 8 K
TOTAL—74 IP, 26 ER, 55 H, 24 BB, 63 K
When the curtain gets pulled back, you can see it was Felix Hernandez who actually saw more of the premiere offenses in baseball. What's more, he outperformed CC Sabathia against those offenses.
When you look at the landscape of professional pitching this season, it's clear that the second "Year of the Pitcher" extended to both leagues.
The Junior Circuit, like the National League, had aces come out of the woodwork and twirl unhittable frame after unhittable frame. There were at least 10 extraordinary seasons, but there is only one AL Cy Young Award, and it's reserved for the absolute best.
Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke showed in 2009 that wins and losses are on the brink of obsolescence, but they weren't up against a rep from the Evil Empire with his black-robed media cabal in tow. So it remains to be seen whether the glint of 21 wins in New York City will be enough to distract the voters.
Because, in 2010, the best was Felix Hernandez.