MLB Power Rankings: The Top 5 Candidates for AL Cy Young in 2011

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIIJune 28, 2011

MLB Power Rankings: The Top 5 Candidates for AL Cy Young in 2011

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    We're fast approaching the halfway point of the 2011 MLB season. The first set of midseason recognitions—the All-Star selections—haven't yet been revealed, but that doesn't mean we can't start looking past that.

    Each year, one of the most contentious end-of-season awards is the Cy Young, largely because of the disharmony surrounding pitching statistics.

    Many voters are still stuck on the idea that pitchers' wins and losses are accurate reflections of talent instead of measuring the strength of his team's bullpen and the opponent's lineup and that luck in ERA always evens out over the course of a full season. Meanwhile, there are plenty of sabermetrics fans who quote esoteric acronyms without fully understanding what they mean.

    This slideshow is how my AL Cy Young ballot would look if the season ended today, and I were a voting member of the BBWAA.

    Feel free to disagree with my picks as long as you know that, in the end, I'm right.

No. 5: Dan Haren, Angels

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    He's not a guy many people think of when they list the best pitchers in baseball—heck, he's not even the best pitcher on his own team—but Dan Haren is definitely worthy of Cy Young consideration this year.

    Don't be fooled by his not-quite-elite 7-5 record and 3.05 ERA. Haren ranks among the league leaders with his 2.74 FIP (second), 3.05 xFIP (fifth) and 2.79 tERA (second). In addition, his 5.41 K/BB ratio is the best in the American League.

    How good has he been? I left Justin Masterson—one of my favorite players on my favorite team, and a defensible choice at least—off this list because I couldn't rationalize snubbing Haren.

No. 4: James Shields, Rays

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    Want to know why the Rays are still in contention? A big part of it is Shields, who's stepping up and enjoying a career year.

    Sure, his 8-4 record and 2.29 ERA (third-best in the league) are impressive, as is his sterling 4.18 K/BB ratio. What's truly remarkable, though, is his 2.89 xFIP—the best in the league.

    The Rays are 2.5 games back in the AL East, and Shields has been worth 2.7 wins above replacement. In other words, without him, Tampa Bay would be twice as far out in the division. 

No. 3: Josh Beckett, Red Sox

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    What an amazing turnaround this season has been for Josh Beckett.

    All but left for dead after a disastrous 2010 campaign (6-6, 5.78 ERA), Beckett has bounced back in a big way in 2011, starting off 6-2 with an insane 1.86 ERA—the best in all of baseball. Also notable is his 0.92 WHIP—second-best in the game.

    Interestingly, Beckett's peripherals really haven't changed much from last year. His K/BB ratio is virtually identical to what it was last year (2.63, up from 2.58) and his batted-ball profile hasn't changed much either. As a result, his xFIP- has barely budged—at 94, it's actually a little worse than last year (92).

    Yes, he's been lucky (that .217 BABIP won't last), but even if he's not as good as he's looked, he's still pretty darn good.

No. 2: Justin Verlander, Tigers

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    Like Haren, Verlander is often forgotten when analysts outside Detroit discuss the best pitchers in baseball.

    If he keeps pitching like this, though, he won't be able to stay under the radar much longer.

    Verlander's 10 wins are tied for tops in all of baseball, and his three losses are the fewest of any AL pitcher with at least 17 starts. His 2.38 ERA is fourth in the league, and the three people ahead of him are all on this list.

    He does pretty well in more advanced statistics too. His 2.83 FIP is fourth in the league, his 2.96 tERA is third and his 2.94 xFIP puts him in second. Did I mention he leads all of baseball in WHIP (0.84) and has posted 3.6 WAR?  

    If there's a blemish on Verlander's stat sheet, I certainly can't find it.

No. 1: Jered Weaver, Angels

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    Any one of the preceding names on this list would make a fine choice for AL Cy Young, and keeping Verlander out of the top spot was particularly difficult.

    But with all due respect to the other candidates, Jered Weaver is the clear No. 1 pick on my ballot.

    Through 17 starts, Weaver is 9-4 with a Gibson-esque 1.97 ERA—48 percent better than the league average, according to ERA-. His 0.93 WHIP is third-best in baseball.

    It's not all luck, either. Weaver leads the league with a 2.46 FIP and a 2.42 tERA, and it isn't particularly close in either category.

    His 4.0 WAR total (among Junior Circuit players, only Jose Bautista and Adrian Gonzalez have been more valuable) speaks to both the quantity and quality of his production this year.

    Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 AL Cy Young. 

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