2011 MLB Cy Young Predictions: Ranking the Top Five in the AL and NL

Mitch FortnerContributor IIIAugust 31, 2011

2011 MLB Cy Young Predictions: Ranking the Top Five in the AL and NL

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    As the final month of the 2011 regular season plays out, Cy Young talk is becoming more and more prominent. While one pitcher has stolen the show in the American League, the National League is still up for grabs and likely will be decided in the season's final month.

    The top five pitchers have been ranked in each league, taking into account StatSheet.com's Starting Pitcher StatRank metric, which includes wins, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP and quality starts in the calculation. In addition to the five best in each league, a surprise pitcher and disappointing pitcher has been chosen for each league. 

    All StatRank grades are subject to change as the rankings are updated daily after each game played.

NL Cy Young Winner: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    In just his third full season the 23-year-old has become the most dominant pitcher in the National League. Kershaw ranks second overall in Starting Pitcher StatRank and first in the NL with a 96.6

    On pace to lead the NL in both wins and strikeouts (212) with a sub 2.50 ERA and a WHIP hovering just above 1.00, Kershaw has lost just two starts since closing out April with a 2-3 record.  He is third in the MLB in complete games with five, 21 of his 28 starts have been quality starts and he sports a 4.24 K/BB ratio, good for seventh in baseball.

    Kershaw’s 17 wins and .211 Batting Average Against prove that, despite pitching for a mediocre Dodgers club, chances are good that Los Angeles will come out on top when he takes the hill. Even with a certain “Doc” looming, Kershaw deserves to take home the hardware in the NL in 2011.

NL Runner-Up: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

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    What is there to say about Halladay that hasn’t already been said? He has been and continues to be one of the games best pitchers over the past 11 seasons.  He is currently sixth overall in Starting Pitcher StatRank, and third in the National League with a 95.3.

    On pace for his fourth consecutive season of at least 200 strikeouts, sixth consecutive season of at least 16 wins, and fourth straight season with a sub 2.80 ERA, if the Cy Young took into account past seasons this would be no contest.  Unfortunately for Halladay, despite posting great numbers once again, Kershaw’s have been slightly better.

    “Doc” has seven complete games this season (first in the NL), 21 quality starts in 27 appearances and just 25 walks in 196.2 innings to date.  His 7.64 K/BB ratio is best in baseball and it isn’t close. It has been another outstanding season for Halladay and although he may finish second to Kershaw in the Cy Young race, he can take solace in the fact that he will be the one pitching in meaningful games in October.

NL Third: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    Big Time Timmy Jim” (come on, you know that’s your favorite Lincecum nickname) continues to baffle hitters in just his fourth full season. “The Freaky Franchise” (every nickname will be mentioned) is currently ninth overall and fifth in the NL in Starting Pitcher StatRank with a 91.3.

    Currently second in the NL in strikeouts with 193, Lincecum will surpass 200 strikeouts for the fourth consecutive season. Having already reached 1000 K’s in his career, he is one of only eight pitchers to reach that mark in his first five seasons, putting him in an elite class. Showing no signs of slowing down, “The Franchise” currently posts a 2.58 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP to go along with a .211 Batting Average Against.

    Since July 9th, Lincecum has allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of his 10 starts, causing him to jump to third on this list. Although he continues to be one of the best in the game, “The Freak” (that’s all of them) has once again been let down by his teammates, posting six Tough Losses (defined using a 50 point scale) in his 28 starts, giving him just a 12-11 record. If Lincecum is going to add to his two Cy Young awards, he will need the Giants to build an offense around him.

NL Fourth: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    The third starter in the Phillies rotation, Hamels appears fourth on the Cy Young list. He gets the nod over another teammate because of his 21 quality starts (tied with Halladay) in 26 games started, a 2.58 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Hamels is fourth in overall Starting Pitcher StatRank and currently leads Halladay by a tenth of a point, 95.4 to 95.3.

    His K/BB Ratio of 4.63 is fourth best in the MLB (three Phillies in the top four), having walked just 35 batters in 178 innings pitched compared to 162 strikeouts. With a .211 BAA, Hamels is tough to get on base against, period. 

    The Phillies pitching staff is having an unprecedented season, and a lot of it can be attributed to the dominance of Hamels as the third starter. While he has been very good in years past, he has taken it to a new level in 2011, giving the Phillies three bona fide number one starters.

NL Fifth, Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    As if two Phillies wasn’t enough, Cliff Lee rounds out the top five in the National League. He is currently eighth overall, fifth in the NL, and third on his own team in Starting Pitcher StatRank with a 93.2.

    Lee is currently 14-7 with 19 quality starts in 26 games started, and tied for third (with Halladay) in the NL in strikeouts with 191. Lee, like the other two Philly aces, is known for his control and has surrendered just 39 walks in 186 innings pitched, posting a 4.90 K/BB ratio.

    Lee may never win a Cy Young award pitching in Philadelphia, but his chances at a World Series are good enough to make not winning this award a non-issue.

NL Surprise: Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Leading the Diamondbacks to first place in the NL West, Kennedy is 17-4 with a 3.03 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 161 strikeouts. He is currently 10th overall in Starting Pitcher StatRank with a 91.0.  If Arizona is going to win the West and make some noise in the playoffs, Kennedy must continue to be the ace he has been all season. 

NL Disappointment: Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins

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    A disappointment strictly due to injury, J.J. can be as good as any pitcher in baseball when healthy. Before going down with shoulder issues, Johnson was 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 56 K’s in 60.1 innings pitched for the Florida Marlins. If he is able to return to full strength in 2012, he has the talent to challenge for the Cy Young award.

AL Cy Young Winner: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Does the case even need to be made for Verlander? Among a slew of great pitchers in baseball, he clearly stands out as the best in 2011. Verlander leads the MLB in wins (20), strikeouts (218), and WHIP (0.90), giving him a SP StatRank of 100.3, almost four points ahead of projected NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Throw in his no-hitter against Toronto on May 7th and he is the obvious choice for the award.

    With 25 quality starts in 29 games started and a .190 Batting Average Against, Verlander has been tough to hit in just about every start this season for Detroit. In the four games where he did not record a quality start, he went at least six innings in all four outings, giving up four earned runs in three of them, putting him dangerously close to a quality start in all but one appearance this season.

    Since closing out the month of April with a 2-3 record, Verlander has gone 18-2, including wins in each of his last eight appearances. At just 28, Verlander is primed to add more than one Cy Young to his trophy case.

AL Runner-Up: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    Next to Verlander, Weaver has been the most consistent pitcher in the AL in 2011. With 24 quality starts in 28 appearances, aside from two stinkers in August, Weaver has pitched well in almost every start. His Starting Pitcher StatRank is currently 95.4, good for third in baseball behind only the two projected Cy Young Winners.

    Even with two starts in August where he gave up a combined 15 runs in 10.2 innings, Weaver leads the AL in ERA (2.28) and trails only Johnny Cueto (2.05) for the lowest among starting pitchers in baseball. Remove those two starts from his season and his ERA becomes 1.61.

    Throw in the fact that he is likely to strike out over 200 batters for the second consecutive season with a Batting Average Against of just .210 and it’s easy to see why the Angels broke him off with a long-term extension.

AL Third: C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees

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    A true workhorse, Sabathia is approaching 30 starts for the 10th time in his 11 seasons. With 201 strikeouts, he trails only Verlander and Kershaw for the league lead, and is second in wins behind Verlander with 18. He is currently 11th overall in Starting Pitcher StatRank with an 89.8.

    While he sometimes can struggle for consecutive games (usually in April), he is one of the games best and can always be counted on when needed. After struggling in the previous three match-ups against Boston in 2011, Sabathia stepped up and pitched six strong innings, allowing two earned runs and striking out 10 against Boston on August 30th to lead the Yankees to a much needed victory.

    With 18 wins and an ERA currently under 3.00 (2.99), Sabathia gets the nod for third in the AL ahead of the next two arms. Because he is a Yankee, one may argue his 18 wins are in large part due to the powerful offense behind him, however, 16 of his 18 wins were quality starts, and in his other two wins he surrendered just four earned runs.

AL Fourth: James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

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    While Shields is considered a surprise in 2011; his season has been too good to only put in the surprise category. What vaults Shields into fourth in the AL in the Cy Young race is ability to go the distance, recording 10 complete games for the first time since C.C. Sabathia reached that total in 2008. Currently, he is 13th in SP StatRank with an 88.9.

    With 21 quality starts, an ERA under 3.00 (2.96) and a WHIP of 1.05, Shields has been nothing short of an ace for Tampa Bay this season. His 192 strikeouts put him fourth in the AL and on pace to easily surpass 200 for the season. 

    This type of year couldn’t come at a better time for Shields, who could be a free agent at the conclusion of the season if the Rays do not pick up the club option him for next season as expected. Regardless of where Shields plays in 2012, after the 2011 he has had, it is sure to be for a significant amount of money.

AL Fifth: Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox

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    Don’t call it a comeback, he’s been here for years. After a rough 2010 in which he battled injury and posted a 5.87 ERA, many wondered if Beckett would be able to regain his form. Talks of his demise appear greatly exaggerated as he is currently having his best season since he won 20 games in 2007. He currently has a 2.43 ERA and ranks as the sixth best pitcher according to SP StatRank, with a 94.6.

    Beckett doesn’t have the strikeout totals (141) the rest of the AL top five has, but snags the fifth spot over Jon Lester and Ricky Romero because of his .201 Batting Average Against and 0.97 WHIP.  19 of his 25 appearances have been quality starts, and he has surrendered more than three runs just three times this season. The most runs he has allowed in any one game this season is five (twice).  

    While his 11-5 record may not blow you away, it is clear he belongs in the 2011 Cy Young discussion, and will be a key piece to the Red Sox playoff run.

AL Surprise: Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians

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    Masterson has been solid all season for Cleveland, becoming the ace the Indians desperately needed.  Currently 10-8 with 139 strikeouts, a 2.83 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 21 quality starts, the key for Masterson will be proving he can repeat this feat in 2012. 

AL Disappointment: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    While 2011 has not been a bad season for King Felix, it hasn’t been what everyone expected as an encore after winning the Cy Young in 2010. Still on pace to strike out well over 200 and record more than 20 quality starts, the only issue with Hernandez is the awful Mariners squad around him. Arguably the games most talented pitcher, there is no reason for concern and he will likely rejoin the Cy Young hunt in 2012. This guy will win plenty of awards before his career comes to a close.