MLB Predictions: Top 10 AL and NL Cy Young Contenders

Phillip BrownSenior Analyst IIMarch 4, 2012

MLB Predictions: Top 10 AL and NL Cy Young Contenders

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    Spring Training is just getting started, so why not make a few very early predictions?

    Everybody is wondering who is going to win postseason awards, and there are always a few players that are consistently in contention. But what about the young pitchers that are on the rise?

    Will these younger pitchers out-duel and out-pitch their more consistent and established counterparts?

    Let's find out.

AL Honorable Mention

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    Brandon McCarthy

    Michael Pineda

    James Shields

    Derek Holland

    Josh Beckett

    Brandon Morrow

    Ricky Romero

    Doug Fister

AL No. 10: Jon Lester

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    2011 Stats: 191.2 IP, 15-9, 3.47 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 182 K, 75 BB, 3.83 FIP, 3.62 xFIP

    Jon Lester has always been a good pitcher. Over the last three years Lester has posted a 3.33 ERA, but 2012 will be the year the 28-year-old righty will breakout and become a true ace for the Red Sox.

    After the 2011 season some people believe Josh Beckett is the ace in Boston but that is not true. Beckett may have had a sensational year but he has been very inconsistent, while Lester has been about as consistently good as you can be in the majors.

    Lester was having an incredible season with a 3.15 ERA until his last start against the New York Yankees on September 24. In that game he pitched only 2.2 innings and gave up 8 runs, which bumped his ERA up to 3.49.

    If Lester can avoid disaster games, such as that one, he will prove to be a serious Cy Young contender in 2012.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 204 IP, 18-7, 3.11 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 222 K, 72 BB

AL No. 9: C.J. Wilson

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    2011 Stats: 223.1 IP, 16-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 206 K, 74 BB, 3.24 FIP, 3.41 xFIP

    C.J. Wilson had an incredible 2011 season in only his second season as a starter.

    Wilson seems to have made a successful move from the bullpen to the rotation, so if he can keep this pace up he will remain a successful pitcher in his new home.

    Now, as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim he will be pitching in Angel Stadium, which is the 27th most pitcher friendly stadium in the majors, instead of Rangers Stadium, which is the most hitter friendly stadium in the majors.

    He will no longer have an excellent offense and great bullpen behind him but he should still have an ERA hovering around 3.00 in 2012.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 225 IP, 16-8, 3.03 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 200 K, 75 BB

AL No. 8: Matt Moore

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    2011 Stats: 9.1 IP, 1-0, 2.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 15 K, 3 BB, 2.17 FIP, 1.85 xFIP

    Matt Moore showed his potential by posting a 1.86 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 in his first 19.1 major league innings. Do not think he pitched against weak opponents, because he threw five shutout innings in Yankee Stadium and seven shutout innings in Rangers Ballpark.

    The Tampa Bay Rays have a great track record with young pitchers as recently as 2011 when Jeremy Hellickson won the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

    Moore will have to adjust because batters finally have his pitching film to watch. Major league batters are smart and they will learn his tendencies. It will be fun to watch him adjust and vary his pitch type and location a little more in order to keep fooling batters.

    We have not seen much of Matt Moore, but every sign from his 1.37 ERA in Triple-A to his ridiculous 95.3 mph average fastball says the 22-year-old lefty is going to be an ace sooner rather than later.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 195 IP, 14-7, 2.98 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 250 K, 58 BB

AL No. 7: Jered Weaver

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    2011 Stats: 235.1 IP, 18-8, 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 198 K, 56 BB, 3.20 FIP, 3.80 xFIP

    Jered Weaver had an incredible season in 2011 but if you look at his peripheral stats it looks just like every other season so far in his six year career, his strikeout rate even dropped by 1.8 per nine innings.

    This sudden drop in ERA can be explained by some good fortune. Weaver had a .250 BABIP, compared to the .300 league average, a 6.3-percent HR/FB rate, compared to the 10 percent league average and an 82.6 percent LOB-percentage, compared to the 75 percent league average.

    Weaver is still a great pitcher, so expect him to remain in the hunt for the 2012 Cy Young award.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 230 IP, 18-9, 3.05 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 210 K, 55 BB

AL No. 6: Justin Masterson

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    2011 Stats: 216 IP, 12-10, 3.21 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 158 K, 65 BB, 3.28 FIP, 3.64 xFIP

    Justin Masterson does not get as much attention as his teammate Ubaldo Jiminez but at only 26 years old he is a much better pitcher.

    Masterson will not dazzle you with an eye-popping strikeout rate but he gets the job done with a high ground-ball rate.

    He seemed to tire at the end of the season with a 5.65 ERA in September but another year of experience as a starter and another 200-plus inning season will help build up his stamina and let him not only pitcher deeper into the season but also deeper into games.

    2012 should be the year Masterson asserts himself as one of the best young starting pitchers in the majors.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 220 IP, 13-9, 2.96 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 170 K, 60 BB

AL No. 5: Dan Haren

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    2011 Stats: 238.1 IP, 16-10, 3.17 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 192 K, 33 BB, 2.98 FIP, 3.29 xFIP

    You can argue all day who is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's ace. Is it Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson or Dan Haren?

    You cannot really go wrong with any of them but Haren has been by far the most consistent of the three and is the most proven commodity.

    Ever since Haren became a full-time starter back in 2005 he has averaged 226 innings pitched with a 3.49 ERA and a 3.54 FIP. As an Angel he has been even better, so far he has a 3.09 ERA and a 3.21 FIP.

    In 2011 Dan Haren proved he is a consistent pitcher, so expect a great 2012 campaign from Haren.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 230 IP, 17-9, 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 220 K, 38 BB

AL No. 4: David Price

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    2011 Stats: 224.1 IP, 12-13, 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 218 K, 63 BB, 3.32 FIP, 3.32 xFIP

    If you look at only the surface stats David Price regressed from 2010 to 2011, but ERA and wins do not tell the whole story.

    Price's strikeout rate rose from 8.1 per nine innings to 8.8, while his walk rate dropped from 3.4 per nine innings to 2.5. Those stats are shown by his FIP, which dropped from 3.42 to 3.32, and xFIP, which dropped from 3.83 to 3.32.

    David Price is an extremely talented 26-year-old left-handed pitcher and should continue to improve and prove he is the Tampa Bay Rays' unanimous ace.

    Expect big things for Price in 2012 with over 220 innings pitched, over 200 strikeouts and an ERA under 3.00.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 225 IP, 14-12, 2.95 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 230 K, 60 BB

AL No. 3: Justin Verlander

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    2011 Stats: 251 IP, 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 250 K, 57 BB, 2.99 FIP, 3.12 xFIP

    Most people think Justin Verlander is the clear frontrunner for the Cy Young Award in 2012 after unanimously winning the 2011 Cy Young Award but that is not the case.

    Verlander has always been able to strike batters out, but he was never an elite pitcher until 2011. Before 2011 his career best ERA was 3.37 and his career ERA was 3.81.

    Verlander has definitely improved and even the advanced metrics show that Verlander is now an elite pitcher but he will not come close to his 2011 campaign in 2012.

    In 2012 Verlander is a lock for 220 innings, an ERA around 3.00 and a strikeout an inning, but will that be enough to win the Cy Young Award?

    2012 Stat Prediction: 245 IP, 19-8, 2.92 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 240 K, 63 BB

AL No. 2: CC Sabathia

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    2011 Stats: 237.1 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 230 K, 61 BB, 2.88 FIP, 3.02 xFIP

    C.C. Sabathia had a 2.55 ERA before Joe Girardi instituted his six-man rotation in early August.

    A pitcher's rhythm is everything. If you have him pitch every six days instead of every five days, it messes with his routine, and he becomes a less effective pitcher.

    Will he post a 2.55 ERA in 2012? No, especially since he pitches in the toughest division in baseball in one of the most hitter friendly parks in the majors.

    Sabathia has only gotten better as a Yankee, since 2009 his strikeout rate has gone up by a full strikeout per nine innings, his walk rate has gone down by 0.3 per nine innings, his ERA has dropped by 0.37, his FIP has dropped by 0.51 and his xFIP has dropped by 0.75. If Sabathia keeps this improvement up he may earn win his second AL Cy Young Award.

    For all of you sabermetric lovers, CC Sabathia posted the highest WAR in the AL (7.1), second lowest FIP in the AL (2.88) and lowest xFIP in the AL (3.02). He even had a .318 BABIP—seventh highest in the majors—which means he was a very unlucky pitcher. The workhorse should be in for another dominant season.

    Sabathia is reportedly repeating his conditioning workout from last offseason that helped him lose 30 pounds. If he can keep that weight off during the season, unlike last season, he should be able to pitch more effectively late into games and later into the season.

    All of this will lead to a much better C.C. Sabathia in 2012.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 242 IP, 22-7, 2.82 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 237 K, 61 BB

AL No. 1: Felix Hernandez

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    2011 Stats: 233.2 IP, 14-14, 3.47 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 222K, 67 BB, 3.13 FIP, 3.15 xFIP

    Felix Hernandez definitely had an off year in 2011, but do not forget that he is only 25 years old and has already won a Cy Young Award.

    Hernandez has pitched at least 230 innings in the last three years and posted an ERA under 2.50 twice. He's also struck out at least 215 batter three times during that same time period.

    Pitching in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field will definitely help Hernandez keep his ERA under 3.00 but not everything is great, the AL West became a much tougher division this offseason.

    Albert Pujols joined the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Kendry Morales will likely be back from injury and the Texas Rangers will once again be one of the best offensive teams in the majors—especially with a healthy Josh Hamilton.

    At only 25 years old, King Felix will get even better and cement himself as one of the games' elite pitchers for the next decade with a dominant 2012 campaign.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 245 IP, 15-11, 2.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 238 K, 68 BB

NL Honorable Mention

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    Ian Kennedy

    Daniel Hudson

    Adam Wainwright

    Stephen Strasburg

    Jaime Garcia

    Matt Cain

    Josh Johnson

    Gio Gonzalez

NL No. 10: Jordan Zimmermann

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    2011 Stats: 161.1 IP, 8-11, 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 124 K, 31 BB, 3.16 FIP, 3.78 xFIP

    In Jordan Zimmermann's first full season as a starter he posted a great 3.18 ERA and 3.16 FIP. He was limited to 161.1 innings pitched because of Tommy John surgery in 2010 but his 2011 season was sensational nonetheless.

    At only 25 years old, Zimmermann still has a lot of room to improve. He may not strike out a lot of batters, but his 4.0 K/BB in 2011, 11th in the majors, shows that his control is amongst the best in the entire major leagues despite his young age.

    Zimmermann's control will improve as he ages but his strikeout rate also has room for improvement. In 2011 his fastball averaged 93.3 mph and hit 96 mph. That velocity means that if he mixes in his other pitches and locates his pitches better his strikeout rate could rise over the next few years.

    Stephen Strasburg may be the most well-known pitcher on the Nationals' staff, and Gio Gonzalez may be their big acquisition but Jordan Zimmermann will be their best pitcher in 2012.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 190 IP, 12-8, 3.10 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 160 K, 36 BB

NL No. 9: Tim Lincecum

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    2011 Stats: 217 IP, 13-14, 2.74 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 220 K, 86 BB, 3.17 FIP, 3.36 xFIP

    Tim Lincecum is nicknamed "The Freak" for a reason.

    Everything from his quirky unorthodox delivery to his career 9.9 K/9 is exciting.

    His strikeout rate has regressed over the last few years, but he did top 260 strikeouts in 2008 and 2009, so there was nowhere to go but down. Despite this regression, he still strikes out over a batter an inning.

    Lincecum already had two Cy Young Awards by 25 years old, has an impressive 2.98 career ERA and a World Series ring.

    He is still one of the best pitchers in the majors heading into 2012.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 215 IP, 12-12, 3.09 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 219 K, 88 BB

NL No. 8: Yovani Gallardo

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    2011 Stats: 207.1 IP, 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 207 K, 59 BB, 3.59 FIP, 3.19 xFIP

    Yovani Gallardo has straddled the line between good and great over the last three years.

    Everybody knows Gallardo can strike batters out, he has a career 9.3 K/9, and has decent control, he has a career 3.4 K/9, but 2011 was the season where he put everything together. His WHIP dropped from 1.39 to 1.22 and his BAA dropped from .246 to .240.

    You may think that dropping from seventh in Cy Young voting in 2011 to eighth in 2012 means he regressed but that is not the case. The NL has so many great pitchers, expect Gallardo have a career year in 2012.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 220 IP, 17-11, 3.07 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 232 K, 61 BB

NL No. 7: Matt Garza

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    2011 Stats: 198 IP, 10-10, 3.32 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 197 K, 63 BB, 2.95 FIP, 3.19 xFIP

    Surprised to see Matt Garza this high on this list? You shouldn't be.

    If his 3.32 ERA and 2.95 FIP are not good enough for you just look at his 2.45 ERA and 2.81 FIP after the All-Star break.

    Garza's move from the AL East to the NL Central was exactly what he needed. In his three year stint in Tampa Bay he was a good pitcher, 3.86 ERA and 4.25 FIP, but hardly the ace he has become in Chicago.

    Garza may very well not be a member of the Chicago Cubs at the 2012 trade deadline but Theo Epstein will ask for a huge package due to Garza's incredible talent.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 210 IP, 12-10, 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 207 K, 61 BB

NL No. 6: Cole Hamels

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    2011 Stats: 216 IP, 14-9, 2.79 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 194 K, 44 BB, 3.05 FIP, 3.02 xFIP

    After Cole Hamels' incredible 2011 campaign it is scary to think that the 28-year-old lefty could get even better.

    We all know that players usually perform better in their contract year because they are playing for millions of dollars, this will give Hamels even more incentive to try to improve on the mound. He knows that if he plays to his potential almost every big market team in the majors, namely the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees, will engage in a bidding war to obtain his services.

    Cole Hamels will be the Phillies' No. 3 starting pitcher in 2011 but he is still a legitimate Cy Young contender.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 225 IP, 18-10, 2.75 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 220 K, 45 BB

NL No. 5: Zack Greinke

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    2011 Stats: 171.2 IP, 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 201 K, 45 BB, 2.98 FIP, 2.56 xFIP

    Zack Greinke is looking for his second Cy Young Award after winning one in Kansas City in 2009.

    Due to Greinke's high strikeout rate (10.5 K/9) and low walk rate (2.4 BB/9) advanced metrics love him. In 2011 he had the ninth best FIP in the majors and the best xFIP in the entire majors despite having the 58th best ERA in the majors. This discrepancy is due to his unlucky .318 BABIP (seventh highest in the majors) and 13.6-percent HR/FB rate (fifth highest in the major).

    If Greinke's BABIP, HR/FB rate and LOB-percentage can get back to around the league average Greinke will be in for a great 2012 season.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 220 IP, 16-8, 2.68 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 257 K, 60 BB

NL No. 4: Cliff Lee

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    2011 Stats: 232.2 IP, 17-8, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 238 K, 42 BB, 2.60 FIP, 2.60 xFIP

    Ever since his breakout 2008 season with the Cleveland Indians Cliff Lee has been among the best pitchers in the entire major leagues.

    Despite being 33 years old in 2011 Lee had the best season of his career with a career low ERA, xFIP and strikeout rate.

    At 33 years old it is tough to predict an even better 2012 season but his numbers are trending up and his average fastball velocity is at a career high 91.4 mph. All the signs point towards Lee having another incredible season with the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Cliff Lee would be the unanimous ace on any other team and will likely split votes with his teammates for the Cy Young Award but he will still be a serious contender.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 235 IP, 19-8, 2.50 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 243 K, 44 BB

NL No. 3: Madison Bumgarner

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    2011 Stats: 204.2 IP, 13-13, 3.21 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 191 K, 46 BB, 2.67 FIP, 3.10 xFIP

    Madison Bumgarner does pitch in arguably the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in the majors (AT&T Park) but unlike Michael Pineda he does not rely on it. In 2011 Bumgarner had a respectable 48 percent ground-ball rate. That is not to say that his 3.21 ERA is not helped by AT&T Park but it does not help by much.

    Bumgarner was not given enough hype during the season because of the amazing San Francisco Giants pitching staff around him. Brian Wilson and his beard made headlines, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were two of the best pitchers in the majors once again and who could ignore Ryan Vogelsong's amazing comeback? Bumgarner quietly posted a 2.52 ERA after the All-Star Break in 2011.

    Expect 2012 to be the season Madison Bumgarner supplants Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain as the San Francisco Giants' ace.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 220 IP, 14-12, 2.55 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 218 K, 49 BB

NL No. 2: Roy Halladay

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    2011 Stats: 233.2 IP, 19-6, 2.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 220 K, 35 BB, 2.20 FIP, 2.71 xFIP

    Roy Halladay is about as consistent as they come. Over the last four years Halladay has always won 17-plus games, pitched over 230 innings with over 205 strikeouts and an ERA under 2.80.

    Halladay has also been in the top five in Cy Young voting for six straight seasons (2006-2011) and won the AL Cy Young Award in 2003.

    Despite being 34 years old Halladay is showing no signs of slowing down. He posted a career best ERA, FIP, xFIP, strikeout rate and home run rate.

    Roy Halladay should win another 20 games and post an ERA under 2.50.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 248 IP, 21-9, 2.41 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 226 K, 36 BB

NL No. 1: Clayton Kershaw

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    2011 Stats: 233.1 IP, 21-5, 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 248 K, 54 BB, 2.47 FIP, 2.84 xFIP

    At the very young age of 23 Clayton Kershaw is already the best pitcher in the majors.

    Over the last three seasons Kershaw has a 2.63 ERA and a 9.54 K/9 in 608.2 innings pitched. Pitching in Dodger Stadium and in the weak NL West has to help his stats, but he is still just as good, if not better, as any other pitcher in the majors.

    Kershaw's excellent pure stuff along with his pitcher-friendly ballpark and weak offensive division makes him a virtual lock to win the NL ERA crown in 2012. That will make him the frontrunner to win the Cy Young.

    2012 will be the season Clayton Kershaw cements himself as the undisputed best pitcher in all of baseball for the next decade.

    2012 Stat Prediction: 245 IP, 2.22 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 264 K, 55 BB