AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Chris Sale Falls as Felix Hernandez Continues Rise

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 24, 2012

AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Chris Sale Falls as Felix Hernandez Continues Rise

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    If there was an award for the most under-appreciated pitcher in baseball, Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale would be in line to win it in a landslide.

    For that matter, Sale has been a major player in the American League Cy Young race for much of the season. For the past two months or so, he's maintained a steady presence at the top of my weekly rankings, either at No. 1 or No. 2.

    Alas, Sale hasn't been the same pitcher since the All-Star break. As a result, this is the first time in a long time that he will not be featured at No. 1 or 2 in my rankings.

    With Sale tumbling down the rankings, the race is more wide open than it's been in some time. The guy to keep an eye on now (and honestly, always) is Felix Hernandez. He's been on a roll for over a month, and he's having no trouble whatsoever advancing up these rankings from one week to the next.

    Scroll ahead to see where Sale and King Felix landed in this week's rankings.

    Note: All stats are as of the start of play on Tuesday, July 24, and they come from, unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions

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    Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers

    Harrison broke into my top five last week, but he didn't look like an ace when he got knocked around by the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday night in Anaheim. He still has impressive numbers, but it's hard to make a case for him over the guy who occupies the No. 5 spot this week.

    Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox

    Peavy has allowed a total of 10 earned runs in his last two starts. He managed to eat innings in both of them, though, so at least he's having a better time than, say, Jon Lester these days. Peavy ranks fourth in the AL in WAR, according to FanGraphs, but he lacks the complementary numbers to justify a spot in the top five.

    CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

    Sabathia can't be forgiven for giving up home runs to Brandon Inge and Kurt Suzuki on Sunday in Oakland, but he's generally looked pretty good in his two starts since coming off the disabled list. He's 10-3 with a 3.30 ERA—typical Sabathia numbers.

    C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels

    Wilson has gone through some ups and downs in recent starts, but for the time being he still bears an ERA under 3.00. He's given the Angels good returns on their big investment.

5. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Last Week: Unranked (honorable mention)

    There was some debate last week that David Price deserved to be in my top five over Matt Harrison. Their numbers were remarkably similar at the time, but I got the sense that people were simply more impressed with Price's pitching than they were with Harrison's.

    Well, it's all water under the bridge now. Here's Price at No. 5, and deservedly so.

    Price is on fire. He's pitched at least seven innings in each of his last six starts, allowing just nine earned runs in 42.1 innings in the process. That's an ERA of 1.91, and Price also managed to strike out a grand total of 42 hitters over those 42.1 innings.

    For the season, Price now has an AL-best 13 wins with a 2.64 ERA that ranks fourth in the American League. He also ranks sixth in the AL in strikeouts with 120, and 10th in innings pitched with an even 126.

    Some no doubt will want to argue that Price deserves to be higher than No. 5. I have him down here because some of his peripheral numbers leave a lot to be desired. His 3.07 BB/9 is a little high for an ace pitcher, and Price's 3.39 FIP (per FanGraphs) puts him in the same company as pitchers like Kevin Millwood and Josh Beckett.

    Still, there's no denying the fact that Price's numbers are only getting better as we advance further into the summer. He still has plenty of time to make up ground in the Cy Young race, and he certainly has the ability. 

4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    Last Week: No. 3

    Jered Weaver got knocked around by the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in his first start after the All-Star break, but he settled down again on Friday against the Texas Rangers.

    Against the AL's best lineup, Weaver went seven innings and allowed a single earned run on six hits and a walk. He struck out four and lowered his ERA to 2.20 in the process.

    Weaver leads the American League with that 2.20 ERA, and he ranks second with a 0.95 WHIP. His 12-1 record gives him the top winning percentage in the American League at .923.

    So...why is Weaver down to No. 4 this week?

    It's no fault of his own, truth be told. I just moved him down to make space for someone else a couple spots ahead.

    But the reason Weaver isn't No. 1 and indeed so easy to move around, in case you're wondering, is because his peripherals don't stack up very well. He's only striking out 6.59 hitters per nine innings, and FanGraphs has his FIP at 3.34. Sabathia and Jason Hammel are two of several pitchers who have him beat in that category.

    Weaver has been dominant this season, but not as dominant as the three guys ahead of him on this list.

3. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    Last Week: No. 2

    Chris Sale went into the All-Star break on a roll, having allowed three earned runs in 22.1 innings in his final three starts of the first half.

    He hasn't quite been himself in the two starts he's made in the second half. Sale started by allowing a season-high 10 hits over eight innings against the Kansas City Royals. He only gave up one earned run, but he had to battle a lot harder than usual.

    Sale wasn't able to keep the runs off the board as successfully in his next start against the Detroit Tigers. He allowed five earned on seven hits, four walks over seven innings and ultimately picked up his third loss.

    The 23-year-old Sale still has strong numbers, as his record checks in at 11-3 and his 2.37 ERA is still good enough for second in the American League. He still leads the American League in FIP, and his 8.26 K/9 just barely misses out on a top-10 ranking.

    Nonetheless, the warning signs are there. Sale's batting average-against was .198 in the first half, but it's .288 thus far in the second half. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 3.92 in the first half, versus 2.50 in the second. And so on.

    This makes me wonder if fatigue is catching up him. It's something that was bound to happen seeing as how he's already topped his career high in innings pitched by over 40 innings.

    As Jerry Crasnick recently outlined on, the White Sox have an elaborate plan in place to make sure their young southpaw stays healthy, so there's no real concern of him blowing his arm out. The issue is whether he'll be able to maintain his dominance, which is already starting to wane. That's something the White Sox can't help him with.

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Last Week: No. 4

    There's not a team in baseball that wants to face Felix Hernandez right now. He's turned into a buzzsaw.

    In his last seven starts, King Felix has logged 53 innings, struck out 59 and allowed just eight earned runs. That's good for an ERA of 1.36.

    It's worth noting that four of the earned runs in question came in a single start. Take that start out of the equation, and Hernandez has an ERA under 1.00 since the middle of June.

    All the same, King Felix's recent hot stretch has definitely helped his overall numbers. His ERA is down to 2.82, which ranks fifth in the American League. He ranks second in the American League in innings pitched with 140.2, and he just barely has an edge over Justin Verlander for the AL lead in strikeouts with 143.

    Hernandez has a 9.15 K/9, which ranks fourth in the AL. His FIP checks in at 2.78. That's second only to Sale, and Hernandez has been steadily closing the gap for weeks. It likely won't be long before he passes him.

    King Felix already has Sale beat in WAR. FanGraphs has his calculated at 4.0, which ranks second in the AL behind the next guy on this list.

    You can probably guess who that is.

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Last Week: No. 1

    Justin Verlander had the tiniest of advantages in the AL Cy Young race at the All-Star break. I had him at No. 1, but Weaver and Sale were right there with him.

    In his two starts since the break, Verlander has pulled away. He's gone eight innings in both of his second-half starts, giving up just two earned runs on seven hits and struck out 14.

    Verlander has his record up to 11-5 and his ERA down to 2.42, which ranks third in the AL. He leads the AL with a 0.92 WHIP and 148.2 innings pitched. He's one strikeout behind King Felix for the AL lead.

    His other numbers are impressive as well. Per FanGraphs, Verlander ranks eighth in the AL with a K/9 of 8.60, third with a K/BB of 4.18, third in FIP at 2.93 and first in WAR at 4.3.

    There are two things a Cy Young winner must have: dominance and durability.

    Verlander has both of those covered better than any pitcher in the AL.

Last Week's Rankings

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    5. Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers

    He's out this week, and it's going to be hard for him to climb back in with Price pitching so well.

    4. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

    He's been great, but his Tuesday night start against the Yankees will put his recent dominance to the test.

    3. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

    Down one this week, but it's hard to imagine him not being in the top five at any point in the next couple months.

    2. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

    Down one and possibly continuing in that direction as we move forward.

    1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

    Steady as she goes.

    Feel free to check out last week's rankings in more detail.

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