AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Justin Verlander Reclaims No. 1 Spot over Deep Field

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 7, 2012

AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Justin Verlander Reclaims No. 1 Spot over Deep Field

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    Last season, there was little question that Justin Verlander was going to win the AL Cy Young Award. He won the AL pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Pitchers who do that tend to walk away with the hardware.

    Verlander is once again in the middle of a tremendous season, but the AL Cy Young race isn't nearly as cut-and-dry as it was last year; Verlander has some serious competition.

    Jered Weaver is right in the thick of things. He leads the AL in wins with 15, and he also has the league's top ERA and top WHIP. The no-hitter he pitched in May looms large on his Cy Young resume.

    Felix Hernandez, the 2010 AL Cy Young winner, is also right in the thick of things. He's among the league leaders in virtually every pitching category, and he's only getting better and better as the season moves along.

    Also in the thick of the race are Chris Sale and David Price, two of the best lefties in baseball.

    Make no mistake about it, the chase for the AL Cy Young Award features a crowded field. Figuring out who's leading the chase on a week to week basis is an exercise in frustration.

    Nonetheless, it must be done. For your reading pleasure, here are this week's AL Cy Young rankings.

    Note: All stats come from unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions

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    Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers

    Harrison bounced back from two straight subpar starts to fire 6.2 innings of two-run ball his last time out against the Kansas City Royals. He's now 13-6 on the season with a 3.17 ERA. Solid numbers, but not quite worthy of a spot in the top five.

    Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

    Kuroda continued his strong stretch of games, pitching 6.1 innings of one-run ball against the Seattle Mariners in his last outing. He was out-dueled by Felix Hernandez, but Kuroda was able to lower his ERA to 3.19 for the season. After somewhat of a rough start to the season, Kuroda has proven to be a great addition to the Yankees rotation.

    Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox

    Peavy was brilliant in his last start against the Minnesota Twins, pitching eight innings and giving up just one earned run. He has a 3.04 record this season, and he certainly deserves better than his 9-7 record. It's worth noting that he actually has a higher WAR than both David Price and Jered Weaver, according to FanGraphs.

5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    Last Week: No. 5

    Chicago White Sox fans can relax, it looks like Chris Sale's lengthy rest did him some good.

    Before Monday night, Sale's last start had come on July 27. That start didn't go so well and it was clear from Sale's velocity readings and generally flat stuff that he needed a breather to rebuild some arm strength.

    The White Sox gave him said breather, resting Sale for a full 10 days before running him out there again on Monday against the Kansas City Royals.

    Sale responded well, going eight innings and giving up just two earned runs to pick up his 13th win of the season. He lowered his ERA to 2.59 in the process. That's good for fourth in the American League, and Sale's WHIP of 1.02 is good for third.

    Per FanGraphs, Sale also ranks second in the AL in fielding independent pitching (FIP) at 2.93. He ranks third with an opponents' batting average of .216, and fourth with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.90. That's pretty impressive for a pitcher as young as he is. 

    We can go on and on. Sale's numbers all point toward a Cy Young-caliber pitcher. So why keep Sale at No. 5 this week?

    Mainly because of the competition, as you'll see it's hard to make a case for Sale to move up in the rankings given what the pitchers ahead of him did in their most recent starts.

    It's also hard to make a case for Sale because of his durability (or lack thereof). He's had to be shut down twice now due to concerns about his arm, and that's a big reason why he's not even in the top 10 in the AL in innings pitched.

    Dominance and durability are the two most important things for pitchers as far as these rankings are concerned. Sale has dominance covered, but he's sorely lacking in durability.

4. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Last Week: No. 4

    David Price went into his start against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday in the midst of a dominant stretch. He had gone at least seven innings in each of his last eight starts, posting a 2.08 ERA and a .199 opponents' batting average.

    Despite this, he still managed to surpass expectations against the O's. He owned them.

    Price went eight innings, giving up just two hits and allowing no earned runs. He walked three and struck out five, but missed out on picking up his 15th win of the season thanks to the excellent work done by Miguel Gonzalez and a handful of Baltimore relievers.

    Still, Price now boasts an ERA of 1.82 and an opponents' batting average of .186 over his last nine starts. He's pitching as well now as he ever has during his career.

    For the season, Price has his ERA down to 2.49, which is good for second in the league. His 1.13 WHIP is good for sixth, and his 8.88 K/9 currently ranks fifth.

    There aren't many complaints to be made about the season Price is having, but one can resort to nitpicking easily enough. His 2.92 BB/9 is higher than you'd like to see from an ace-caliber pitcher. And Price is dealing with a FIP of 3.19. That makes for a fairly sizable gap between his FIP and his ERA.

    But like I said, this is nitpickery—Price's numbers are excellent, and the scary part is that they're getting better and better. If not for three other stud pitchers in the AL, he'd be No. 1 on this list by a mile.

    Now, about those three stud pitchers...

3. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    Last Week: No. 3

    Yup, Jered Weaver is at No. 3 in these rankings yet again. I must be a biased hater.

    So they say, anyway. Truth is I'm as big a Weaver fan as the next guy, and perfectly capable of admitting that he's having an excellent season.

    Weaver's excellent season got a little bit better on Monday night in Oakland, as he twirled a complete-game shutout against the A's. He only gave up four hits and struck out nine. He didn't walk a single soul.

    It was Weaver's first shutout since his no-hitter of the Twins back in early May. It was also his ninth straight victory, all of which have come since he was activated off the disabled list in late June.

    Weaver's ERA now stands at 2.13, the best mark in the American League. He also leads the league with a 0.92 WHIP and a .197 opponents' batting average.

    Commenters here have been arguing for weeks that Weaver should be No. 1, and he certainly has a strong case to be leading the field. The reason he's not is because nitpickery reveals him to be less invincible than his record, ERA and WHIP would have one believe.

    According to FanGraphs, Weaver's FIP for the season is 3.22. That's over a full run higher than his ERA, and that's the kind of disparity that has to be chalked up to good luck, good defense or a mix of both. 

    And that makes sense. Weaver has an ERA of 0.92 pitching at the Angels' pitcher-friendly home ballpark, and he is backed by a superb defense every time he takes the mound. He's pitched very, very well, but other forces at work have helped get his ERA so low.

    The other gripe that can be made about Weaver is that he's pitched over 30 fewer innings than the league leaders. He doesn't stack up in terms of durability.

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Last Week: No. 1

    Every now and then, you see Felix Hernandez pitch like he just doesn't give a you-know-what.

    His performance on Saturday at Yankee Stadium was one of those times. He only got one run of support and was facing an explosive Yankees lineup at one of the most notorious launching pads in Major League Baseball, but King Felix pitched like he had a 10-run lead at a park with no fences and no bleachers.

    He pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout, walking two and striking out six. He only needed 101 pitches to do the job, which is about as efficient as efficiency gets.

    So it goes for King Felix. The run he's on now makes David Price's recent run of success look rather pedestrian by comparison, as Hernandez is 6-0 in his last 10 starts with a 1.41 ERA and a .195 opponents' batting average. He's struck out 75 over his last 76.1 innings.

    King Felix's ERA is down to 2.63, which ranks fifth in the AL. His 1.11 WHIP is also good for fifth.

    Hernandez currently leads the Junior Circuit with a FIP of 2.90, a sign that there's nothing at all fluky about his low ERA. He also ranks second in innings pitched with 164, and third in strikeouts with 159. Only he and Brandon Morrow have pitched as many as three complete-game shutouts.

    Hernandez is the total package: dominance, durability, swagger, whatever. He could end up having a better season this year than he did in 2010, which is saying something. So why move King Felix down a spot?

    I didn't want to, but Justin Verlander made me do it.

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Last Week: No. 2

    There have been times this season when Justin Verlander has been less than stellar. His rain-shortened start at Fenway Park last week comes to mind. 

    Whenever these performances come around, it's easy to start doubting Verlander. The problem is that he makes it impossible to doubt him for long.

    Verlander followed his stinker in Boston last week with a dominant outing against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park on Monday night. He allowed two runs, both unearned, over eight innings, walking one and striking out 14. Had it not been for his own error in the fifth inning, he may have made like King Felix and shut out the Yankees.

    Even still, an eight-inning performance with 14 strikeouts is pretty darn good.

    The performance itself definitely helped Verlander pad his stats. His ERA is down to 2.51, good for third in the AL. His 0.98 WHIP is good for second. He leads the AL in innings pitched (168.2), strikeouts (166) and he's the only pitcher in the AL who's thrown as many as six complete games.

    In fact, nobody else has thrown more than four.

    Verlander's periphery stats check out as well. He ranks third in the AL in FIP at 2.95, according to FanGraphs, and his 4.05 K/BB ratio is good for second in the AL behind Jake Peavy. His .202 opponents' batting average ranks him just behind Weaver. 

    It all adds up to a WAR of 4.8. That's not just the best mark in the AL. That's the best mark in baseball.

Last Week's Rankings

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    5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

    Steady as she goes. 

    4. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays


    3. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

    He's pretty much stuck here until Verlander and/or Hernandez hit the skids.

    2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

    Back on top.

    1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

    Down one, but it's very much debatable that he deserves to be No. 1.

    Feel free to check out last week's rankings.

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