AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Is Jered Weaver Catching Up to Justin Verlander?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 15, 2012

AL Cy Young Award Rankings: Is Jered Weaver Catching Up to Justin Verlander?

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    Los Angeles Angels ace Jered Weaver is 15-2, and he leads the American League in ERA, WHIP, opponents' batting average and various other categories.

    In the minds of many, this makes him the automatic favorite to win the AL Cy Young award this season.

    Those who have been keeping up with my weekly AL Cy Young rankings will know that I disagree.

    Weaver's been good, but assorted advanced stats suggest that Justin Verlander has been better. His Cy Young candidacy is further bolstered by the fact that he's been a bigger workhorse than any pitcher in either league.

    But the gap between Weaver and Verlander has never been huge. Truth be told, there are five leading candidates for the Cy Young at this moment in time, and any one of them could claim the top spot in the rankings in a given week.

    To see where Weaver, Verlander and all the rest rank this week, just keep on reading.

    Note: All stats are as of the start of play on Tuesday, August 14, and they come from unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions

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    Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

    Kuroda is facing a tough test against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night, but his recent track record suggests he'll be just fine. He's been one of the best pitchers in the American League since the start of June, and he's currently sitting on a 10-8 record and a solid 3.24 ERA.

    Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox

    Peavy is coming off a strong eight-inning effort against the Blue Jays in his last start that lowered his ERA for the season to 3.04. But as they are wont to do, the White Sox couldn't give Peavy enough run support to get him a win. He deserves better than a 9-8 record, but it's worth noting that he actually ranks fourth among AL starters in WAR, according to FanGraphs.

5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    Last Week: No. 5

    If it wasn't already clear before, it's pretty clear now that Chris Sale is back.

    Sale has now made two starts since being shut down for 10 days to give his arm a rest, and things have gone very well for him. He's notched victories against the Kansas City Royals and Oakland A's to run his record to 14-3, giving up just four earned runs with 18 strikeouts in 14.2 innings.

    Has Sale been as untouchable in his last two starts as he was in his previous 19 appearances, you ask?

    Not quite. Sale had the strikeout pitch working just fine in his last two starts, but he was also touched up for 14 hits, including four home runs. When hitters made contact against him, they hit the ball pretty hard.

    Granted, this is a petty complaint. Sale is still having a terrific season. To go along with his 14-3 record, he has a 2.60 ERA that ranks fourth in the AL and a 1.02 WHIP that ranks third. His .218 opponents' batting average also ranks fourth.

    According to FanGraphs, Sale ranks second in the AL behind Justin Verlander in fielding independent pitching (or FIP), which is as good a sign as any that there's nothing fluky about Sale's success this season. His FIP is also a big reason why he ranks third among AL hurlers in WAR, ahead of fellow Cy Young candidates David Price and Jered Weaver.

    Working against Sale in the Cy Young race is the fact that his workload doesn't measure up. He's only logged 138.2 innings, and he's had to be shut down twice due to concerns over his elbow.

    His innings won't keep me from moving him to the No. 1 spot if the opportunity arises, but that has more to do with how the competition performs than anything else. The guys ahead of Sale on this list are going to have to struggle, and unfortunately for him, they haven't been struggling all that much recently.

4. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Last Week: No. 4

    David Price had a typical David Price outing his last time out against the Minnesota Twins. He pitched seven innings, allowed two earned runs, struck out five and ultimately walked away with a victory. No. 15 on the season for him.

    Ho hum. This makes it 10 starts in a row for Price in which he's logged at least seven innings. He's 7-0 in this span with a 1.89 ERA and a .194 opponents' batting average.

    Price has been pitching so well recently that his ERA actually rose a point in his last outing, from 2.49 to 2.50. Even so, his 2.50 ERA is good for third in the league, and Price also ranks sixth in WHIP at 1.12.

    Price is one of the Junior Circuit's top strikeout artists this season, as his 8.77 K/9 is good for fifth in the league. He's also jamming hitters as well as any pitcher in the AL, as only three pitchers are holding hitters to a lower slugging percentage than Price.

    The reason he's down in the No. 4 spot on this list has much to do with his FIP. According to FanGraphs, it's significantly higher than his ERA at 3.23. As far as FIP is concerned, Price hasn't actually pitched that much better than even CC Sabathia.

    But again, we're talking petty complaints here. Price's FIP may be higher than his ERA, but he still has the fourth-best FIP in the AL behind Sale, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander.

    Price could easily move up in these rankings, but he's in the same boat as Sale. Somebody ahead of him is going to have to struggle for him to move up.

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Last Week: No. 2

    But wait a second. Didn't Felix Hernandez just struggle his last time out?

    It definitely wasn't one of his better performances. He gave up five runs (four earned) in seven innings against the Los Angeles Angels. It was the first time he had given up as many as four earned runs in a start since July 3.

    But in Hernandez's defense, he didn't really get beat by the Angels. He got beat by Mike Trout. He drove in all five of the runs that were scored off of King Felix, two of which came home on a two-RBI sac-fly that featured some sloppy work on the part of Hernandez's fielders.

    It wasn't one of King Felix's best outings, but there are more embarrassing things in life than getting beat by the best player in baseball.

    Besides, Hernandez's numbers for the season didn't suffer all that much. He still has the fifth-best ERA in the AL at 2.74, and he still ranks third in the AL in strikeouts and second in innings pitched (which is quite important in the eyes of these rankings).

    Per FanGraphs, Hernandez also ranks third in the AL in FIP at 2.99, which of course puts him just barely behind Chris Sale. King Felix gets the nod over him in these rankings because he has him beat by over 30 innings pitched.

    And yes, there's also the fact that King Felix's WAR is 4.4. That's good for second overall not just in the AL, but in all of Major League Baseball.

    So why is he down a spot this week?

    Actually, there's a stupidly simple explanation for that. I'll get to it on the next slide.

2. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    Last Week: No. 3

    Jered Weaver finally lost a game on Sunday against the Mariners. He pitched seven innings and only gave up four hits, but two of those hits left the ballpark, and he was ultimately charged with three earned runs. 

    It was Weaver's first loss since May 13, and it broke up a string of nine consecutive victories for Weaver dating back to June 20.

    In other words, he's apparently human.

    Which isn't to say that he's not a good pitcher. His record may have dropped to 15-2, but he still leads the AL in winning percentage, not to mention ERA (2.22), WHIP (0.92) and opponents' batting average (.196).

    That's what happens when one has an absurdly low .225 BABIP, and Weaver very much needs a low BABIP seeing as how he's striking out fewer hitters this season than he has since 2007.

    That's part of the reason why his FIP is 3.41, according to FanGraphs. That's over a full run higher than his ERA.

    Weaver's candidacy isn't helped by the fact that he's actually pitched fewer innings than Chris Sale, who also has a much higher WAR than Weaver as well. In terms of WAR, Weaver is more in the company of Hiroki Kuroda and Yu Darvish than the Verlanders and Hernandezes of the AL.

    So why put him at No. 2?

    A couple reasons, really, the first and most obvious being that you don't get numbers like the ones Weaver has by accident. He's having a tremendous season.

    He's ahead of Hernandez this week simply because he pitched slightly better than Hernandez this weekend. King Felix earned a game score of 51 in his outing against the Angels. Weaver earned a game score of 59.

    In other words, this is me throwing Weaver a bone.

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Last Week: No. 1

    Justin Verlander did his thing on Saturday against the Texas Rangers, pitching seven innings while allowing just one earned run on seven hits and no walks. He struck out eight.

    All of this against MLB's highest-scoring offense.

    Verlander didn't earn a win, but he did manage to lower his ERA to 2.46, which is good for second in the AL. He also ranks second in WHIP at 0.99.

    Verlander leads the AL in strikeouts, innings pitched and complete games with six. No other pitcher in the AL has more than four complete games.

    No pitcher in the AL can match Verlander's workload, and he also tops the Junior Circuit with a 2.89 FIP, according to FanGraphs. His 5.2 WAR is the best mark in either league by a not-insignificant margin.

    There's not much else that needs to be said. Verlander's been a workhorse, and he's been dominant. You can't ask for much else in a starting pitcher.

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


    2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

    Down one this week, and he has Mike Trout to thank for that.

    1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

    The best.

    Feel free to check out last week's rankings.

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