I see three legitimate contenders in the AL for this award. My apologies to Fernando Rodney – TB (48 saves, 0.78 WHIP, 0.60 ERA), Chris Sale – CHW (17-8, 1.14 WHIP, 3.05 ERA), and Felix Hernandez – SEA (13-9, 1.14 WHIP, 3.06 ERA, 223 K’s), but as good as their seasons were, they don’t quite measure up to this year’s elite. They’re that next tier of guys that had spectacular seasons, but there was just another level above them that really were competing for the award. So, the three candidates that I would feel comfortable voting for are: Justin Verlander – DET (17-8, 1.06 WHIP, 2.64 ERA, 239 K’s), David Price (20-5, 1.10 WHIP, 2.56 ERA, 205 K’s), and Jered Weaver (20-5, 1.02 WHIP, 2.81 ERA, 142 K’s).
Weaver has the highest ERA of the group, and the fewest K’s (which is odd, because he’s had 198 & 233 the last two seasons). And, even if you factored in the missed time in June, he wouldn’t have pitched more than 2-3 more games. Weaver also has the fewest quality starts, the lowest quality start percentage, the worst K/BB ratio, the worst opponents’ OPS, and the highest run support among the three. So, while he had a phenomenal season, I think Weaver belongs at the bottom of this list of three. The vote comes down to Price v. Verlander for me. There’s a lot of talk about Verlander as possibly being the best in the game right now. And, he garnered a lot of attention by going 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA in September, when the Tigers were making their playoff push. But, I hope voters will look seriously at Price’s numbers. Verlander has just a .001 edge in opponents’ OPS. Price has the edge in quality start percentage (they both led the league with 25 QS). Price has the edge in ERA. And, he won 3 more games, while losing 3 fewer than Verlander – in a much better offensive division. And, it wasn’t as though Verlander had a bunch of 1-0 losses either. He had 2 tough losses, while Price had 1. Plus, the Rays only lost 10 of Price’s starts, compared to the Tigers losing 12 of Verlander’s starts – and 2 of the Rays’ losses were 1-0 losses in which Price threw 8 innings without giving up a run. In fact, of Price’s 6 no decisions, every one of them was a quality start. Verlander had 8 no decisions – 6 were quality starts, but 2 were times when his offense bailed him out. Price had 4 no decisions in which he allowed 1 run or less – Verlander had just 2. And, Price pitched nearly flawlessly from the All-Star break on – when the Rays needed him to carry them, he went 9-1 with a 2.27 ERA (Verlander was 8-3 with a 2.73 ERA).
Don’t get caught up in the ESPN/Verlander hype. David Price has as much right to this award as Verlander. So, since I think it’s a near coin-flip between the two, my ballot would be: 1. David Price; 2. Justin Verlander; 3. Jered Weaver.
The NL is a much more difficult award to decide. We have two 20+ game winners – and, almost a 3rd with Cueto winning 19. Seven guys with ERA’s under 3.00. Six with 200+ K’s. Plus, two closers with ERA’s under 2.00, and WHIP’s under 1.00! Let me start there – it has to be an incredibly unusual year for me to consider a closer for the Cy Young. And, there almost has to be no starting pitcher who excels significantly in order for me to really consider looking seriously at the closers. Primarily because I don’t believe closers are as valuable to their team as a starter is. And, while we’ve certainly seen teams struggle when they haven’t had a true closer on their roster, we’ve seen just as many (if not more) teams put some guy with almost no closing experience out there, and he saves 40 games (a la Jim Johnson in Baltimore this year). Meanwhile, there’s no substitute for quality starting pitching. You either have it on your team or you don’t. It’s rare that you stumble upon a great starter. So, while Aroldis Chapman (CIN) and Craig Kimbrel (ATL) had excellent years (though, neither was as good as Rodney in TB), there were too many great seasons from starting pitchers this year to consider them for this award.
Matt Cain – SF (16-5, 2.79 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 193 K’s), and Kyle Lohse – STL (16-3, 2.86 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) had great years, in spite of low win totals. But, when you look at the leaderboards, they’re hanging around 4th or 5th in almost every category – with the exception of Cain’s 2nd best WHIP in the NL. So, they’re the next on the list to be eliminated. And, the last to be eliminated for me, before moving on to the final group, is Johnny Cueto – CIN (19-9, 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP). He has the worst remaining WHIP of the legit contenders, and the lowest strikeout total (170). He also has the worst batting average and OPS against him of the remaining guys to consider. Not a bad year, at all, from Cueto, but there are three guys who really stood out ahead of him.
Those three are: Gio Gonzalez (WSH), Clayton Kershaw (LAD), and R.A. Dickey (NYM). Recently on MLB Network, I heard on analyst who was pushing for votes in favor of the closers say, “Are you going to vote for the knuckleballer? Are you going to vote for the guy that wasn’t even considered the ace of his own rotation?” – referring to Dickey and Gonzalez, respectively. It really bothers me that such statements are made about these guys. Who cares what kind of pitch a guy uses? Does he get guys out? Is he doing what he’s paid to do? And, who cares what part of the rotation a guy falls into? Did he have an elite year or not? The numbers don’t lie. These three finished the season as the cream of the crop.
Gonzalez’ numbers are impressive: 21 wins (1st), 2.89 ERA (6th), 1.13 WHIP (8th), 207 K’s (4th), .206 opp. avg. (1st), .582 opp. OPS (1st). But, the holes in his numbers are in his K/BB ratio (2.72 – 25th), quality start pct. (69% – 21st), and the fact that he had the 2nd best run support in the NL (5.38). That’s why I would put him 3rd on my ballot. So, Kershaw or Dickey? That’s a tough decision. Dickey led all of baseball with 27 quality starts (which also gives him the league lead in QS pct. – 82%). He won 20 games, had the 2nd best ERA in the NL (2.73), and 3rd best WHIP (1.03). His K/BB ratio was also very impressive at 4.26 (3rd best in NL), as he accumulated 230 K’s to lead the NL. But, Kershaw’s season was much better than his 14 wins suggests. He had 6 tough losses (losing in spite of a quality start), and one of the worst run supports in the NL (3.94 – 11th worst in NL, and 0.67 runs per game worse than Dickey). Kershaw led the league in ERA (2.53), and WHIP (1.02), and was second only to Dickey in K’s (229). But, even Dickey had 3 tough losses, and it wasn’t like the Mets were lighting up the scoreboard. So, as tough of a decision as this is, I think my ballot would have to be: 1. R.A. Dickey, 2. Clayton Kershaw, 3. Gio Gonzalez.
So, that’s my vote. What about yours?