I know it’s only half-way through the season, but in the Year of the Pitcher Part 2, now seems as good a time as any to start talking about early Cy Young Award candidates.
As far as I can tell, the primary stats considered by Cy Young voters are overall record, strikeouts, and ERA (Although Felix Hernandez did make the case for winning the award wins aside, indicating that there is much more to it than we previously thought). I did a little research and Rob Neyer of ESPN actually came up with a little formula for calculating projected Cy Young winners. It’s not perfect, but it does help.
Cy Young Points (CYP) = ((5*IP/9)-ER) + (K’s/12) + (SV*2.5) + Shutouts + ((W*6)-(L*2)) + VB.
I have a few picks for each league with the 2011 YTD stats listed as of today, June 29th (Win/Loss, Innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts). All Stats are from Fangraphs.
Warning: When it comes to comparing a lot of these guys, really intense stats like WAR, CERA, DIPS, K’s/12, FIP and other nerdy abbrevations are going to factor in. I will try my best to explain them if I feel it’s really necessary. But let’s be real and make this as simple as possible. (Here is a quick glossary if you have no idea what any of those things mean.)
American League Candidates
1. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays (8-4, 121.2 IP, 2.23 ERA, .96 WHIP, 117 SO):
Shields has an 8-4 record with a 2.29 ERA, the third best in the majors. His WHIP is significantly down from last year’s 1.46. He is also on pace to lead the league in strike outs when he makes his 16th start this week (is now battling Ks against Verlander and Hernandez). While his ERA and WHIP don’t lead the league, his WHIP, IP’s strikeouts and K’s per nine (8.65) are in the top 5 in the AL.
Furthermore, his xFIP, which is around 2.98, is a case for why to study peripherals when comparing pitchers. His ground balls, strikeouts and walk rates are all dramatically improved since last year and he is single-handedly winning games for the Rays.I would argue that James Shields is part of the reason that the Rays are in a position to fight for the AL Wild Card in the first place. Without him. the Rays would probably be several more games out of the Red Sox.
2. Josh Beckett, Boson Red Sox (6-3, 98.0 IP, 2.20 ERA, .93 WHIP, 80 SO):
Fact: Beckett had a rough 2010. But 2011 has been much better.
I included Beckett in the conversation because so many “experts” have. His numbers are decent, but I tend to think he has been a little lucky and has been helped out by the Sox dominant offense. I do not think that he should legitimately win the AL Cy Young, however, he is making a strong case for consideration when you compare his performance this year to last year.
Also, Beckett has not won all that many games and he is moderate in strike-outs. When you compare him to Shields or Verlander in that regard, he doesn’t even come close. Those are all factors that voters will look at.
3. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers(10-3, 128.20 IP, 2.38 ERA, .84 WHIP, 124 SO):
Verlander has a .84 WHIP, the lowest in baseball. He also leads in strikeouts and innings pitched and is averaging nearly a strikeout an inning and holding opponents to a .178 average for the season. But wait, there is more: He is also averaging 115 pitches a game and is throwing for speed (according to USA Today, he clocked 100 mph on the gun in Arizona on Saturday-on his 116th pitch).
Verlander threw a no-hitter against the Blue Jays (second career no-no) and an almost-no hitter against the Indians.
The reason I am the highest on Verlander is that his innings pitched are so much higher than that of the other candidates, and to me means that his statistics are proven and more consistent when you also consider that along with the high innings count (and high pitch count in games) he also has the lowest WHIP. Hard to argue against that. (Take a look at the MLB 2011 pitching stats and then argue with me against Verlander).
4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels (9-4, 123.1 IP, 1.97 ERA, .93 WHIP, 106 SO):
Weaver is the primary candidate to start for the American League in the All-Star game (Verlander is in-eligible due to his scheduled start in Tigers rotation). Weaver got off to a really hot start but had a more difficult run in May. He has since stabilized, leaving him with the fantastic stat line he is currently sporting.
A “rough May” might be hard to believe considering he has a sub 2.00 ERA and a .93 WHIP (third best in baseball). But consider this: Baseball analysts look at sabermetrics to analyze statistics objectively, taking into account situational stats like BaBIP and WAR and FIP. Weavers FIP is 2.46, the lowest in baseball, and that is a difficult factor to overlook. Weavers WAR also indicates that he is more likely to maintain his statistics over the course of a season than Verlander.
Weaver has the consistency, but loses out slightly in wins and strike-outs. Slightly.
My AL Cy Young pick: Justin Verlander
Side note: Michael Pineda will win the AL ROTY. If he wasn’t a rookie, I would argue he could be a Cy Young candidate. Hellickson and Britton have both cooled off a bit and have gotten rocked one too many times. Pineda has had his moments but the 6’7″ physical powerhouse that is Pineda has been part of the reason the Mariners are where they are. Rumors that the pitching staff will shut the him down early have begun to swirl, but the fact of the matter is that the Mariners are legitimate contenders and will need Pineda to make a playoff run.
National League Candidates
1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies (10-3, 127.1 IP, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 123 SO):
These things we know: Roy Halladay won last year and Roy Halladay is still really good. In fact, Halladay might even be having a better 2011 than 2010, which is sort of unbelievable. Question is, is it unlikely he will win again?
Only Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander have more strikeouts that Halladay (and not by much) and Halladay is pretty much tied with Verlander in inning’s pitched, wins and strikeouts. As Verlander is my pick for the AL, I suppose it would only be fair to hold the NL to the same standards.
Halladay also leads the NL in strikeouts, wins and innings pitched. Add to that his strangely high BaBIP (batting average on balls in play), which should stabilize, making his ERA and WHIP lower by the end of the season.
2. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies (9-5, 122 IP, 2.66 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 119 SO):
After getting off to a bit of a rough start, Lee has been LIGHTS OUT for the past month. He has pitched 3 complete games with a .21 ERA and has allowed one run in the month of June. You read that right: a.21 ERA.
Lee started out with several shaking outings and as a result his ERA and whip are slightly inflated. That could be an issue if you are looking at overall stat lines(but he continues on this pace, he may be untouchable..but let’s face, that’s pretty unlikely). Going forward, Lee’s most impressive offerings are the strikeouts and his ability to go deep in games. He has the stuff to strike out some of the best hitters in the league and at the end of the day, that is what it takes to win games. Perhaps he won’t win the Cy Young, but I will tell you this: I wouldn’t want him pitching for the opposing team.
3. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies (9-4, 112 IP, 2.49 ERA, .96 WHIP, 108 SO):
Much like Cliff Lee, Hamels got off to a bit of a shaky start. I am specifically speaking on his first start. If you completely eliminated the stats from his first start, he would have something around a 2.o0 ERA, which would be one of the best in the majors. Unfortunately, we cannot take one game out of the equation but what we can do is make it part of the argument.
He has been hot as of late, going 9-3 and has been pretty much one of the best pitchers in the National League, holding opposing offenses to a .208 batting average while going 9-3-pretty much the exact same numbers as Halladay. He is also tied with Halladay in the NL for quality starts. Add to that the fact that Hamels has the best DIPS in the league, a below average BaBIP and a strikeout to walk ratio just behind Doc.
To further comment on his numbers, Hamels actually has a lower FIP (Fielding Independant Pitching) than ERA and, in the games he has lost, I would argue the losses were more on account of a lack of run support than anything else. I’m being dead serious when I say this. It’s almost as if he has suffered from a bit of bad luck in this regard.
Hamels is a stike-out pitcher and always has been. But this year he added the cutter and it is making all the difference. He is also entering the prime of his career, meaning there will be plenty more Hamels excellence in the next few years. As it stands, I think that Hamels will continue to dominate and I doubt his BaBIP will stabilize, as he throwing stuff that opposing batters have never seen from him before.
Oh, and one more thing: Hamels might be the best hitter in this bunch. He actually has a .229 batting average and has an over 50% contact rate. Just thought I would add that in there.
4. Jair Jerrgens (10-3, 95.2 IP, 2.07 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 55 SO):
Jurrgens tops most everyone’s early picks for the NL Cy Young. I get it. He has been fantastic. Jurrgens has as many wins as Roy Halladay with a slightly lower ERA. He is definitely getting it done. but I have questions about the sustainability of the ERA for the second half of the season and the strikeouts simply do not compare to that of the Philly crew. In fact, when I went to look up the NL strikeout leaders, Jurrgens did not even appear in the top 40 (he was ranked 59th, behind teammates Bechy and Hanson).
Hamels, Jurrgens and Roy Halladay have practically identical stat lines aside from the obvious ERA discrepancy, but if you look at innings pitched, Jerrgens is also behind by several starts.
All these things factored in, the only thing Jurrgens really has is wins and ERA, which is pretty much on point with Halladay (same number of wins, Halladay has a 2.4 ERA and Jurrgens has a 2.07). So let’s look at little closer to see how else we can measure them against each other by comparing the FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) which is considered to be a better stat in determining actual ERA. Halladay’s is 2.16 and Jurrgens is 3.23. I will have to give it to Halladay on this one.
5. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (8-3, 116.2, 2.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 128 SO):
I had to include Kershaw in the conversation, as his strikeout numbers have been phenomenal. He is currently pitching a career best Ks per nine (10.1). He is only 23 years old and he is definitely someone to keep your eye on. Unfortunately, up against the likes of the Phillies pitching staff, the numbers simply are not there. I had to throw in someone aside from 3 of the Phillies aces, and Kershaw is next in line after Jurrgens.
For the Dodgers, Kershaw and Matt Kemp are two brights stars that will continue to sell tickets and become the face of the franchise. I look forward to watching.
My NL Cy Young pick: Cole Hamels
Halladay is the easy pick, but I’d like to see it go to his younger teammate this year. Btw, I asked around and Hamels was the most popular answer.