Breaking Down the AL Cy Young Race
Having already profiled the Rookie of the Year races, it is time to turn my attention to the early showing in the arms race- the Cy Young Award. While the American League has had a number of stand-out pitchers this season, I am not as impressed with the logjam of candidates in the National League. The AL race has been a mixture of some old stand-bys and some surprising names, who have come out of nowhere to not only put up great individual numbers, but also strongly impact the success of their respective teams. It won’t be surprising to see some major jostling take place on this list over the remainder of the season, but for now the pecking order breaks down as follows:
1st- Justin Verlander- Detroit Tigers: Verlander’s magical 2011 season, where he won 24 games, struck out 250 batters, and took home the Cy Young, set his bar extremely high for the future. Since he is not on such a torrid pace this year, my first thought was that he has been a little disappointing. However, upon examining his numbers it became clear that he is still the best pitcher in the American League and once again the frontrunner for the Cy Young. Although his record is a pedestrian 9-5 in 18 starts, he has a 2.58 ERA and leads the league in strikeouts with 128 and innings pitched with 132.2. The Tigers have underwhelmed so far this year after making a huge splash in free agency during the off-season, but many expect them to make a run as the summer wears on. If this happens, Verlander will undoubtedly be in the midst of it all and in great shape to take home another piece of hardware.
2nd- Chris Sale- Chicago White Sox: Having never started a major league game prior to 2012, Sale is hanging tough and not far behind Verlander as the best pitcher in the American League this season. He is 10-2 in 16 games (15 starts), with 98 strikeouts, and a 2.19 ERA. The hard throwing 23 year old lefty also boasts a 0.955 WHIP and has a 15 strikeout game under his belt. Sale’s Cy Young candidacy may take a hit as his work load piles up, as has already exceeded his career high in innings in a single season as a professional and it will be a surprise if he keeps up his excellent production over 200+ innings or if the White Sox will even give him the opportunity to come close to that mark. Innings is also the main reason I can’t put him as my current Cy Young frontrunner, as Verlander has logged 30 more so far on the year.
3rd- Jered Weaver- Los Angeles Angels: What-ifs can be tough, but if Weaver hadn’t missed a few turns because of a stint on the DL, he may have very well been the top guy on this list. As it is, he is still in excellent shape to make a run at the Cy Young. In his 13 starts to date he has gone 9-1, with a league leading 2.13 ERA, and a league leading 0.936 WHIP in 88.2 innings. He has also allowed 2 or fewer earned runs in all but three of his starts. If Weaver maintains this kind of production as he pitches deeper into the season, it will be hard to keep him away from the top spot on this list.
4th- Jake Peavy- Chicago White Sox: Although he won the 2007 National League Cy Young, Peavy’s appearance on this list is nearly as surprising as his teammate Sale. His Cy Young year was the last season he pitched without missing significant time with injuries, and while his arm now may have a lot more wear and scars, his pitching in 2012 has been nothing short of inspired. His record is a pedestrian 6-5 in 16 starts, but he has a 2.96 ERA, 4 complete games, and a sparkling 0.994 WHIP. Like Sale, his candidacy may be impacted by his ability to put together a full season, but until that is determined he is in it to win it.
5th- C.J. Wilson- Los Angeles Angels: Many thought that the Angels may have overspent when they gave Wilson $77.5 million this past off-season, but his first year performance in Los Angeles is rewarding the team’s faith so far. He is 9-4 in 17 starts, with a 2.33 ERA. He has allowed only 76 hits and 5 home runs in 104.1 innings, and has helped lead the Angels out of an early last place hole. The playoffs are now a real possibility, and with such a stacked lineup behind him, Wilson will have a great opportunity to pile up big numbers if he remains healthy.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order): Jason Hammel, Fernando Rodney, David Price, Matt Harrison, Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia, Scott Diamond.
Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew.