Awards Preview: American League and National League Cy Young

Cy Young: Kershaw's a lock, but who's got it in the AL?

10/10/13 in MLB   |   Pat   |   5234 respect

As Eric and I continue breaking down the various significant MLB awards, it's now time to take on the AL and NL Cy Young races. To check out the awards we've written about earlier in the week, check out these links:

Comeback Player of the Year
Manager of the Year
Rookie of the Year

In case you're wondering, tomorrow will be the day we look at the MVP races, which are sure to be interesting as always. Don't forget to check that out tomorrow at around noon. Anyway, it's on to the Cy Young previews:

Eric: On the surface, both Cy Young races are no-brainers, and that’s certainly true in the NL. The AL has essentially become that as well, but not entirely for reasons that make sense.

American League:

Sep 20, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (37) pitches in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsEric: The top contender is Max Scherzer, and the first thing most cite in his 21-3 record. The excellent (well, during the regular season anyway) Tigers offense helped in that record quite a bit though. Scherzer ranked 3rd in the AL in run support this season. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons Scherzer is the favorite. He was 5th in the AL in ERA, 2nd in strikeouts and strikeout per 9, 5th in innings pitched, 5th in K/BB ratio, 1st in WHIP, 3rd in FIP, and 1st in Fangraphs WAR. Everywhere you look in the statistical rankings for 2013, he’s there in a positive way.

Another top contender is the Rangers Yu Darvish. Despite a record of “just” 13-9, Darvish led the league in strikeouts and strikeouts per 9. He was also 4th in ERA with 2.83 (Scherzer’s was 2.90). His biggest negative is the 26 homers given up.

The third major contender is the White Sox Chris Sale. Record wise, it’s hard to get unluckier than Sale, who went 11-14 thanks to Chicago’s putrid offense. In terms of what he could control though, Sale was excellent. His 3.07 ERA ranks 7th, and he was third in strikeouts, all while throwing the exact same number of innings (214.1) as Scherzer. 

For the record, the top three pitchers in ERA are none of these guys, but Anibal Sanchez, Bartolo Colon, and Hisashi Iwakuma. Other pitchers that could hit ballots are King Felix, James Shields (8th in ERA and 1st in innings), and possibly Ubaldo Jimenez for the turnaround factor. I really don’t consider relievers for the Cy Young (not enough innings), but I’m guessing Mariano Rivera will get some votes.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Scherzer. There was the usual anti-stat backlash by the usual anti-stat people because back when Scherzer was 19-1, the stat guys were saying that shouldn’t make him a lock. At the time, it was a closer race than it ended up being. 21-3 is in many ways (but not all) a function of run support. Was Scherzer really 8 wins better than Darvish based solely on their pitching? No. However, overall Scherzer is clearly the best pitcher in the American League regardless of record.

My ballot: 1. Scherzer, 2. Darvish. 3. Sale, 4. Sanchez, 5. Shields

Sanchez led the league in ERA and FIP, but threw only 180 innings, 30 or so less than the top contender. I gave Shields my 5th spot because he did lead in innings while staying in the top 10 in ERA and having to be the ace of the Royals.

WHO WILL WIN: Scherzer. It’s been a lock since he went 19-1.

Sep 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish (11) throws a pitch in the fourth inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsPat: While it's true that Scherzer has been a top candidate for the award all year, I'm not so sure this one is that much of a lock. There has actually been a movement lately decrying the emphasis on pitching wins, and Scherzer might be a victim of that, despite the fact that his peripheral numbers have been phenomenal.

The interesting thing is that Scherzer's teammate Anibal Sanchez actually leads the AL in ERA+, a statistic that somewhat mirrors ERA, but is adjusted for various factors including home ballpark and the average ERA in the league.

The problem is that Yu Darvish of the Rangers was just a slightly more dominant pitcher. He hasn't benefited from the same type of run support as Scherzer, but his strikeout rates were the highest in the AL, and he gave up the fewest hits per 9 innings. The one knock on Darvish is that he walks a few more batters than Scherzer and the other top contenders. But overall, his performance has been through the roof.

Chris Sale, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Shields, and Bartolo Colon are other players who will receive a few votes, but aren't quite top contenders,

WHO SHOULD WIN: Darvish. As good as Scherzer has been, Darvish was just slightly better.

My ballot: 1. Darvish, 2. Scherzer, 3. Sanchez, 4. Iwakuma, 5. Sale

WHO WILL WIN: Scherzer. The wins are too much for other contenders to overcome.

National League:

Sep 11, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez (16) smiles on the pitching mound during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsPat: The 2013 National League Cy Young award is one of the easiest no-brainers for voters in a long time. Basically, if someone votes for a pitcher other than Clayton Kershaw, they should be reviewed and possibly lose their voting credentials. It's that serious.

But anyway, here are a few guys who might get some 2nd and 3rd place votes:

Jose Fernandez -- The Marlins rookie was outstanding. 187 strikeouts in 172.2 innings, a 176 ERA+, and an incredibly 0.979 WHIP... this kid is the real deal.

Matt Harvey -- The Mets' phenom was amazing, and it's pretty devastating that we might not get to see him pitch again until 2015. 191 Ks in 178.1 innings, 157 ERA+, and was really the only bright spot on the Mets' roster this year outside of David Wright. Hopefully he comes back as strong as ever.

Cliff Lee -- He led the league in K/BB ratio, as well as fewest walks per 9 IP. He averaged a strikeout per inning, and had a solid 2.87 ERA. At age 35, he showed no signs of slowing down.

Adam Wainwright -- If you watched last night's ALDS clincher, you know what he's capable of, and it shouldn't have surprised anyone. He led the league in IP, CG, shutouts, wins, and had a stellar 2.94 ERA.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Kershaw, in a landslide.

My ballot: 1. Kershaw, 2. Harvey, 3. Fernandez, 4. Lee, 5. Wainwright

WHO WILL WIN: Kershaw.

Oct 3, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) throws against the Atlanta Braves during the fourth inning of game one of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY SportsEric: In the NL, I’ll note some of the other top pitchers this year when explaining my ballot, but I’m not going to insult your intelligence. We all know who the best pitcher in the National League, and in fact the majors, this season. He’s at the moment the best pitcher in the game.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Clayton Kershaw. The 1.83 ERA is eye popping, even given his ballpark and a declining offensive environment. In addition, he was 2nd in the NL in innings pitched, 1st in strikeouts, 1st in WHIP, 2nd in homers allowed per 9, 2nd in FIP, and 1st in WAR (both versions). It was a tour de force season, and even given some great pitching performances in the NL this season, Kershaw is the only choice.

My ballot: 1. Kershaw, 2. Adam Wainwright, 3. Jose Fernandez, 4. Matt Harvey, 5. Cliff Lee

Wainwright led the league in innings with 241.2, and sported a 2.94 ERA and 219 strikeouts, 3rd in the league. That innings advantage puts him above Fernandez and Harvey, who were more spectacular but threw much less innings due to a limit and injury respectively. Cliff Lee quietly had a fantastic season (2.87 ERA, 222.2 IP, 222 K, 4th in WHIP, 6th in K/9, 1st in K/BB), to the point that I’m wondering if 5th is too low.

WHO WILL WIN: Kershaw, and it will likely be unanimous.

Let us know your thoughts on the AL and NL Cy Young awards, and who you think should take home the hardware. Also, come back tomorrow at noon for our MVP preview.
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