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2012 midseason awards: AL Cy Young

Jul 5, 2012, 3:53 PM EDT

Chris Sale AP

The AL Cy Young balloting turned into a rout last year, as Justin Verlander lapped the field on his way to taking league MVP honors. At the midway point, this year’s Cy is still very much in doubt.

Here’s the league top 10 in ERA:

Jered Weaver (LAA): 9-1, 2.13 ERA, 68/21 K/BB in 88 2/3 IP
Chris Sale (CWS): 10-2, 2.19 ERA, 98/25 K/BB in 102 2/3 IP
C.J. Wilson (LAA): 9-4, 2.33 ERA, 84/46 K/BB in 104 1/3 IP
Justin Verlander (Det): 9-5, 2.58 ERA, 128/30 K/BB in 132 2/3 IP
David Price (TB): 11-4, 2.82 ERA, 105/37 K/BB in 111 2/3 IP
Jake Peavy (CWS): 6-5, 2.96 ERA, 101/24 K/BB in 112 2/3 IP
Matt Harrison (Tex): 11-3, 3.16 ERA, 65/25 K/BB in 105 1/3 IP
Hiroki Kuroda (NYY): 8-7, 3.17 ERA, 80/31 K/BB in 102 1/3 IP
Felix Hernandez (Sea): 6-5, 3.26 ERA, 122/32 K/BB in 116 IP
Jason Hammel (Bal): 8-4, 3.43 ERA, 97/34 K/BB in 99 2/3 IP

Oakland’s Jarrod Parker, at 2.46 in 80 1/3 IP, and Brandon McCarthy, at 2.54 in 78 innings, just miss the cut for qualifying.

Here’s the WAR top 10 from Baseball-reference:

Sale: 4.4
Verlander: 4.4
Peavy: 3.9
Harrison: 3.3
Kuroda: 2.9
Price: 2.7
Parker: 2.6
Weaver: 2.6
Hammel: 2.4
Wilson: 2.4

That’s nine of the top 10 from the ERA list, plus Parker. The lone omission is King Felix, who comes in at 1.5.

WAR’s top reliever is Jim Johnson at 2.3, followed by Pedro Strop at 1.9 and rookie Ryan Cook and Robbie Ross at 1.7.

I don’t think any of the relievers belong in the mix at this point. Ernesto Frieri might if one included his Padres numbers as well, but he’s thrown just 24 1/3 innings for the Angels.

I want to look at the ERA leaders again, this time at their strength of schedule. Here’s their opponents overall OPS to date:

Weaver: .731
Sale: .727
Wilson: .750
Verlander: .763
Price: .775
Peavy: .757
Harrison: .729
Kuroda: .749
Hernandez: .744
Hammel: .762

I probably weigh this more than most, but there are some big differences there. Price has faced 451 batters this year, and on average, they’ve had about 50 points of OPS on the guys Sale has faced. Price has already made four starts against the Yankees, two against Toronto, two against Boston and one against Texas. Sale, on the other hand, has made a total of two starts against teams in the top 10 in the majors in runs scored (Texas and Milwaukee).

My feeling is that the three spots on the ballot come down to the guys ranked second through sixth in ERA. Here they are again:

Chris Sale (CWS): 10-2, 2.19 ERA, 98/25 K/BB in 102 2/3 IP
C.J. Wilson (LAA): 9-4, 2.33 ERA, 84/46 K/BB in 104 1/3 IP
Justin Verlander (Det): 9-5, 2.58 ERA, 128/30 K/BB in 132 2/3 IP
David Price (TB): 11-4, 2.82 ERA, 105/37 K/BB in 111 2/3 IP
Jake Peavy (CWS): 6-5, 2.96 ERA, 101/24 K/BB in 112 2/3 IP

Weaver’s 15-20 innings behind the pack here, so that takes him out of the running for me. WAR puts both Harrison and Kuroda in the top five, but I don’t see it. They’re a bit behind in ERA, their K/BB ratios and WHIPs don’t stand out and they don’t get bonus points for their schedules.

I think Verlander has to get the edge, thanks in large part to that inning total. I don’t know that he’s been the AL’s best pitcher this year, but I believe he’s been the most valuable because of those extra innings he’s thrown. And it’s not like anyone else really stands out as the best. Sale has the ERA, but he’s faced the weakest competition of the group. Wilson’s stats apart from his ERA are less than stellar, and he’s given up seven unearned runs. I like the fact that Price has faced so many top offenses, but he does have a 1.20 WHIP, compared to the 0.95 marks for both Verlander and Sale. Also, he works in a friendlier ballpark for pitchers.

Peavy can’t be dismissed. He’s faced five top-10 offenses, and the White Sox have scored a total of two runs in his five losses. He’s a strong No. 4 here, but I’m going elsewhere with the top three.

My ballot
1. Verlander
2. Sale
3. Price

  1. jdd428 - Jul 5, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    Sale’s ERA is a half-run better and he’s faced better opposition, according to your opponent’s OPS. And his team is in first place. He should get the nod over Verlander, at least for the first half. Now if the question is who has a better chance of sustaining it, that’s a different story.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Jul 5, 2012 at 4:09 PM

      No, he’s faced the weakest competition of the list. The typical hitter he’s faced has a .727 OPS this season, compared to .763 for Verlander.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 5, 2012 at 4:24 PM

        Sale lowers his opponents OPS numbers so drastically, the opponents merely seem inferior.

        Before they face him, opposing teams fear him and hope to please him by not hitting. While they face him, they stand in awe of the presence before them. After they face him, he is embedded in their minds and they can think of nothing else.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Jul 5, 2012 at 4:31 PM

        WAR certainly has no accounting for that.

  2. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 5, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    For curiosity’s sake, any reason you use rWAR instead of fWAR?

    • Matthew Pouliot - Jul 5, 2012 at 5:28 PM

      Not a big fan of FIP-based WAR for pitchers. It’s interesting to look at it, but in my opinion, it’s more a measurement of what should have happened than what did happen.

      • paperlions - Jul 5, 2012 at 5:34 PM

        Yes, but that is the point. A pitcher doesn’t have much (if any) control over what the fielders do in response to a batted ball. Using a FIP-based approach helps to isolate the pitcher’s contribution to run prevention and avoids ascribing blame or credit for what the fielders do or don’t do.

      • paperlions - Jul 5, 2012 at 8:50 PM

        To put a finer point on it. If a Ranger’s pitcher and a Tiger’s pitcher each give up the exact same15 ground balls…who do you think would have better “results”? The guy with Beltre, Andrus, and Kinsler or the guy with Cabrera, Peralta, and Fielder?

        Both pitchers had the exact same performance, but the results will depend on the capability of their fielders, do you want incorporate the quality of the infielders in your evaluation of the pitcher? I don’t.

  3. sabatimus - Jul 5, 2012 at 5:29 PM

    Though generally I don’t think much of mid-season votes like this (anything can happen in the next half), Verlander gets my vote. 4th best ERA, but the K/BB ratio is the best, and he’s kept that up with the most innings pitched.

  4. deaninajijic - Jul 5, 2012 at 5:44 PM

    Weaver missed 15 days on the DL with a back strainand threw a no hitterthis year. He’s my number one even if I wsn’t an Angel fan

  5. deaninajijic - Jul 5, 2012 at 5:45 PM

    Weaver missed 15 days on the DL with a back strain and threw a no hitter this year. He’s my number one even if I wasn’t an Angel fan

  6. Detroit Michael - Jul 6, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    What is your source for opponents’ OPS?

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