It’s never too early to think about the Cy Young Award. Why, the Phillies won four of them before the season even started! In Los Angeles of Anaheim tonight, two of the top American League Cy Young candidates are going head-to-head. Jered Weaver and James Shields are tied for second place in the AL strikeout race with 85, trailing only Felix Hernandez. But would they be top Cy candidates if the season were to end today? An early, early look at the top five AL Cy Young candidates:
1. Alexi Ogando (2.9 WAR, 2.20, 191 ERA+, 6-0 record)
I hate listing W/L loss, but we’re not talking about who should be the Cy Young candidates. And, hey, an undefeated record is pretty shiny, even to hardened, post-revolution eyes. Don’t forget, Ogando has been doing this in Texas, which has played as the worst park for pitchers in the AL this year. He’s a safe #1 right now.
2. Jered Weaver (3.1 WAR, 2.14, 175 ERA+, 7-4)
Weaver has everything you’d want in a pitcher -- he’s striking people out without walking them, and he’s keeping the ball in the park. That latter point wasn’t one of his strongest suits in the past, so there might be an adjustment in his future. He’s not going to retroactively give up home runs in April and May, though, so even if he regresses to his normal rates, he’ll probably still have a better year than even he’s used to.
3. Josh Beckett (3.4 WAR, 2.01 ERA, 240 ERA+, 4-2)
Beckett has been getting hosed with the wins, but by any measure he’s in the discussion. He’s leading the league in WAR (Baseball-Reference’s version) and also leading the league in ERA -- a nice compromise between the new-school and the old-school, though the latter might be disappointed in the four wins. He’s no Kevin Correia.
4. Michael Pineda (2.8 WAR, 2.33 ERA, 160 ERA+, 6-3)
Felix has probably been just as good, if a little unlucky, but Pineda has the shiny ERA. And if he wants to contend, it had better remain shiny: the Mariners’ offense is still bad enough to fool voters who don’t understand park factors. They might think Safeco Field is as extreme of a hitters’ park as Petco Park, though it’s played as an average park in a small sample this year, and on par with Progressive Field and Angel Stadium in past years.
5. CC Sabathia (2.1 WAR, 2.80 ERA, 146 ERA+, 7-3)
CC has been fantastic this year, and like Weaver, has been preventing home runs more than he usually does. By most of the other metrics, he’s been the same pitcher that he was last season, which combined with the Yankees’ offense, should allow him to make another run at 20+ wins this year. Pitcher wins might not be as important as they once were in the voters’ eyes, but I think the Felix award last year was still the exception rather than the rule.
As for Shields? He’s up there, probably in the top ten right now, but he doesn’t have the WINZ! to impress the old school, and he’s not at the top of any of the fancier stats like adjusting pitching wins, WPA, or ERA+. He’s still having a fantastic season, though, and the match-up between Weaver and Shields on Wednesday night should be one of the better ones of the week. Which probably means an 8-7 final score.