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MLB Power Rankings: Taking A Closer Look At A Pair Of Tight Cy Young Races

The 20th edition of our MLB power rankings, as voted on by SB Nation MLB bloggers Jim McLennan, Will McDonald, Sam Page, Kyle Lobner, Jeff Sullivan, and Randy Booth. You should probably take these very seriously, because they are uncommonly important.

It's now the middle of August, and by this point, the playoff picture has in large part cleared up. We know the Rangers are going to make it. We can be pretty certain the Yankees and Rays are going to make it. We can be pretty certain the Padres are going to make it. And while four other spots remain up in the air, we still have strong inklings about the Twins and Braves. As of right now, only the NL Central and the NL Wild Card appear too close to call.

The playoff races, though, aren't the only races that are currently alive. And, no, I'm not referring to the race for next year's first overall draft pick. We've also got the races for awards, and if you're a fan of a bad team like I am, the award races can provide a handy distraction. Maybe your team won't make the playoffs, and maybe your team won't win 70 games, but maybe a player or two on your team has some kind of shot at some hardware.

I'm not going to sit here and handicap all the award races. We can leave that for another day later in the year, after the season is finished but before the awards are announced. But what I would like to take this opportunity to discuss a little bit is just how close the Cy Young races are looking right now.

You've probably heard from a number of different outlets that 2010 is the Year of the Pitcher. I disagree with this claim, but one of the reasons it's come up so often is because there are so many pitchers turning in standout individual performances. 19 different starters are running ERAs under 3, and eight different starters are running ERAs at 2.50 or below. As you can imagine, this kind of clouds the Cy Young picture.

For an idea of how cloudy it is, let's take a look at some current and relevant top five(ish) leaderboards for statistics that people will consider over the next several weeks:

Wins

AL

NL

Price, 15

Jimenez, 17

Sabathia, 15

Wainwright, 17

Pavano, 15

Halladay, 15

Hughes, 14

Hudson, 14

Buchholz, 13

Carpenter, 13

Lester, 13

Nolasco, 13

Verlander, 13

ERA

AL

NL

Buchholz, 2.49

Wainwright, 1.99

Cahill, 2.50

Hudson, 2.13

Hernandez, 2.62

Halladay, 2.24

Lee, 2.77

Johnson, 2.27

Lester, 2.80

Latos, 2.32

Innings Pitched

AL

NL

Hernandez, 189

Halladay, 193

Sabathia, 174.2

Carpenter, 177

Lee, 169

Wainwright, 176.1

Pavano, 168

Santana, 171

Weaver, 163

Hudson, 164.2

Now let's take a look at some sabermetric numbers - FIP and xFIP. FIP refers to Fielding-Independent Pitching, a number on an ERA scale that attempts to strip a pitcher's ERA of the defense and luck factors. xFIP follows the same idea, but also attempts to strip away good or bad luck on fly balls turning into home runs.

FIP

AL

NL

Liriano, 2.19

Johnson, 2.33

Lee, 2.24

Halladay, 2.64

Lester, 3.02

Gallardo, 2.69

Weaver, 3.05

Wainwright, 2.89

Hernandez, 3.09

Jimenez, 3.06

xFIP

AL

NL

Liriano, 2.94

Halladay, 2.82

Lee, 3.23

Johnson, 3.17

Lester, 3.26

Wainwright, 3.19

Hernandez, 3.36

Gallardo, 3.34

Weaver, 3.38

Lincecum, 3.39

We've now put together five (ten?) separate leaderboards for statistics that people will talk about as the Cy Young voting approaches, and those leaderboards show a variety of different names. In the American League, you've got five lists with 12 different names. In the National League, you've got five lists with 11 different names. That makes 23 different starting candidates with at least some kind of sensible shot at two Cy Youngs, and this doesn't even touch on guys who narrowly missed out, or guys who work out of the bullpen. Mariano Rivera has a 1.06 ERA and 24 saves. Rafael Soriano has a 1.74 ERA and 34 saves. Heath Bell and Billy Wagner in the NL each have a 1.74 ERA and a ton of saves between them. It's not like relievers can be completely ignored.

So, clearly, when it comes to the AL and NL Cy Young awards, a lot is going to rest on these final seven weeks, because as of this writing, the races are too close to call. Who would you take right now? In the AL, do you support Cliff Lee because of his unthinkable K/BB? Felix Hernandez has a lower ERA. David Price has roared out with a bunch of wins. Clay Buchholz has posted a little ERA in a little ballpark. Francisco Liriano has pitched better than anyone else, according to more advanced metrics. And so on and so forth. In the NL, meanwhile, do you support Ubaldo Jimenez for his incredible hot streak? Do you give your vote to Adam Wainwright, the only starter with a sub-2 ERA in the league? What about the performances turned in by Roy Halladay and his division rival Tim Hudson? And on, and on.

Two years ago, 47 of the 60 first-place votes wound up going to Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee. Last season, things were a little more complicated, but the AL came down to Zack Greinke vs. Felix Hernandez, while the NL came down to Lincecum, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright. This season, the pitchers have yet to separate themselves to such a degree. And so, this season, at least as far as the Cy Young races are concerned, the stretch run is going to be absolutely crucial. With races this tight, it won't take much for one guy to leap past another.

That's enough about the Cy Young races for now. And, of course, you're free to not care one bit about which players end up with which trophies, since the voting is inconsistent and the purposes are unclear. Let's now move on to the sweet sweet rankings.

30. Pittsburgh Pirates

SBN Blog: Bucs Dugout

2010 record: 40-78

Last week's rank: 30

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 30

After weeks of speculation, they've finally done it: At 40-78, the Pirates have passed the Orioles as baseball's worst team and now sit in the driver's seat in the race for the #1 pick in the 2011 draft. All they had to do to get there was lose 11 of 15, including all six on last week's road trip to San Diego and Houston. Kudos to the organization for spending the cash to sign their top 2010 draft picks. Now they'd better start saving their pennies for 2011.

29. Baltimore Orioles

SBN Blog: Camden Chat

2010 record: 42-77

Last week's rank: 27

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 26

The Buck Showalter Era continues. The O's are 9-4 under their new skipper. This week they won a series against the Tribe and lost one against the Rays, but the road is getting tougher. After hosting Seattle, Baltimore plays the Rangers, White Sox, Angels before facing the AL East's toughest (New York, Tampa Bay, Boston) in three series. It never gets easy for Baltimore.

28. Seattle Mariners

SBN Blog: Lookout Landing

2010 record: 46-73

Last week's rank: 29

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 29

At 46-73, the Mariners have 43 games left in their season, which is far too many.

27. Kansas City Royals

SBN Blog: Royals Review

2010 record: 49-69

Last week's rank: 25

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 28

For a bad team, the Royals are dangerous in close games. Kansas City is 20-23 in one run contests, and 7-4 in extra inning games. As such, the Royals pulled out two close wins over the Yankees over the weekend, stopping a disastrous slide that had Cleveland fans dreaming of dominance. For much of the first 100 games of the season, the Royals led the AL in batting average (the only thing the team is good at) but that's fallen apart recently. The Royals are now third in the AL in BA (.275).

26. Arizona Diamondbacks

SBN Blog: AZ Snakepit

2010 record: 47-72

Last week's rank: 26

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 24

The DBacks put together their best streak of the season, going 9-4 before dropping the last game in Milwaukee and then two of three in Washington. The bullpen has been a lot better, with a 3.05 ERA in August, less than half their overall season number (6.12). In three games for Arizona since coming over from the White Sox in the Edwin Jackson deal, Daniel Hudson is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA, throwing seven-plus innings in each start.

25. Chicago Cubs

SBN Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue

2010 record: 50-69

Last week's rank: 28

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 25

I'm sure citizens of Cincinnati are glad the Cubs took a break from their freefall to take two of three from the Cardinals over the weekend. The Cubs are now 2-1 against the Cards in August, and 2-10 against everyone else. At least they're getting good news on the health front, though: Carlos Silva pitched a bullpen session this week for the first time since going on the DL with heart trouble, and Geovany Soto is back taking BP.

24. Cleveland Indians

SBN Blog: Let's Go Tribe!

2010 record: 49-69

Last week's rank: 23

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 21

After a patch of competence, the Indians turned in a 2-6 stretch, bringing them back into a tie for last place in the division with the Royals. A three game series, this week in Kansas City, will go a long way toward settling that fourth place race. The Indians have one of the most obscure pitching staffs in baseball right now, so it can be fun watching them play. You might see a game started by Jeanmar Gomez, with Hector Ambriz, Frank Herrmann and Justin Germano coming out of the 'pen. It would be like returning to the days when you were six and relied on your dad to tell you about every single player.

23. Houston Astros

SBN Blog: The Crawfish Boxes

2010 record: 51-66

Last week's rank: 22

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 27

Playing the Pirates cures all ills, it appears: The Astros are 1-7 in their last eight games not involving the Pirates, but swept a series against the division doormats over the weekend. Even after the slow stretch the 'Stros are 7-7 in August and could go .500 or better for the third consecutive month. After years of aging veteran teams, management deserves some credit for giving the young guys a chance: Carlos Lee was the only player over 30 in Sunday's lineup.

22. Washington Nationals

SBN Blog: Federal Baseball

2010 record: 51-67

Last week's rank: 24

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 22

Scott Boras held out until the last few seconds for more money, but he and the Nationals agreed to terms on a deal for 1st-overall pick Bryce Harper. The catcher-turned-outfielder will make a guaranteed 10 million dollars over five years on a major league deal, the highest for an amateur position player ever. The Nats now have both of this eras supposed "generational talents" under contract, with Stephen Strasburg already around. Step two must be finding someone other than Livan Hernandez to play alongside.

21. Milwaukee Brewers

SBN Blog: Brew Crew Ball

2010 record: 55-64

Last week's rank: 19

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 20

As if a 2-5 week against the Diamondbacks and Rockies wasn't bad enough, the Brewers also failed to sign 2010 first round pick Dylan Covey. The Brewers are well out of the playoff hunt but could be a factor in several divisional races: 23 of their remaining 43 games are against the Cardinals, Padres, Reds, Phillies and Giants.

20. Detroit Tigers

SBN Blog: Bless You Boys

2010 record: 58-60

Last week's rank: 21

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 18

Detroit's been dead for weeks, which made their random success over the White Sox all the more stunning. The Tigers took two of three in Chicago, victimizing J.J. Putz both times. One of the more remarkable offensive numbers put up this season is Miguel Cabrera's .433 on-base percentage, a career high and the best in the American League. Cabrera's OBP is nearly .100 points higher than what he posted in 2008, when it looked like his career had stalled.

19. Florida Marlins

SBN Blog: Fish Stripes

2010 record: 57-60

Last week's rank: 16

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 12

The Marlins are quietly slipping back in the standings, which is a shame, because Mike Stanton is awesome. If you stopped paying attention to the Marlins already, at least familiarize yourself with the game's next great power hitter.

18. Oakland Athletics

SBN Blog: Athletics Nation

2010 record: 57-60

Last week's rank: 14

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 15

The 57-60 Oakland A's have lost four games in a row, which is tied for the longest current losing streak in baseball with that of the 57-60 Florida Marlins. These are the sorts of things you have to find interesting in order to survive a final stretch run as dull as the one staring Oakland in the face. Better luck next time to prospect Chris Carter, who debuted by going 0-19 with a walk and nine strikeouts before returning to AAA.

17. New York Mets

SBN Blog: Amazin' Avenue

2010 record: 59-59

Last week's rank: 20

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 19

Why are Mets fans are clamoring for Carlos Pena, father-in-law of Francisco Rodriguez, to replace Omar Minaya, after the 52-year-old man fought his closer-son in the Citi Field clubhouse? Pena caused Rodriguez to tear a ligament in his thumb, giving the Mets grounds to potentially void K-Rod's contract. And even if the contract remains, Pena may have prevented Rodriguez's $17.5M option for 2012 from vesting, undoing at least some of Minaya's bad work.

16. Los Angeles Dodgers

SBN Blog: True Blue LA

2010 record: 60-59

Last week's rank: 18

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 17

Stick a fork in them - they're done. Los Angeles went 2-6 last week in Philadelphia and Atlanta, are 11 back in the division, and scored a total of six runs in the quartet of contests against the Braves. Thursday was probably their worst loss of the season: the bullpen somehow blew a seven-run lead over two innings, a result which was instrumental in Jonathan Broxton losing his job as closer to Hong-Chih Kuo. And then Kuo coughed up three in the ninth to lose on Monday. Doomed.

15. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

SBN Blog: Halos Heaven

2010 record: 60-59

Last week's rank: 17

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 23

The Angels have won six of nine to pull their record up to something equally as meaningless as it was before they won six of nine. Less important than 2010, though, is how things are shaping up for 2011, and with that in mind it's worth pointing out that Jered Weaver remains excellent while Dan Haren has racked up 24 strikeouts and four walks over five AL starts. The Diamondbacks may have dealt Haren in large part because they felt he was declining, but he hasn't shown any compelling evidence of diminished skills yet in California.

14. Colorado Rockies

SBN Blog: Purple Row

2010 record: 61-56

Last week's rank: 15

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 9

Colorado has strictly alternated wins and losses for the entire month of August. While I admire such pleasing symmetry, it doesn't do much in their quest to climb back into the playoff picture. At five back and in fourth in the Wild Card race, the Rockies are not out of it, but CoolStandings.com gives them only a 3.0% chance of the post-season. They have six games against Los Angeles and Arizona this week, and need to take advantage.

13. Chicago White Sox

SBN Blog: South Side Sox

2010 record: 65-53

Last week's rank: 10

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 13

The Southsiders kept pace with the Twins for as long as they could, but a nightmarish week has Chicago in trouble. The White Sox went 2-6 while the Twins went 7-1, flipping the top of the AL Central around. The Sox blew late leads in a number of games, and now head to Minnesota for a gigantic three-game series. Ozzie's boys are going to need to score some runs.

12. Toronto Blue Jays

SBN Blog: Bluebird Banter

2010 record: 63-55

Last week's rank: 13

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 4

36 home runs for Jose Bautista. Geez. Can anyone believe that? ... still? Somehow, the Jays continue to hold their own in the AL East. Quietly, the Jays hold three of the best starters in baseball in Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum and Brett Cecil. This season in a nutshell: three good pitchers and Jose Bautista.

11. San Francisco Giants

SBN Blog: McCovey Chronicles

2010 record: 67-52

Last week's rank: 9

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 14

As expected, San Francisco beat up on the flailing Cubs, taking three of four, though all three victories were by a single run. Indeed, the Giants haven't won by more than one run since August 3rd. They had a crucial series at home against the Padres, but dropped two of three, with Tim Lincecum mauled on Sunday, and are 2-9 this year against San Diego. They still lead the wild-card, but the Phillies and Cards are perilously close.

10. St. Louis Cardinals

SBN Blog: Viva El Birdos

2010 record: 65-51

Last week's rank: 11

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 11

Getting Kyle Lohse back might not have been the boost the Cardinals were hoping for: Lohse allowed seven earned runs in just three innings of work in his first start back as the Cards dropped two of three to the Cubs to squander the momentum gained by sweeping the Reds earlier in the week.

9. Boston Red Sox

SBN Blog: Over The Monster

2010 record: 67-52

Last week's rank: 12

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 5

Boston has been great this year at losing games it should win. Instead of a six-game winning streak, the Red Sox lost back-to-back games -- one against Toronto, the other against Texas -- that were lost in the last inning. Against Texas, the Red Sox were up 8-2 and lost 10-9. The good news? Dustin Pedroia should be back in action for the big club today.

8. Philadelphia Phillies

SBN Blog: The Good Phight

2010 record: 66-51

Last week's rank: 7

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 10

The Phillies have kept pace, still just 2.5 back from the Braves. Meanwhile, as Atlanta loses a future Hall of Fame infielder to injury, Philadelphia is getting one back. This race might not be decided until the last day of the season.

7. Cincinnati Reds

SBN Blog: Red Reporter

2010 record: 67-51

Last week's rank: 3

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 16

The Reds are back in first place in the NL's closest division, and there's a pretty good chance they could take the division title even if they can't find a way to beat the Cardinals. They're 5-10 against the Redbirds this season but face them just 3 more times, compared to 28 games against the Diamondbacks, Brewers, Astros, Pirates and Cubs.

6. Texas Rangers

SBN Blog: Lone Star Ball

2010 record: 67-50

Last week's rank: 5

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 8

Oh, to be a team in Texas' position. With a division lead that's twice as big as the next-biggest in baseball, the Rangers can afford to take things a little easy and do things like place Nelson Cruz on the DL when he may not need more than a few days of rest. Why rush him? This is a team that gets to back off a little bit and prepare for a postseason run while still playing often enough to keep the rust away, and I just can't in any way imagine that to have a downside. They may not end up being the best team in the playoffs, but they could be the most ready.

5. Atlanta Braves

SBN Blog: Talking Chop

2010 record: 69-49

Last week's rank: 8

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 7

A torn ACL has ended Chipper Jones' season and possibly his career. And while there's a sentimental loss in experiencing a playoff run without an all-time franchise great, the Braves don't figure to lose too much production at third with "up-and-coming" Brooks Conrad subbing for the aging Jones. Still, it's enough to make Bobby Cox reach for the stressball.

4. Minnesota Twins

SBN Blog: Twinkie Town

2010 record: 68-50

Last week's rank: 4

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 3

We kept waiting for it to happen, and it finally did. The Twins passed the White Sox at long last, and now lead by three games in the Central thanks to a 7-1 spurt. Surprisingly, the fact that Kevin Slowey was pulled six outs shy of a no-hitter didn't generate much outrage from the baseball media. Right or wrong, imagine the responses if that had happened to a Royal or Pirate pitcher. The Twins are so well-respected at this point that they enjoy a built-in benefit of the doubt.

3. San Diego Padres

SBN Blog: Gaslamp Ball

2010 record: 70-47

Last week's rank: 6

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 6

The Friars took care of business last week, sweeping the Pirates, defeating their closest rivals in the NL West in San Francisco, and then clubbing the Cubs on Monday. That road trip continues this week, with three more games against Chicago and three in Milwaukee. San Diego will certainly be looking to extend its lead, which, at four games, is the best it has been for four weeks. Their pitching staff has conceded only 19 runs in eight games, most of those away from Petco.

2. Tampa Bay Rays

SBN Blog: DRays Bay

2010 record: 72-46

Last week's rank: 2

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1

After a five-game losing streak, the Rays sandwiched a pair of loses with two pairs of wins in a 4-2 week. A very bright spot for the Rays has been Jeremy Hellickson, who has made his MLB debut by going 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 20 innings of work. It doesn't matter how good you are because if you pitch for the Rays, you'll be great.

1. New York Yankees

SBN Blog: Pinstripe Alley

2010 record: 72-46

Last week's rank: 1

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 2

It's a funny thing about those Yankees: when they're hot, everyone else seems to be, too. When they're cold, everyone else is cold. The rest of Major League baseball flows with the Yankees. Even with a 3-3 record this past week, splitting a two-game set with Texas and splitting a four-game series with the Royals, the Yankees are still the best team in baseball record-wise.