The Cy Young Award is reserved for the best pitcher in each league. In the AL, the race is pretty muddled. Let’s have a look at the candidates in no particular order.
Although he’s started fewer games (23) than most of the candidates on this list, the 26-year-old leads the league in ERA (2.21) and has a respectable 15-5 record. A 20-game-winner he is not, but he is still one of the best pitchers in the league.
The fact that he doesn’t pitch for a major contender (the Boston Red Sox) works against him, as well as his proclivity for walks (3.4/9) and his lack of strikeouts (101, 6.2/9). Someday, perhaps next year, Clay Buchholz could win a Cy Young, but this year, he’s probably not that guy. For better or worse, the Cy Young race is decided primarily by wins, with a secondary emphasis on ERA and strikeouts. Buchholz only has one of the three.
King Felix is having yet another royal season, currently second in ERA (2.38) while leading the league in IP (211.1) and strikeouts (200), completing five games (3rd). Working against him is basically only the Seattle Mariners offense, which has limited Hernandez to a meager 10-10 record so far this season. On the plus side, Hernandez was a very close second last year to Zack Greinke, so he’ll get some rollover points that could put him over the top in a race that has no clear frontrunner.
Unlike Buccholz, Hernandez’s low win total doesn’t work against him, but instead gives him a bit of a sympathy vote. When you have that few wins and you’re that good, it’s just not a meaningful stat for anybody anymore, even BBWAA voters. Really, there’s no reason Hernandez shouldn’t be crowned the best pitcher in the AL this year. But there’s also no reason that other pitchers shouldn’t either.
This is one of those guys. At 18-5, Sabathia has the most wins in the Majors and is a shoo-in for his first 20-win season. As a rule in this day and age, if you get to 20 wins, you get a Cy Young. The problem is, Sabathia’s 3.14 ERA is 8th in the league and almost a full run higher than Buchholz and Hernandez’s. Also, CC’s inflated win total is a product of the league’s best offense playing for him every time he takes the ball and he hands it to the best closer in the game to secure his victories. Sabathia has a lower strikeout rate, a higher walk rate, has a higher WHIP, and allows almost another full hit per game than Felix Hernandez, but has eight more wins.
Having said that, Sabathia has been on a tear lately, as he always does near the end of the season, having not lost since August 1st when he gave up all of three runs. If Sabathia can continue on a hot streak and lower that ERA under 3, he’ll probably get the award.
Cliff Lee, whose otherworldly total of 12 walks this season is Cy Young-worthy in and of itself, is a serious candidate because of name recognition and how dominating he can be, although working against Lee is his awful August in which he has gone 1-4 with a 6.39 ERA, raising his ERA from 2.51 at the beginning of August to 3.37.
Although Lee’s back problems are catching up to him, if he can have a good, healthy September and help the Rangers wrap up the AL West, then he’ll be a serious candidate to divide up some votes and sneak for his second Cy Young Award.
So after all that, I’m picking none of the above. All the proposed candidates are similarly great, but none of them are the kind of exciting standouts that the National League has to offer, and none of them stick out from the crowd. Of the above candidates, I’d say that Felix Hernandez probably deserves the award most, and that CC Sabathia will win it.
But in a year like this one, where there is no clear dominating force, the award should go to a man who has never been anything but a dominating force, and a man who placed 2nd in Cy Young voting in 2005, the closest he ever got to winning one.
I speak of course, of the immortal one, the man who is sporting (by far) career-lows in ERA (1.13), WHIP (.076), and H/9 (5.1):
The Great Mariano has allowed 6 (!!!) earned runs this season, in 47.2 innings of work, has given up 1 HR (!!!), 27 hits, and has put up an ERA+ of 355. For some perspective, Pedro Martinez holds the modern record for ERA+ by a starter with 291 in 2000 (100 is average, higher is better). Although Rivera doesn’t qualify for single-season records, he does qualify for all-time statistics in ERA+. Pedro Martinez is second in the history of baseball with 154. Mariano is first…with 206. Eventually you just get tired of the exclamation points and the surprise. The man is 40 years old and is putting up the best statistical season by a pitcher in the history of baseball.
Yes, he’s a closer. Yes, he’ll throw far less than 100 innings. But is there any man more important to his team’s success than Mariano Rivera?
In “the year of the pitcher,” where no one has broken away from the pack, is there a better time to pick the guy who’s been so far ahead of the pack for so many years that we forget he’s even in the race? 2010 is the perfect season to recognize arguably the game’s greatest pitcher ever for his body of work and for his continued run of freakish and mind-boggling success. Which would be more terrible: Felix Hernandez not winning a Cy Young this year, or Mariano Rivera never winning a Cy Young Award?
This season, the Sandman has shown yet again why when he comes into a game, it’s over. No one starter can be proclaimed the best. So let’s give the Cy Young to the best: Mariano Rivera.