Posted: Monday May 30, 2011 1:42PM ; Updated: Monday May 30, 2011 3:12PM
Cliff Corcoran

Shields, Halladay lead respective leagues in crowded Cy Young race

Story Highlights

Stellar league-wide pitching has made it tough to choose best Cy Young candidates

James Shields is battling Angels teammates Jered Weaver, Dan Haren in AL race

Jair Jurrjens has been great since return from DL, but Roy Halladay still leads NL

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James Shields
Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields has thrown only one non-quality start all season.

The major league average ERA hasn't been below 4.00 over a full season in nearly 20 years. The last time it happened was 1992, when the league mark was 3.75. Thus far this season, it's 3.80. For all the talk about last year being a "year of the pitcher," this year has been even more so. As a result, the pitching leader boards are crowded, making the task of paring that crowd down to just five top Cy Young candidates in each league surprisingly difficult. Six men are tied for the major league lead in wins, and just two of those six appear below. A dozen pitchers have ERAs below 2.40, but two of the three qualifiers with marks below 2.00 have spent time on the disabled list, further confusing the matter.

Neither league has a runaway favorite, but both lists below generally break down to a top three followed by two chosen from a far larger crowd of similarly deserving candidates. Coin flips were not used to determine the final spots on these lists, but they were considered.

NOTE: All stats through Sunday, May 29; League leaders in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. The number in parenthesis after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list (HM stands for honorable mention).

American League

1. James Shields, RHP, Rays (3)

Season Stats: 5-3, 2.15 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 4.50 K/BB, 3 CG, 2 SHO

Last Four Starts: 2-2, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 6.17 K/BB, 1 SHO

Shield's only non-quality start of the season came in his second turn back on April 8. In nine starts since then, he has posted a 1.66 ERA while averaging nearly eight innings per start (a league-leading 7.8 IP/GS to be exact). His best start of the season came two turns ago in Miami, when he shutout the cross-state Marlins on a walk and three singles while striking out a career-high 13 men. Shields is tied with defending AL Cy Young award winner Felix Hernandez for the league lead in strikeouts (81 in one fewer inning in and one fewer start than Hernandez), leads the league in quality starts (10, tied with Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander) and quality start percentage, is fourth in the league in ERA, and second in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

2. Jered Weaver, RHP, Angels (1)

Season Stats: 6-4, 2.10 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 3.85 K/BB, 2 CG, 1 SHO

Last Four Starts: 0-2, 2.57 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 3.14 K/BB

Weaver, who started the season 6-0, hasn't won a game since April. That's hardly his fault. Four of his six May starts were quality, yet the Angels lost three of those outings, with the loss twice being hung on Weaver himself. In his last three starts, he posted a 1.64 ERA, yet went 0-1. In two of his last three starts the Angels didn't score at all, and in his last turn, Weaver threw nine scoreless innings against the Twins in Minnesota only to watch the Angels lose 1-0 in the tenth. On the season, Weaver has received just 3.23 runs of support per game, yet he's still second in the league in wins. He's also third in ERA, strikeouts (77) and innings pitched (85 2/3), and fifth in WHIP.

3. Dan Haren, RHP, Angels (2)

Season Stats: 5-3, 2.29 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 5.29 K/BB, 1 SHO

Last Four Starts: 1-1, 3.14 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, 3.00 K/BB

The field behind Shields and Weaver is crowded, but Haren stands out from the pack for leading the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio and ranking just a third of an inning behind Verlander for the league lead in innings pitched. One of Haren's 86 1/3 innings came in relief (and earned him a win), but that only speaks to his added value as a workhorse. Amazingly, given the rest of his numbers, Haren's win against the Twins on Sunday was his first since April 17. In his seven starts between wins, Haren posted a 2.74 ERA and averaged more than seven innings per start, yet the Angels scored more than three runs in only one of those seven games, going 2-5 overall and handing Haren three losses and four no-decisions.

4. Josh Beckett, RHP, Red Sox (N/A)

Season Stats: 4-2, 1.80 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.52 K/BB

Last Four Starts: 2-1, 1.46 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 1.92 K/BB

By allowing two runs in six innings to the Tigers on Sunday night, Beckett doubled his run allowance for the month. He opened May with 18 1/3 scoreless frames across three-plus starts (one of them shortened by rain), then allowed just one run in each of his next two starts before the dam burst for that deuce on Sunday. In fact, in 11 starts this season, Beckett has allowed more than one run in just four of them and more than two runs just twice. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have scored more than four runs in a game he started just once all year, handing him five no-decisions and a loss on Sunday night, when they failed to score at all.

5. Alexi Ogando, RHP, Rangers (N/A)

Season Stats: 5-0, 2.33 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.13 K/BB, 1 SHO

Last Four Starts: 2-0, 2.54 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 3.33 K/BB, 1 SHO

With apologies to the A's Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez and Mariners rookie Michael Piņeda, among others, Ogando gets the last spot here. Pressed into action as a starter when Tommy Hunter pulled his hamstring during the final days of spring training, Ogando has yet to throw fewer than six innings in any of his ten starts and has only twice allowed more than two runs in a game. He has been extremely lucky, not only because he has avoided the loss in both of his clunkers, the second of which occurred Sunday night against the Royals, but because his opponents have hit just .209 on balls in play. He also missed an early-May start against the Yankees due to a blister. Still, he has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Cahill and Gonzalez, both of whom pitch in much more forgiving ballpark, and a lower ERA than Piņeda even after Sunday's stinker. He's also the only one of the four starters with a complete game and he averages more innings per start than any of the other three.

Off the list: Jon Lester (4), Justin Masterson (5)
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