Final regular-season awards watch (cont.)
1. Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers (1)
Season Stats: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 (250 Ks), 4.39 K/BB, 4 CG, 2 SHO
If Weaver does manage to drop his ERA below Verlander's on Wednesday it will prevent this from becoming the first season since 1924 in which the pitching Triple Crown was won in both leagues, but it won't prevent Verlander from winning the Cy Young. A couple points of ERA won't change the fact that Verlander has clearly been the AL's best pitcher this season.
2. Jered Weaver, RHP, Angels (2)
Season Stats: 18-8, 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 (198 Ks), 3.54 K/BB, 4 CG, 2 SHO
Heading into his final regular season start against the Rangers in Anaheim on Wednesday, the final day of the season, Weaver could pass Verlander for the league lead in ERA by recording just two outs, but if he gives up one run, he'll need at least five innings pitched, and if he allows two, he'll need at least eight innings pitched. It's not a gimme, but it's something Weaver is certainly capable of doing. Nine of his starts this season saw him last at least eight innings and allow no more than two earned runs and 19 of his starts saw him allow one or no runs across five-plus innings pitched.
3. James Shields, RHP, Rays (3)
Season Stats: 15-12, 2.84 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 8.3 K/9 (221 Ks), 3.56 K/BB, 11 CG, 4 SHO
CC Sabathia went 0-for-3 in his attempt to pick up his 20th win, and took his final turn this season in a simulated game on Sunday. Shields, who leads Sabathia in ERA and WHIP and every pitcher this millennium in single-season complete games, will start against Sabathia's Yankees Monday night focusing more on pitching the Rays into the playoffs than locking down his third-place finish for this award.
1. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Braves (1)
Season Stats: 2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 14.9 K/9 (126 Ks), 4.34 K/BB, 46 SV
Three poor outings in September, two of them blown saves, have taken the shine off Kimbrel's ERA, which was just 1.55 as recently as September 8, but he could get it back below 2.00 by getting just two more outs without allowing a run. Meanwhile, he ranks fourth among all major league rookies in strikeouts with more Ks than AL ERA qualifiers Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova thanks to the sixth-best K/9 in major league history (minimum 50 innings pitched). That strikeout rate combined with the rookie record for saves (breaking the record of 40 set by AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz last year) and the lack of a strong rival candidate all but guarantees Kimbrel this award.
2. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves (2)
Season Stats: .287/.351/.455, 21 HRs, 76 RBIs
Freeman leads NL rookies in home runs (tied with Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa), RBIs, and all three slash stats (minimum 350 at-bats), which seems like enough to make him the runner up to his teammate Kimbrel. Although compared to the standard of his position he hasn't had as impressive a season as Espinosa or Nats catcher Wilson Ramos, the latter of whom is probably most deserving of this spot on the ballot.
3. Vance Worley, RHP, Phillies (3)
Season Stats: 11-3, 3.03 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.66 K/BB, 1 CG
The third spot in this race is a bit of a toss-up. Espinosa and Ramos are both deserving, though it's unclear to what degree the voters will recognize that fact given their superficially unimpressive numbers. The Braves' Brandon Beachy and the Padres' Cory Luebke have posted strong peripherals in more innings than Worley, and the Diamondbacks' Josh Collmenter helped pitch Arizona to a division title, posting a 3.38 ERA but just a .500 record in 24 starts and a handful of relief appearances. All are at least as deserving if not clearly moreso than Worley, but my assumption is that Worley, having also contributed to not just a division winner but the best record in baseball and one of the best rotations in major league history will be buoyed by his impressive winning percentage (.786) and the sense that he "held his own" alongside the Phillies' four aces.
1. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays (1)
Season Stats: 13-10, 2.90 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, 1.73 K/BB, 2 CG, 1 SHO
Hellickson's peripherals are unimpressive, but he is fifth in the AL in ERA and has been remarkably consistent over the course of the season, only once allowing as many as five earned runs in a start and allowing as many as four just thrice, while only once failing to finish the fifth inning in 28 starts, going 4 1/3 frames in the exception. He'll follow Shields by facing the Yankees on Tuesday in his final regular season start. A big outing with the Rays still chasing the wild card would add narrative to an already solid candidacy for this award.
2. Ivan Nova, RHP, Yankees (3)
Season Stats: 16-4, 3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 5.3 K/9, 1.72 K/BB
The last rookie to win 16 or more games was Justin Verlander, who went 17-9 and got 26 of 28 first-place votes for Rookie of the Year back in 2006. Nova seems unlikely to get past Hellickson for this award, but he now has a lower ERA than Michael Pineda despite pitching in a far less friendly home ballpark and will enter the playoffs as the No. 2 starter on the team with the second-best record in baseball. Nova's peripherals are underwhelming, but they're not significantly worse than those of Hellickson, who has benefitted from a .222 opponent's average on balls in play, which has helped lower his WHIP, and actually aren't all that much worse than Verlander's in '06 (1.33 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.07 K/BB).
3. Michael Pineda, RHP, Mariners (2)
Season Stats: 9-10, 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.1 K/9 (173 Ks), 3.15 K/BB
Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo has 29 home runs and 87 RBIs, but a .291 on-base percentage. His Royals counterpart Eric Hosmer is hitting close to .300 with an OBP 50 points higher than Trumbo's, but has 10 fewer homers and RBIs in just 28 fewer at-bats. Blue Jays catcher J.P Arencibia has similar counting stats to Hosmer in 80 fewer at-bats, but also has roughly 70 fewer points of batting average and on-base percentage. Second basemen Jemile Weeks of the A's and Dustin Ackley of the Mariners have played well in partial seasons, but not so well as to overcome their disadvantages in playing time, and Weeks's 22 stolen bases have come at a poor 67 percent success rate. Rays leftfielder Desmond Jennings and Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie have each been even better, but in even less playing time due to late promotions. Trumbo's teammate, Jordan Walden has a 10.2 K/9 and 32 saves, but leads the majors with 10 blown saves.
I wouldn't be surprised to see someone from that group sneak past Pineda into third place, but Pineda, who leads major league rookies in strikeouts this season, was clearly one of the best rookie pitchers in baseball in 2011 and has as strong a case as any of them.