Posted: Thursday September 6, 2012 12:53PM ; Updated: Thursday September 6, 2012 12:53PM
Cliff Corcoran
Cliff Corcoran>MLB AWARDS WATCH

Lightning round: Cy Young (cont.)

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Cy Young

Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander is in a tight battle as he looks to win his second consecutive AL Cy Young award.
David Richard/US Presswire

American League

1. Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers (1)

Season Stats: 13-7, 2.73 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.2 K/9 (209 K), 4.02 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 6 CG, 1 SHO, 153 ERA+

Last Two Starts: 1-0, 5.93 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 3.40 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS

2. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (3)

Season Stats: 13-6, 2.51 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 (191 K), 3.98 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 5 SHO, 148 ERA+

Last Two Starts: 1-1, 2.20 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 8.2 IP/GS, 1 SHO

If the writers were to submit their ballots today, David Price would probably win this award, but the way I see it, the battle for the title of the best pitcher in the American League this year is a dead-heat between the last two winners of this award. Most of the statistics that I employ above are rate stats, which make it easier to compare players despite discrepancies in playing time, but there's no almost no need for that with these two. Here are their raw counting stats:

Pitcher GS IP H ER K BB CG QS W-L
Verlander 28 204 1/3 159 62 209 52 6 21 13-7
Hernandez 28 204 165 57 191 48 5 19 13-6

Verlander has allowed 10 unearned runs, which don't show up in his ERA, to Hernandez's four, but Hernandez has hit 11 batters, which doesn't show up in his WHIP, to Verlander's four and also leads the duo in wild pitches and balks. Yes, I just mentioned balks (Verlander has one, Hernandez two); this is that close. I'm listing Verlander first because he has been in that spot on my list all season, because he has had to contend with a brutal team defense and because he has tiny leads on Hernandez in most of the rate stats listed above (including ERA+), but if you prefer the guy with the lower unadjusted ERA and the five shutouts, one of which was a perfect game, I won't argue with you.

3. David Price, LHP, Rays (2)

Season Stats: 17-5, 2.54 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 (175 K), 3.24 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 147 ERA+

Last Two Starts: 1-1, 6.75 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 5.3 IP/GS

How can I rank a 17-game winner who is just three points off the league lead in ERA behind a pair of 13-game winners, one of whom has an ERA nearly one fifth of a run higher? Easy -- because I almost completely ignore both won/loss records and ERA when I rank pitchers. ERA is an important stat, but it lacks the context provided by the park-adjusted ERA+, while wins and losses are almost completely meaningless given their dependence on run and bullpen support.

Price has the lowest ERA+ of this trio, but that's not why he's third. The three are bunched tightly enough in that category that you can almost throw that one out as well for this trio. It's largely due to his deficit in innings pitched. Price has thrown just 88 percent as many innings as Verlander. In that time, he has also walked more men than either Verlander or Hernandez and allowed baserunners (with hit batsmen included) at a higher rate than either of his rivals. To those who favor Price in this race, I ask: What has he done better than Verlander or Hernandez this season? If all you can come up with is "win," please consider the run support each has received per 27 outs:

Price: 4.61

Verlander: 3.84

Hernandez: 3.70

National League

1. R.A. Dickey, RHP, Mets (2)

Season Stats: 18-4, 2.64 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.9 K/9 (195 K), 4.33 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 5 CG, 3 SHO, 146 ERA+

Last Three Starts: 3-0, 1.19 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 2.80 K/BB, 7.6 IP/GS, 1 SHO

2. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds (1)

Season Stats: 17-7, 2.58 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 7.1 K/9 (149 K), 3.63 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 2 CG, 165 ERA+

Last Three Starts: 1-1, 3.79 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 3.50 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS

The National League Cy Young race now looks like it will come down to Cuteo and Dickey, whom I also had in the top two spots in my last look at this race two weeks ago, albeit in the opposite order. After adjusting for ballpark effects (which is what ERA+ does), Cueto has been the top run preventer in the majors this season (and the best in the NL even without the context), but Dickey has been the better pitcher in every other way. Of course, run prevention is a pitcher's top job, so, as in the AL, this is almost as much a matter of taste as of objective quality. One could make a legitimate argument that either has been the "best" pitcher in the National League this year.

One of the things I try to protect against in making these lists is allowing any of them to be a simple leaders list of any single category, and that's a large part of why I ultimately put Dickey ahead of Cueto this week. Yes, Dickey is a great story, but the knuckleballers stat line is impressive even if you don't know anything about his journey to this point or his primary pitch. Cueto's line, while still outstanding, is simply inferior to Dickey's outside of ERA and ERA+, and Dickey ranks second and third in the league in those two categories. To me, that makes Dickey the leader for now, but it's close enough that what these two do in the season's final month will determine which one, if either, takes home the award.

3. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (4)

Season Stats: 12-8, 2.79 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.1 K/9 (201 K), 4.02 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 136 ERA+

Last Three Starts: 1-1, 2.14 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 3.25 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS

One could make a similar argument for Kershaw relative to Cueto, but to me Kershaw's hasn't out-pitched Cueto by enough to overcome his greater deficit in run prevention. Another way to look at it: Kershaw comes up short in an apples-to-apples comparison with Dickey, so if Dickey and Cueto are in a dead-heat, Kershaw has to be third.

NEXT: Rookie of the Year award

 
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