Lightning round (cont.)
1. Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers (1)
Season Stats: 15-8, 2.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 (223 K), 3.84 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 6 CG, 1 SHO, 152+ ERA+
Though rain robbed us of a showdown between Verlander and Chris Sale with the AL Central lead on the line last Thursday, Verlander did make two starts between last week's Awards Watch and this one. He didn't allow a run in either one, totaling 13 scoreless frames in a pair of wins. Verlander has thrown 20 percent more innings than the man more likely to win this award, league wins- and ERA-leader David Price, with a better park-adjusted ERA+ and superior marks in every other category listed above as well.
2. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox (3)
Season Stats: 17-7, 2.82 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 (181 K), 3.93 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 1 CG, 154 ERA+
Sale leads the majors in ERA+ and has just one fewer win and six fewer innings pitched than Price while boasting a lower WHIP, the same number of strikeouts and a far superior strikeout-to-walk ratio. With Felix Hernandez going 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in his first three starts this month, including a disaster outing on Sept. 13, Sale moves up to the second spot this week, though there's some wiggle room between him and Verlander.
3. David Price, LHP, Rays (N/A)
Season Stats: 18-5, 2.54 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 (181 K), 3.23 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 148 ERA+
Price returned from having a start skipped due to shoulder inflammation and beat the Yankees on Sept. 14, allowing just two runs over seven innings and striking out six. One could argue that Price deserves to rank ahead of Sale based on the relative strength of the lineups they have faced over the course of the season but, again, I just can't find the argument that puts Price ahead of, or even close to Verlander.
Out of the Top 3: Felix Hernandez (2)
1. R.A. Dickey, RHP, Mets (1)
Season Stats: 18-6, 2.67 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 (205 K), 4.10 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 5 CG, 3 SHO, 141 ERA+
2. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (2)
Season Stats: 12-9, 2.70 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 (206 K), 3.89 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 142 ERA+
Dickey has received 4.8 runs of support per 27 outs this season. Clayton Kershaw has received 3.8. With that in mind, cover up the won-loss records of the two men above and look at the rest of the listed statistics. That's alarmingly close, isn't it?
Kershaw's last start was skipped because of a hip injury, diagnosed as an impingement, which might yet end his season. However, as of right now, both he and Dickey have made 30 starts, and Dickey has only thrown 5 1/3 more innings, one of them in relief, than Kershaw. So, whatever impact Kershaw's hip might have on this race, be it by ending his season now or reducing his effectiveness in however many starts he has left, it hasn't take effect yet.
I list Dickey first above because where the differences are greatest (complete games, strikeout-to-walk ratio), they favor Dickey. The chances are now very good that Dickey will wind up winning this award, in part because of Kershaw's injury, in part because of those extra wins, but it's worth noting that he was well on his way to deserving it on his own merits.
3. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds (3)
Season Stats: 17-9, 2.92 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 (157 K), 3.57 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 2 CG, 144 ERA+
Cueto still leads the league in ERA+, but he has gone 0-3 with an 8.22 ERA in three September starts, effectively eliminating the big lead he had in that category, and leaving his Cy Young case to his peripheral stats, which simply don't measure up to the other two men above him on this list. Still, there are other strong candidates, including Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez, Kyle Lohse and Matt Cain, who fail to measure up to Cueto despite his recent slump.
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (1)
Season Stats: .327/.395/.556, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 118 R, 46 SB
2. Yoenis Cespedes, LF, A's (2)
Season Stats: .293/.356/.491, 19 HR, 72 RBI, 16 SB
3. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers (N/A)
Season Stats: 15-9, 4.02 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 (205 K), 2.36 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS, 112 ERA+
Out of the Top 3: Scott Diamond (3)
This is how I expect the voting for this award to go. In fact, it has been for a while now, but Darvish didn't earn third place on my list until this past week. He was pretty lousy over a stretch of 13 starts from late May to early August, going 5-7 with a 5.82 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and 5.3 walks per nine innings, but he pitched well prior to that (6-1, 2.60 ERA), and in his last six starts has gone 4-1 with a 2.32 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and just 2.7 walks per nine innings. The result is that Darvish has been very good for roughly half of his rookie season (his first eight starts and last six, a total of 14 starts minus his rough first inning of the season) and very bad for the other half (those middle 13 starts). That pattern suggests the league adjusting to Darvish, and Darvish adjusting back, though mechanics, extra rest and simple luck (over those last six starts his opponents have hit .221 on balls in play, almost exactly 100 points lower than his BABIP over the previous 13-start stretch) have played parts as well.
The reality is that, in the aggregate, Darvish has been just a hair better than the middling group of rookie starters who now line up behind him on this list. Of course, by season's end he could well have 16 or more wins, an ERA below 4.00 and the second-best strikeout rate by a qualified starter in the majors (with Stephen Strasburgh having fallen just short of 162 innings pitched) to go along with those 200-plus strikeouts, making him an easy choice for one of the top three spots on most ballots. The only question is if his year-end stats will shine bright enough to move him ahead of Cespedes.
1. Wade Miley, LHP, Diamondbacks (1)
Season Stats: 15-10, 3.10 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.74 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS, 137 ERA+
This race remains, as it has been for most of the season, Miley plus list filler. It's not that there haven't been other strong rookie performances in the National League this year. It's just that none of them have come close to being as valuable as Miley's, which has put him on the periphery of the Cy Young conversation. The hardest part about making these lists this year has not been making close calls between two or more great seasons in the running for the MVP or Cy Young award, it has been deciding which middling NL rookie performances have been strong enough to warrant inclusion behind Miley.
2. Mike Fiers, RHP, Brewers (2)
Season Stats: 9-8, 3.23 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 3.59 K/BB, 6.0 IP/GS, 127 ERA+
Fiers has emerged as my NL Rookie of the Year runner-up recently because his performance has been further above average than the other challengers, but he also suits my purposes well by illustrating how well Miley has pitched. Outside of their strikeout rates, Miley has Fiers beat in every category despite throwing more than 50 percent more innings (62 2/3 IP to be exact). If Fiers is the best of the rest and Miley has Fiers beat by such a large degree, it sheds light on just how much of slam-dunk choice Miley is for this award.
3. Todd Frazier, UT, Reds (3)
Season Stats: .284/.345/.517, 18 HR, 62 RBI
With Joey Votto and Scott Rolen both healthy, Frazier has started just two of the Reds' last seven games. Not helping matters is the fact that he has hit just .209/.292/.256 in September and hasn't homered since August 21. I suspect that Bryce Harper, whose next home run will be his 20th, will ultimately slip back into the top three, but he's not quite there just yet.