Roy Halladay was the runaway winner for the National League Cy Young Award. Many seem to feel that Seattle’s Felix Hernandez is the likely choice in the American League, but almost everyone has had to get past one glaring statistic, or at least reason with it.
Hernandez had 13 wins in 2010. No starting pitcher in a non-strike year has won fewer than 15 games and claimed the Cy Young Award. Then again, perhaps no contender in the history of the award has pitched so well on such a bad team.
That fact, as well as the seeming waning interest in emphasizing wins totals when handing out the trophy (Tim Lincecum was the winner with 15 victories last year, while Zack Greinke got the AL award with 16 triumphs), will grant Hernandez the award. Here is a breakdown of King Felix and those who have a chance to steal his crown.
1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
He led the league in starts, innings and ERA — a pretty good trio of categories to dominate if you want to claim yourself as the best starter in the league. The 24-year-old also topped the circuit for the second straight year in fewest hits per nine innings (6.993), was second in strikeouts and third in complete games. Critics of handing the award to a 13-game winner on a team that was out of it by mid-May cite the fact that his games never meant a thing. But they often did to the teams Hernandez mowed down; he was 11-7 with a 2.26 ERA against winning teams, 2-5 with a 2.29 mark against those with losing records and had a 1.53 ERA in the second half, when many opponents were making their playoff push.
The New York Yankees, statistically the best offense in baseball, scored one run in 26 innings vs. Hernandez. He was the best pitcher from start to finish, and that’s the kind of guy who should take home the hardware.
2. CC Sabathia, Yankees
OK, so we are shunning wins in order to recognize great seasons for Hernandez, Greinke and Lincecum, and rightfully so, but it doesn’t mean we have to completely throw them out. Sabathia led the league with 21 victories, two more than anyone else, and was second in innings pitched. He was given run support unlike anything Hernandez could’ve dreamed about and didn’t lead in any other major, or even minor, categories, but he had a stretch of dominance that cut right through the dog days of summer that must be noted by voters.
From mid-June until mid-September, Sabathia had an 18-game stretch in which he went 13-3 with a 2.39 ERA. He dominated when his team needed him to and for that ranks highly on this list.
3. David Price, Rays
Three months into the season, Price was the favorite. It’s not as if he did anything poorly down the stretch but he regressed just enough to be surpassed by Hernandez in the eyes of many and Sabathia in the eyes of others. The All-Star starter was tied for second in wins, was third in ERA and led each name on this list in winning percentage by going an impressive 19-6. But when Sabathia was rolling, Price was very up-and-down. He was extremely good, but not quite good enough.
4. Cliff Lee, Mariners/Rangers
One could make a case for Lee to win this thing, if they are in the Hernandez boat and could give two hoots about win-loss record. The crafty southpaw bested all AL hurlers in WHIP, walks per nine innings, strikeout-to-walk ratio and was tied for the lead in complete games with seven, more than any other candidate on this list. But in the end, a 12-9 mark and a 3.18 ERA just don’t quite hold up against these heavyweights.
5. Jon Lester, Red Sox
The Sox’ lefty actually had a say in this race if not for two horrid starts down the stretch. If you take out a home game against Toronto on Aug. 20 and a visit to Chicago on Sept. 30 in what was Lester’s last start of the year, he was 8-0 with a 1.30 ERA down the stretch. Add in those two clunkers and Lester was 8-2 with a 3.69 ERA — he gave up 17 runs in just six innings between the rough nights, the latter of which prevented him from joining Sabathia as the only 20-game winner in the AL. Still, Lester tied Price for second in wins, was third in strikeouts and led the AL in K’s per nine innings. He should reserve space on the mantel for another year.
Honorable mention: Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
Like Lester, a viable candidate until a start in Oakland on Sept. 10, in which he lasted just one inning while allowing five runs. Second to Hernandez in ERA.