A couple weeks ago, I would’ve given the AL Cy Young to Cliff Lee, no question. He’d been by far the most dominant pitcher in the league, even putting up historic rates in K/BB (mostly because his control borders on legendary). Lee has given up 15 walks total this season, and hadn’t allowed 3 in a game until his most recent start on September 12 against the Yankees. He’s been shaky lately, however, and has been skipped in a few starts because of a lingering back injury. That’s opened the door for other pitchers to make their Cy Young cases, and I believe that in a race this close, it may be enough to keep Lee from his second Cy Young Award. Lee’s currently produced 6.3 WAR and a 2.63 FIP in 192.1 innings.
Two pitchers in particular have taken advantage of Lee’s injury and ineffectiveness of late. Francisco Liriano has been dominant for the Twins all year, and can certainly make a claim to the title. Liriano’s 6.3 WAR puts him neck and neck with Lee, and his 2.36 FIP has been the best in the AL among starters by a pretty wide margin (Lee is second). The problem with Liriano’s Cy Young candidacy is simply that he hasn’t thrown enough. At 178.1 innings, he’s thrown the least total frames of any pitcher making a serious case for the award. Though it’s impressive that he’s been so productive in limited innings, Cy Young voters may want to see a true workhorse who’s led his time by pitching effectively as well as eating up a ton of innings.
That brings me to the third possible candidate. Felix Hernandez has thrown 233.2 innings, most of any pitcher in the league. At 6.1 WAR, he’s in a virtual deadlock with both Lee and Liriano. Hernandez’s 2.35 ERA leads the AL, which may also help him with voters, although his 3.01 FIP is third in the league to Lee and Liriano. King Felix’s main problem is his teammates; he’s simply on the worst team in the AL. As such, he’ll bring a 12-11 record into his start against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. Liriano’s 14-7 and Lee’s 11-8 marks are both significantly better, and CC Sabathia and David Price have 19 and 17 wins respectively, largely due to the fact that they play for two of the top teams in the league.
So the question is this; will voters be able to look past Hernandez’s record and see a fantastic pitcher leading the league in K’s and ERA (traditionally two of the most important statistics for Cy Young winners), as well as in innings thrown? Will Liriano and his limited but fantastic innings prevail? Will Lee’s seasonlong dominance outshine his recent mediocrity? We’ll find out soon enough.