At one point during the FOX broadcast of the Twins/White Sox game on Saturday, a graphic came up displaying the candidates for the American League Cy Young Award. The players listed on FOX's graphic were Chien-Ming Wang, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. I found this list rather curious, as it contained two players that, in my opinion, don't belong anywhere near the top five (Wang and Verlander) while excluding two players whom I would rank in the top four (Kelvim Escobar and Johan Santana). Neither Wang nor Verlander ranks in the top ten in the AL in ERA, but both play in big markets and get lots of run support, two factors which I suspect have fueled their hype. This list isn't the only one that has had me scratching my head.
Kevin Hench contributed an article to FoxSports.com this weekend outlining his top ten Cy Young contenders in the AL, and he somehow managed to leave Santana completely off the list. Much like in 2005, Santana seems to be getting widely ignored despite having the credentials to be a top contender.
As usual, baseball writers everywhere seem to be putting way too much stock into that W statistic while ignoring many others that are much more indicative of a pitcher's success.
With about three weeks left in the season, here's my list of the top five Cy Young contenders in the AL as I currently see them.
5. Dan Haren: 196 IP, 14-7, 3.03 ERA, 168 K / 50 BB, .240 BAA, 1.18 WHIP
Haren got off to a great start and was the American League's starting pitcher in the All-Star game, but he has seen some expected regression in his numbers. After going 10-3 with a 2.30 ERA and .205 BAA before the All-Star break, Haren is 4-4 with a 4.46 ERA and .298 BAA since. He should be judged on his season as a whole, and the overall numbers are still good (especially the ERA, which still leads the league by a hair), but his peripherals are underwhelming and I suspect he'll continue to decline a bit here in the final weeks of the season.
4. Kelvim Escobar: 180.1 IP, 16-7, 3.04 ERA, 150 K / 60 BB, .242 BAA, 1.23 WHIP
Escobar has had a very surprising season, putting himself right in the mix as a Cy candidate despite holding a career ERA above 4. Escobar was terrific between the months of July and August, going 6-3 with a 2.01 ERA during that span. His peripheral numbers aren't great, and he has struggled with his control at times, but Escobar has come up big for the Halos this year and he definitely deserves to be in this conversation.
3. Josh Beckett: 181.2 IP, 18-6, 3.27 ERA, 173 K / 36 BB, .245 BAA, 1.14 WHIP
My guess is that Beckett will end up winning the award, because he plays in Boston and leads the league in that pesky Wins statistic. And I don't mean to disparage Beckett by ranking him third, because he is having a career year and he has been crucial to Boston's success. Yet, Beckett's numbers don't sufficiently wow me enough to consider him top Cy material. He ranks seventh in ERA and in strikeouts, fourth in WHIP, eighth in opponents' batting average, and sixth in opponents' OPS. He has also had some durability issues, and ranks just 18th in the AL in innings pitched.
2. Johan Santana: 201 IP, 15-11, 3.09 ERA, 213 K / 46 BB, .224 BAA, 1.06 WHIP
I just can't figure how anyone can possibly not consider Santana to be at least among the top three contenders in this race. It's true that he's having a down year by his standards, but his numbers are still excellent in relation to his peers. Santana ranks third in ERA, second in strikeouts (he'll likely be first soon, since Erik Bedard is now done for the season), second in BAA, and fifth in opponents' OPS. He's not even all that far off the lead in Wins, as he trails the leader Beckett by just three. A lot of people hold it against Santana that he has given up a league-leading 30 home runs, but who cares how he's giving up runs as long as he's not giving up very many? I think it's a testament to his skill that he can give up so many homers and still give up so few runs overall.
1. C.C. Sabathia: 220 IP, 17-7, 3.15 ERA, 185 K / 33 BB, .260 BAA, 1.14 WHIP
This is an instance where I am going to look past the numbers to some extent. Sabathia isn't going to blow anyone away with his ERA, strikeout rate or batting average against, but he has been an absolute workhorse for the Indians this year. He leads the league in innings pitched by a fairly wide margin, and is averaging over seven innings per start. He leads the league in hits allowed, but that tends to happen when you rack up so many innings. He has offset the high number of hits by allowing just 33 walks for an infinitesimal BB/9 rate of 1.35. It pains me to pick Sabathia, because I really don't like him, but he's been the class of the AL this year in my opinion.