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The Real Deal on the AL Cy Young Race


By Andy Roth
Contributing Editor


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    New York, NY (Sports Network) - With 28 days left in the regular season, the American League Cy Young award is still up for grabs. It seems the New York Yankees' CC Sabathia is considered the leading candidate, although I think there's another pitcher who has been head and shoulders above the entire field.

    There has been a lot of debate on how closely a pitcher's win total should be considered in the Cy Young voting, with contender Felix Hernandez having only 11 victories at this point. I think the story behind Hernandez having so few wins, despite his tremendous numbers otherwise, is really the untold story so far.

    Hernandez is pitching for one of the worst offensive teams in the history of the game, and that has had a major impact on his win total. Once you examine the numbers, it doesn't take much to see that "King Felix" has clearly been the best pitcher in the AL. To me, it's a no-brainer.

    The Mariners are on pace to score the fewest runs in a season since the inception of the designated hitter in 1973. Seattle is averaging 3.2 runs per game, and actually has produced almost those very same numbers (3.1) in Hernandez's starts.

    What this basically means is that if you're in the Seattle rotation, you can't allow more than two runs in a typical start if you hope to get a win. As a matter of fact, the Mariners haven't scored more than three runs in their last eleven games. In further researching how tough it is to compile victories with this atrocious offense, it turns out that in games where the opposition scored at least four runs, the Mariners are an unheard of 6-64.

    When you look at all the facts, how can you logically penalize Hernandez for his win total, when this pathetic excuse for a major league lineup (team averages: .236 BA, .300 OPB, .340 SLG) is the direct reason for it? Yankees fans are so concerned about Derek Jeter's poor season (.264 BA, .331 OBP, .373 SLG), but his numbers are better than seven players in the Mariners lineup, and his 60 RBI would make him Seattle's team leader.

    My top three candidates for the AL Cy Young in order are Hernandez, Sabathia, and David Price. With the exception of wins, Hernandez leads these two competitors in every other major pitching category. Here's how they stack up:

  • Wins: Sabathia 19, Price 16, Hernandez 11
  • ERA: Hernandez 2.30, Price 2.92, Sabathia 3.02
  • WHIP: Hernandez 1.09, Sabathia 1.20, Price 1.24
  • Batting Average Against: Hernandez .219, Price .230, Sabathia .239
  • On-base percentage: Hernandez .279, Sabathia .303, Price .306
  • Slugging percentage: Hernandez .318, Price .355, Sabathia .359
  • Innings pitched: Hernandez 219.1, Sabathia 202.2, Price 172.2
  • Complete Games: Hernandez 5, Sabathia 2, Price 2
  • Striketouts: Hernandez 209, Sabathia 165, Price 161
  • Strikeouts per 9 innings: Hernandez 8.58, Price 8.39, Sabathia 7.33
  • Strikeouts to Walks: Hernandez 3.48, Sabathia 2.44. Price 2.40
  • Walks: Hernandez 60, Sabathia 65, Price 67
  • Walks per 9 innings: Hernandez 2.5, Sabathia 2.9, Price 3.5
  • Hits per 9 innings: Hernandez 7.3, Price 7.7, Sabathia 7.9

    To further highlight how run support has played such a major role in this race, let's take a look at some eye-opening numbers on that subject.

  • Sabathia: 29 starts. Run support: 176. Average runs per start: 6.06
  • Price: 26 starts. Run support: 129. Average runs per start: 4.96
  • Hernandez: 30 starts. Run support: 95. Average runs per start: 3.16

    Starts in which their team scored at least 5 runs: Sabathia 18, Price 15, Hernandez 7

    Starts in which their team scored three runs or fewer: Hernandez 15, Price 8, Sabathia 4

    Record in starts allowing a maximum of 3 earned runs: Sabathia 17-3 (3 no- decisions), Price 16-4 (3 no-decisions), Hernandez 11-7 (8 no-decisions).

    Aside from win total, there is also the argument that Hernandez is under a lot less pressure pitching for a last-place team in Seattle than either Sabathia or Price, who are playing under the microscope for contenders. But based on what King Felix has done against the Yankees this season, I have a lot of trouble giving credence to that argument. He went into Yankee Stadium twice and completely dominated the defending world champs. In his first start, he threw a complete-game 2-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts. He followed up that performance with eight scoreless innings and another 11 strikeouts. And in his start against the Yankees in Seattle in front of a rare, near-sellout crowd, he pitched a complete game (126 pitches), allowing one run along with nine strikeouts.

    As far as pitching under pressure, Hernandez, unlike his two competitors, goes to the mound every game knowing there is no margin for error. He's had to be near-flawless to get his 11 wins. His ERA in those games is a phenomenal 0.82. He's had nine no-decisions this season despite allowing a total of 14 runs in those games and pitching to a 1.91 ERA. Hernandez has pitched three games this season in which he's had a three-run lead after five innings, while Sabathia has been in fourteen such games. And Hernandez has been involved in eleven games where he had a three-run cushion at one point, while Sabathia has had that lead in twenty games. CC has the luxury of being in a lot more games in which every pitch doesn't count and one mistake can be very costly.

    And why is anybody assuming Hernandez would crack under the pressure of playing in a big market for a contender? This hasn't affected the likes of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester. So what evidence is there that Hernandez wouldn't thrive also?

    Another argument in the Sabathia-Hernandez debate is that the Yankees play in the much tougher AL East, where wins are harder to come by. But the people that make that argument fail to look at the overall competition each pitcher has faced. They also leave out the fact that the weakest team in the AL West by far is the Mariners. And as far as I know they don't get to play themselves. In that same breath, CC never has to face the team with the best lineup in baseball, because he plays for them.

    Within his own division this season, Sabathia has three starts against the Rays, four with the Red Sox, four versus the Orioles (pre-Buck Showalter) and none against the Blue Jays. The only other playoff contenders he's faced are the Rangers, Phillies, and White Sox, having started one game against each of them.

    While Sabathia has had ten starts against top-level teams, Hernandez has significantly more with fifteen. King Felix has faced the Yankees (3 games), Rangers (4 games), Twins (2 games), White Sox (2 games), Padres (2 games), Red Sox (1 game), and Reds (1 game).

    Sabathia is 5-1 with four no-decisions and a 3.52 ERA in those ten games. In his five wins the Yankees averaged eight runs per game and scored at least five runs in each of those starts. Hernandez is 7-5 with three no-decisions and a 2.41 ERA in his starts against playoff contenders. King Felix had two defeats and one no-decision where he gave up two earned runs in seven innings. And he had another no-decision in which he pitched eight scoreless innings.

    And while we're mentioning how many tough opponents each pitcher has faced, shouldn't we mention the cupcakes too? Sabathia has eleven starts against the AL's four worst teams, while Hernandez only has six. Sabathia is 4-0 against the Orioles, 3-0 versus the Mariners, 2-0 against the Royals and 0-1 versus the Indians. Thus, nearly half of his 19 wins have come against some of the worst teams in baseball.

    Hernandez has two starts each against the Orioles, Indians, and Royals. His combined ERA for those six games is 1.00, but he managed to go only 2-2. You have to wonder how you can pitch that well against such weak competition and come away with those results. Would you believe that darn run support issue was the problem in the two losses? The Mariners scored one run in each of those two games. In the two wins Hernandez notched, the M's exploded for four runs in one game and three in another. And in the two no-decisions, the bullpen decided to sabotage two excellent performances by Hernandez. He gave up one run in seven innings to the Orioles and left with a 5-1 lead, only to see Brandon League come in and give up five runs in the eighth. In the other no-decision, he pitched seven innings again, giving up two runs, and left with a 4-2 lead. But League blew another potential win for Hernandez by giving up two runs.

    The bottom line here is that Felix Hernandez's season is a microcosm of the Mariners season. Seattle is third in the AL with a team ERA of 3.83 but is in last place in the West with a dreadful 54-84 record. The Yankees, meanwhile, are fifth in team ERA at 3.88, but sit atop the AL East with the major's best record at 86-52. It can't be any more obvious that runs do matter when it comes to winning games, especially when the case is this extreme, and Hernandez should not pay a price for it in the Cy Young vote. I think he's clearly been the best pitcher in the league and the numbers don't lie when he beats his closest competitor in every major statistical category besides wins.

    Sabathia has had a terrific season, and, to me, is the Yankees MVP. But when you clearly examine the whole story in the Cy Young race, it's clear that "King Felix" should be crowned the winner.

    Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.


    Copyright 2010


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