Less than two weeks ago, I listed my top AL Cy Young candidates as follows:
1. Cliff Lee
2. Francisco Liriano
3. Feliz Hernandez
4. Jered Weaver
5. Jon Lester
Lee is now 2-4 with a 4.18 ERA with a Rangers team that can’t seem to buy a win with anyone on the mound.
Liriano gave up 5 runs in 5 innings his last time out, and is now 15th in the AL with a 3.45 ERA.
Hernandez has been fantastic of late, but still hasn’t run his record to .500 (he’s 9-10).
Weaver still leads the league in strikeouts, but his 11-9, 3.21 newspaper numbers aren’t going to impress a lot of Cy Young voters.
Lester gave up 9 runs in 2 innings his last time out and has not been the same pitcher since the All-Star break.
4 of those 5 guys are still in the top 5 in pitcher WAR, and my ballot probably wouldn’t change significantly today. However, I don’t have a vote, and those who do probably won’t be won over by the numbers above or by Zack Grienke’s 5.2 WAR in an 8-11 season. The real candidates, besides Lee, are probably David Price (15-5, 2.97, 3.5 WAR) and the surging Clay Buchholz, who hasn’t given up a run in over 23 innings and lowered his league-leading ERA last night to 2.26, a quarter of a run better than anyone else.
Buchholz’s shiny newspaper stats belie his value per WAR, which has him 17th in the league at 3.0, exactly half of Lee’s value. Why, exactly? Two reasons, as far as I can tell:
1) Buchholz, like the rest of the Red Sox, spent some time on the DL this year, and has pitched just 139 1/3 innings, almost 60 fewer than Hernandez, the league leader. It’s hard to be as valuable as a guy who’s thrown the equivalent of 6 1/2 complete games more than you have.
2) Buchholz gets a lot of help from his defense. His 96 strikeouts rank 34th in the league and his 53 walks are 20th. The league is batting only .265 on balls in play, which means either Buchholz has developed one of the most effective ground ball pitches in the history of the game, or he’s been more than a little lucky. WAR is in on the trick, attributing much of Buchholz’s success to Adrian Beltre and the other glovemen who work behind him. Lee, in contrast, has 151 strikeouts and 11 walks, putting together his 3.09 ERA despite a league-average .301 BABiP.
Who should win the AL Cy Young award this year? Lee, without a doubt. Who will win? September will have a lot to say about that, and CC Sabathia may force his name into the conversation, but as of today, Clay Buchholz just might be the favorite.