Baseball Post: Who Should Win the 2011 AL Cy Young?

As the baseball season winds down and the Boston Red Sox appear determined to avoid the playoffs, there has been some chatter on ESPN and other sports media about who was the best pitcher, the most impressive rookie, and who was the overall most valuable player to their team. Pitching is what fascinates me the most about baseball, and thus the Cy Young award discussion is my favorite. Since virtually any and every occurrence on the baseball field is recorded, allow me to first explain the criteria I have selected.

Traditionally, three metrics are used to describe pitcher performance. Wins (W) are awarded to a pitcher when their team has the lead when the pitcher was at work, and that lead was never relinquished. Earned Run Average (ERA) roughly describes how many runs a pitcher gives up per three outs. Strikeouts (K) are when a pitcher manages to throw three strikes in an at-bat, preventing the runner from reaching base whatsoever.

While the latter two metrics are somewhat useful, the first, Wins (or Win-Loss record) really doesn’t provide any insight to how well the pitcher did his job. What it records is how well the pitcher’s offense fared against the opposing team’s pitcher while the pitcher being evaluated is sitting in the dugout with a coat wrapped around his arm.

To determine the best pitchers in the American League this year, I base my decision on these metrics using data gathered through September 10th: Innings Pitched (IP), Earned Run Average (ERA), Strikeouts (K), Walks (BB), Average number of strikeouts and walks per nine innings (K/9 and BB/9, respectively), Batting Average Against (AVG), and the average number of batters a pitcher has on base per inning, the Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP).

The best pitchers have:

-pitched many innings

-a low earned run average

-a high strikeout total and a high strikeout average per nine innings

-a low number of walks and a low walk average per nine innings

-a low batting average against, and

-rarely have men on base.

In addition to this criteria, I will further thin the crowd of pitchers by mandating that as of this writing they have pitched 150 innings, or roughly started 25 games and lasted 6 innings. I have also subtracted any intentional walks from the overall walk total, as pitchers generally have little say in the matter.

Now, let’s meet the (arguably) twelve best pitchers in the American League, listed alphabetically by surname. I am culling my stats from Major League Baseball’s official site. Pitchers will be scored 1-12 points per criterion depending on how they rank in the group; in other words, being first in strikeouts (K) is worth twelve points, whereas coming in ninth is worth four points. The highest possible score is 96. The pitcher with the highest cumulative score is the one I feel should win the AL Cy Young. Once again, all data is as of September 8, 2011.

Candidates:

Josh Beckett

Innings Pitched: 173.2 (10th): 3 points
ERA: 2.49 (3rd): 10 points
K: 155 (10th): 3 points
BB: 46 (2nd): 11 points
K/9: 8.03 (7th): 6 points
BB/9: 2.38 (7th): 6 points
AVG: .203 (2nd): 11 points
WHIP: 0.98 (2nd): 11 points

Total Score: 61 points, finishing fifth.

Dan Haren

Innings Pitched: 217.1 (T-4th): 9 points
ERA: 3.06 (9th): 4 points
K: 176 (8th): 5 points
BB: 27 (1st): 12 points
K/9: 7.29 (10th): 3 points
BB/9: 1.16 (1st): 12 points
AVG: .234 (10th): 3 points
WHIP: 1.01 (T-3rd): 10 points

Total Score: 58 points, finishing sixth.

Next!

Jeremy Hellickson

Innings Pitched: 170.1 (12th): 1 point
ERA: 2.96 (7th): 6 points
K: 109 (12th): 1 point
BB: 55 (T-8th): 5 points
K/9: 5.76 (12th): 1 point
BB/9: 3.12 (11th): 2 points
AVG: .214 (4th): 9 points
WHIP: 1.14 (7th): 6 points

Total Score: 31 points, finishing ahead of only Justin Masterson from our group.

What about the reigning AL Cy Young, King Felix?

Felix Hernandez

Innings Pitched: 217.1 (T-4th): 9 points
ERA: 3.15 (11th): 2 points
K: 211 (3rd): 10 points
BB: 65 (11th): 2 points
K/9: 8.74 (T-3rd): 10 points
BB/9: 2.69 (9th): 4 points
AVG: .233 (T-8th): 5 points
WHIP: 1.16 (8th): 5 points

Total Score: 47 points, finishing eigth.

As I am writing from Massachusetts, I am obligated to evaluate…

Jon Lester

Innings Pitched: 172 (11th): 2 points
ERA: 2.93 (T-5th): 8 points
K: 167 (9th): 4 points
BB: 63 (10th): 3 points
K/9: 8.74 (T-3rd): 10 points
BB/9: 3.3 (12th): 1 point
AVG: .223 (6th): 7 points
WHIP: 1.19 (T-9th): 4 points

Total Score: 39 points, finishing ninth.

A former Red Sock is doing well this year for the surprise Cleveland Indians.

Justin Masterson

Innings Pitched: 200.1 (9th): 4 points
ERA: 3.01 (8th): 5 points
K: 149 (11th): 2 points
BB: 55 (T-8th): 5 points
K/9: 6.69 (11th): 2 points
BB/9: 2.47 (8th): 5 points
AVG: .253 (12th): 1 point
WHIP: 1.23 (12th): 1 point

Total Score: 25 points, finishing last of our group but still a very valuable pitcher that Boston was absolutely foolish to trade away for a Victor Martinez rental.

Let’s swing south to Tampa Bay again.

David Price

Innings Pitched: 203.2 (7th): 6 points
ERA: 3.4 (12th): 1 point
K: 200 (5th): 8 points
BB: 49 (3rd): 10 points
K/9: 8.84 (2nd): 11 points
BB/9: 2.3 (6th): 7 points
AVG: .231 (7th): 6 points
WHIP: 1.11 (6th): 7 points

Total Score: 56 points, finishing seventh.

On to prove Yankee fans wrong if they think Sabathia is deserving.

C.C. Sabathia

Innings Pitched: 224.1 (2nd): 11 points
ERA: 2.93 (T-5th): 8 points
K: 216 (2nd): 11 points
BB: 51 (T-4th): 9 points
K/9: 8.67 (5th): 8 points
BB/9: 2.21 (3rd): 10 points
AVG: .251 (11th): 2 points
WHIP: 1.19 (T-9th): 4 points

Total Score: 63 points, tied for third.

One more swing through Tampa Bay for Big Game James!

James Shields

Innings Pitched: 218 (3rd): 10 points
ERA: 2.77 (4th): 9 points
K: 205 (4th): 9 points
BB: 53 (T-6th): 5 points
K/9: 8.46 (6th): 5 points
BB/9: 2.23 (T-4th): 9 points
AVG: .216 (5th): 8 points
WHIP: 1.02 (5th): 8 points

Total Score: 63 points, tied for third. On to the favorite- but just how dominant has Verlander been this year?

Justin Verlander

Innings Pitched: 229 (1st): 12 points
ERA: 2.44 (T-1st): 12 points
K: 232 (1st): 12 points
BB: 51 (T-4th): 9 points
K/9: 9.12 (1st): 12 points
BB/9: 2 (2nd): 11 points
AVG: .191 (1st): 12 points
WHIP: 0.91 (1st): 12 points

Total Score: 92 points… did you really think anyone else stood a chance?

There’s a fellow on the Angels whose ERA matches Verlander, but what of the rest?

Jered Weaver

Innings Pitched: 214.1 (6th): 7 points
ERA: 2.44 (T-1st): 12 points
K: 187 (6th): 7 points
BB: 53 (T-6th): 5 points
K/9: 7.85 (9th): 4 points
BB/9: 2.23 (T-4th): 9 points
AVG: .211 (3rd): 10 points
WHIP: 1.01 (T-3rd): 10 points

Total Score: 64 points, the distant runner-up. Lastly, there is the fellow in Texas that blossomed recently. How good is C.J. Wilson?

C.J. Wilson

Innings Pitched: 201 (8th): 5 points
ERA: 3.13 (10th): 3 points
K: 179 (7th): 6 points
BB: 66 (12th): 1 point
K/9: 8.01 (8th): 5 points
BB/9: 2.96 (10th): 3 points
AVG: .233 (T-8th): 5 points
WHIP: 1.19 (T-9th): 4 points

Total Score: 32 points, finishing tenth.

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