This week, I’ll be profiling the Cy Young races in both leagues. For last week’s MVP race update, click here. Next week I’ll be taking a look at the Rookie of the Year contenders. All stats are as of May 9th.
Proving last year’s near-unanimous Cy Young award wasn’t a fluke, Max Scherzer sits atop an American League race that features a host of unlikely candidates.
In the NL, the fragile Johnny Cueto is dominating coming off an injury-plagued 2013.
1. Max Scherzer, DET: 4-1, 1.72 ERA, 60 K, 47 IP, 0.96 WHIP, 11.5 K/9
Scherzer has been hands down the AL’s best pitcher thus far. He has only had one start in which he’s given up more than 2 runs, a 5-inning, 4-run game against the Padres on April 13th, but even then he K’d 10. While he likely won’t maintain a sub-2.00 ERA for the rest of the season, his underlying stats are eerily similar to his 2013 campaign. His 0.96 WHIP, 6.3 H/9, 0.8 HR/9 and 2.3 BB/9 are almost identical to the 0.97, 6.4, 0.8 and 2.4 rates he posted last season, meaning there is little reason not to expect him to remain on this list all season long. It is also worth mentioning that he is the only pitcher on this list who drew any Cy Young votes in 2013.
2. Sonny Gray, OAK: 4-1, 1.91 ERA, 40K, 47 IP, 1.17 WHIP
After an impressive debut last season, Sonny Gray is leading an A’s staff that has been surprisingly effective despite losing Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin before the season began. Along with Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez, both of whom narrowly missed inclusion on this list, he has kept the A’s in first place in the West. Oddly enough, he has been far more effective on the road than at the pitcher-haven O.co Coliseum, posting a 1.23 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 22 innings away from Oakland.
3. Masahiro Tanaka, NYY: 4-0, 2.53 ERA, 51 K, 42.2 IP, 0.96 WHIP
In his first stateside season, Tanaka is proving he is just as good as advertised. He’s walked just six men in his 6 starts, en route to an eye-popping 8.50 K/BB ratio. His worst start this season has still been very good, seeing him go seven 3-run innings against Tampa Bay last Saturday. Tanaka has, however, given up an alarming 7 home runs thus far. That number isn’t as devastating if he continues to keep runners off base, but if his walk and hit rates start to rise, his ERA could see a major spike.
4. Jon Lester, BOS: 3-4, 2.59 ERA, 58K, 49 IP, 1.09 WHIP
After 2 seasons of inconsistency, Jon Lester appears to have returned to his 2008-2011 self. Outside of a 4.2-inning, 8 run (3 earned) blow-up against the Yankees on April 22nd, Lester has been stellar in all his starts. His last outing was an absolute gem, posting eight one-hit innings with 15 Ks against an A’s offense that ranks fourth in the league in runs scored. The only thing keeping him below Tanaka is that he’s given up 7 unearned runs.
5. Yordano Ventura, KC: 2-1, 2.00 ERA, 41K, 36 IP, 1.03 WHIP
Upon winning a spot in the Royals’ rotation out of spring training, many scouts predicted growing pains for the 22-year-old rookie. No one doubted his stuff, many questioned his control and consistency. The same things were said about Jose Fernandez last season. While Ace Ventura, a nickname he has thoroughly deserved, likely won’t be as dominant as the Marlins phenom was last season, he was been spectacular thus far. He is giving up just 6.5 hits per nine and has a 3.73 K/BB ratio; the only thing keeping him this low in the rankings is his low innings count, the result of having made six starts to Scherzer, Gray and Lester’s seven and the Royals protecting his young arm.
1. Johnny Cueto, CIN: 3-2, 1.31 ERA, 60 K, 55 IP, 0.73 WHIP, 4.1 H/9
Like MVP frontrunner Troy Tulowitzki, the issue with Cueto maintaining form is one of health, not ability. From 2011-2013 Cueto posted a 2.61 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, good for a 154 ERA+. However, he made just 68 starts in those 3 seasons, including just 11 last year. For now he appears perfectly healthy and has been utterly dominant in every start this season, having given up no more than two runs in any of his seven starts. His 3-hit, 12-K , no-walk shutout against the Pirates on April 16th stands among the best pitched games all season. If he can stay on the mound and keep his strikeout rate elevated, it is currently 2.6 K/9 above his career average, he has the stuff to run away with this award.
2. Adam Wainwright, STL: 6-2, 2.02 ERA, 52 K, 58 IP, 0.93 WHIP
Having an excellent season of his own, Wainwright seems perpetually doomed to second place for this award. He lost out to unanimous winner Roy Halladay 2009, finishing just behind Doc in nearly every major pitching category. He almost lost another unanimous race last season, when Clayton Kershaw took 29-of-30 first place votes. He was tagged for six runs last Friday, by the Cubs of all teams, otherwise he might very well be ahead of Cueto. Unlike Cueto, Wainwright’s durability is unquestioned, as he lead the league in innings pitched and complete games last year, his second coming off 2011 Tommy John surgery.
3. Jose Fernandez, MIA: 4-1, 1.74 ERA, 65 K, 46.2 IP, 0.90 WHIP, 12.5 K/9
Coming off an insane rookie season, the 21-year-old Cuban phenom is at it again. Like Wainwright, Fernandez is hurt by a lone six-run start; outside of his April 11 turn against the Phillies, he has given up just three earned runs. His 65 strikeouts and 12.5 K/9 lead the majors and his 5.8 H/9 matches his ridiculous 2013 rate. At such a tender age, the Marlins would do well to monitor his innings and pitch counts, as he appears to have a very bright future ahead of him.
4. Julio Teheran, ATL: 2-2, 1.80 ERA, 33 K, 50 IP, 0.88 WHIP
A former top prospect, the 23-year-old Teheran lived up to the hype last season, going 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA in 185.2 innings. Despite a significant drop in strikeouts, his 5.9 K/9 is well below his 8.2 mark last season, he has been excellent so far, pitching at least 6 innings and giving up no more than three earned runs in any of his seven starts. With electric stuff and 20 Ks over 21 innings in his last three starts, there is little reason Teheran won’t challenge for this award all season.
5. Tim Hudson, SF: 4-2, 1.99 ERA, 36 K, 54.1 IP, 0.74 WHIP, 0.5 BB/9, 12.0 K/BB
In 54.1 innings, the 38-year-old Hudson has walked just three batters. For that reason, his K/BB ratio is a whopping 10 strikeouts above his career rate, despite his 6.0 K/9 being almost exactly in line with his previous 15 seasons. His absurd 0.74 WHIP is second in the majors to the aforementioned Cueto. However, unlike the others on this list, he hasn’t been entirely dominant in any of his starts. Much like the rest of his career, he has been very good but rarely great this season. He should remain a fine pitcher for the Giants, but unless he can sustain such a ridiculous walk rate, his chances of remaining a Cy Young contender appear slim.
For more on sports injuries, check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert.
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