With the Major League Baseball regular season nearing the start of it’s final month, four pitchers in the American League have emerged as top contenders for the Cy Young Award: Dallas Keuchel, Sonny Gray, Chris Sale, and Felix Hernandez.
All four of the names listed pitch in “pitcher friendly” home ballparks according to ESPN’s Park Factors. There will also be five pitchers included on the ballot but because these are the top four (starting pitcher) candidates, and there is no clear fifth pitcher, we’ll compare four.
Relief pitchers can win the Cy Young too. It’s a rare feat, but it has happened. The top relief pitchers, in no particular order, are Wade Davis (Kansas City Royals), Luke Gregerson (Houston Astros), and Zach Britton (Baltimore Orioles). Unfortunately for these guys, they likely won’t get any recognition for their outstanding years even though all three have been instrumental in their teams’ success.
On to the point of the story.
Dallas Keuchel has helped to lead the first place Houston Astros to a five game advantage over the Texas Rangers. The 27 year old southpaw is proving that his stellar season in 2014 was no aberration. His ERA (2.28), IP (185.2), and WHIP (1.00) rank second in the American League His opponents batting average (.212) is good for third, he has struck out the sixth most batters (165), and his 15 wins tie him with King Felix Hernandez for the AL lead. In his third full season in Houston he has a chance to lead his team on a postseason run for the first time since 2005. ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor has Keuchel out in front of Sonny Gray by over 29 points.
Sonny Gray has put together a fantastic season on a last place Oakland Athletics team. The 25 year old Vanderbilt grad is in the midst of his second full season with the A’s and is already only two wins away from tying his career high of 14 set in 2014. He leads the American League in ERA (2.13), WHIP (0.98), and opponents batting average (.201). He is fourth in IP (181.2), eighth in wins (12), and tenth in SO (150). Well he likely won’t receive the award this season, he is certainly deserving of recognition from his performance thus far.
Chris Sale has put together a strong season for a Chicago White Sox team that was expected to contend for the AL Central lead. Heading into today’s action the Chi Sox sit 17.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals in the division, and 5 games back of the Rangers in the Wild Card race. Sale ranks first in strikeouts (229), third in WHIP (1.02), sixth in opponents batting average (.219), seventh in IP (171.1), eleventh in ERA (3.20), and eighth in wins (12). Sale will need to be nearly perfect in his remaining starts for the White Sox to even stand a chance in the Wild Card race.
Felix Hernandez is having a down year by Felix Hernandez standards. He is tied with Keuchel for first with 15 wins, but unfortunately for King Felix, wins mean almost nothing (or they should) in Cy Young voting. He’s had a tale of two season of sorts, with he pre and post All-Star game numbers heading in opposite directions (like Crazy Eyes’ eyes). His opponents batting average has jumped from .214 to .312 (season average .246), his WHIP from 1.07 to 1.49 (season WHIP 1.19), and his ERA from a stellar 2.84 to a laughable 5.62 (3.66 for the season). He has only struck out 158 batters so far in 2015, and should he fail to reach 200 it would mark the first time that has occurred since 2008. Basically he doesn’t stand a chance to win this award. He’d have to throw a couple of no hitters to even get back into the running at this point.
Honorable mentions: David Price, Chris Archer
So who should will the American League Cy Young Award this season? Well if you were to flip a coin between Keuchel and Gray, that would make most fans happy. Keuchel is the front runner now, but the race is actually neck in neck between him and Gray.
The wide spread between them based on the ESPN tracker linked above is highly inaccurate because it grants pitchers on division leading teams a victory bonus, which is outrageous. The Cy Young award is, by definition, given to the single best pitcher in both the American and National Leagues. Victory bonuses should not matter. If the award goes to Keuchel, and Gray finishes a close second or vice versa, there won’t be any issues. However, if Keuchel runs away with the award like ESPN seems to think he is, there will be a controversy stating that Gray didn’t receive as many votes as he should have because his team isn’t winning. In the end it won’t really matter, because both pitchers are deserving of the award at this point of the season.
It will be interesting to see who the Baseball Writer’s Association of America votes the winner and it’s likely that there will be a heated discussion no matter who wins, but again, as of today, Dallas Keuchel will win the 2015 American League Cy Young Award.
Statistics and standings from MLB.com