2013 AL Cy Young race: Max Scherzer will probably win, but does he deserve the award?

Gregory Shamus

Max Scherzer is considered a frontrunner for the 2013 AL Cy Young award, but the race should be much closer than the national media is making it out to be.

With most of today's off-day news focused on the AL MVP race, I thought it would be a good time to break down the other race that took center stage at Comerica Park yesterday. No, I'm not talking about the mid-innings "contest" routinely dominated by known PEDs abuser Dashing Donut. I'm talking about the Cy Young race, and where Max Scherzer stands compared to his competition.

According to the unwritten rules of professional journalism, the national media has already boiled this down to a two-horse race: Scherzer vs. Seattle's Felix Hernandez. Despite concerns about his huge contract and declining velocity -- hmm, that sounds familiar -- Hernandez has put together another stellar season in the Pacific Northwest. His 12-6 record pales in comparison to guys like Yu Darvish, Bartolo Colon, and Scherzer, but he is among the league leaders in nearly every statistical category.

The Scherzer vs. Hernandez narrative is laughable, especially when you consider that neither player leads the American League in any of the following categories:

  • ERA (Hiroki Kuroda, 2.41)
  • FIP (Anibal Sanchez, 2.39)
  • xFIP (Yu Darvish, 2.66)
  • SIERA (Darvish, 2.68)
  • Innings per start (Chris Sale, nearly 7 1/3)
  • Strikeouts (Darvish, 214)
  • Strikeout rate (Darvish, 11.96 per nine innings)
  • Walk rate (David Price, 1.21 per nine innings)
  • Strikeout to walk ratio (Price, 5.88)
  • Complete games (Sale, 4)
  • Shutouts (Colon and Justin Masterson, 3)
  • Baseball-Reference WAR (Sale, 6.1)

Meanwhile, here are the categories that either Hernandez or Scherzer lead:

  • Wins (Scherzer, 18)
  • Innings pitched (Hernandez, 178.2)
  • WHIP (Scherzer, 0.90)
  • OPS against (Scherzer, .557)
  • Fangraphs' WAR (tied, 5.3)

This isn't to say that Scherzer and Hernandez aren't deserving candidates. Scherzer leads four of the categories listed above, and Hernandez is among the top two or three pitchers in most statistics. I just have a tough time qualifying this as an "A vs. B" competition when options C, D, E, and even F are all viable candidates.

Here are how some of the pitchers listed above compare:

Pitcher IP W-L ERA FIP SIERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB CG/SO WHIP OPS bWAR/fWAR
Scherzer 172.1 18-1 2.82 2.66 2.93 9.66 1.98 4.87 0/0 0.90 .557 5.4/5.3
Hernandez 178.2 12-6 2.47 2.55 2.90 9.17 1.91 4.79 0/0 1.10 .634 5.8/5.3
Darvish 161.0 12-5 2.68 3.05 2.68 11.96 3.07 3.89 0/0 1.02 .589 4.9/4.3
Sale 165.1 9-11 2.78 2.86 2.95 9.53 1.96 4.86 4/1 1.07 .615 6.1/4.6

Based on the numbers we see here, it's hard to distinguish between these four pitchers. All four are logging serious innings -- Sale and Darvish have only made 23 and 24 starts, respectively -- and are dominating opposing lineups. Darvish has a much higher walk rate than the other three, but still has the second lowest OPS allowed. Sale's record has taken a hit thanks to a punchless White Sox offense, but the rest of his numbers compare favorably. At this point, I would call this race too close to call.

Despite the 800-odd words written above, there is almost no chance the voters from the ever popular Baseball Writer's Association look past Scherzer's sparking 18-1 record. He will likely take home the award, and the vote probably won't be very close. However, like the 2012 vote, the league's best pitcher might not be the one taking home the hardware.

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