We have noted for most of the season that Justin Verlander has led the American League in WAR and hence ought to be getting consideration for the Cy Young. WAR may be the most perfect stat to most statheads that seek most perfect stats, but it probably isn’t the one that is looked at the most closely for determining end-of-season awards. For a starting pitcher to win the Cy Young award that pitcher ought to have a low ERA and lots of wins. He should also preferably eat lots of innings and rack up lots of strikeouts, but those are in a sense secondary numbers.
Verlander, after getting no decisions in his last four starts in the month of August, seemed to be critically low in the win column to get much consideration for the Cy Young over guys like Chris Sale, David Price and Jered Weaver. But… so far in September he is 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA and has bumped that win total up to 16. He definitely has one start left and could possibly get a second in the season’s final game. We won’t know what Jim Leyland is thinking until the time comes, but without any rotation juggling Justin Verlander is set to either start a play-in game against Chicago or game 1 of the ALDS. It is possible, however, that he could be called upon to make one last start if winning it is necessary just to force that play-in game. With 17 wins, Verlander should get a serious look for those end-of-season awards (much less 18).
He still trails Sale (17), Price (18) and Weaver (19) in wins but he may not actually need to catch them. His ERA is better than Sale’s, the same as Weaver’s and a little worse than Price’s. While Sale seems to have tailed off a bit and doesn’t now look like such a strong candidate, Weaver and Price have two starts left apiece to try to hit that 20-win benchmark while keeping ERAs low. Both could be considered favorites over Verlander at this point still but he does lead in a couple of critical areas (other than WAR): he leads both leagues in innings pitched with 231 (compared to 195 for Price and 180 for Weaver) and strikouts with (you guessed it) 231 (compared to 188 for Price and 136 for Weaver). It would be a lot easier to make the case for Verlander if those last two starts were to inflate Price’s ERA a bit, but that case can be made today.
Truth be told, if the season were to end today I wouldn’t pick Verlander as the season’s best or most important pitcher. I wouldn’t pick Price either. Or Weaver, or Sale. My pick would be that former Tiger who – for one ephemeral season – is finally harnessing that immense untapped potential we fans saw in him: Fernando Rodney. My “most perfect stat” for gauging how important an individual player was (not his raw talent, but his contribution) is Win-Probability-Added. It is heavily skewed by how well you perform in clutch situations – because that is when your performance matters most to actually winning games. That’s the definition of value.
Verlander DOES lead all starting pitchers in WPA and Price, Weaver & Sale aren’t even close. But… Verlander does not lead all AL pitchers in WPA – he’s actually third behind Jim Johnson of the Orioles and Fernando Rodney. Johnson does lead overall with 5.02 wins added to Rodney’s 4.46, but in terms of non-clutch dependent stats there is no comparison. Johnson is the Nick Blackburn of closers, striking out 5.5 per 9 and getting a lot of ground balls. He has been good, no doubt, but even with a lot of luck and at the top of his game his ERA is still 2.60. That’s pretty good for a starter, but we hold closers to a higher standard. Rodney blows that standard away with an absurdly small 0.64 ERA. In SEVENTY-ONE appearances this year he has allowed the opposing team to score a measly FOUR times! That is insane! In 67 appearances so far this year Jose Valverde has allowed the opposing team to score 19 times. 19! Even last year when Valverde didn’t blow a single save he did allow runs to score on 12 different occasions. The only time since 1980 that a reliever has had a lower ERA with at least 70 IP was Dennis Eckersley in 1990 (with an 0.61 ERA) and he did win the Cy Young. The only other two relievers to finish under 1.00 were middle relievers and hence not going to get serious Cy Young consideration, but when Gagne won it his ERA was a (relatively) whopping 1.20. SO… to wrap things up: vote Rodney for Cy Young!