Tonight in Kansas City, Max Scherzer goes for his 9th win without a single L yet charged to his account. Scherzer’s ERA doesn’t sparkle at the moment, compared to all his other numbers, due almost exclusively to an implausibly low strand rate of 66% but.. just look at the additional stride that Max has made since his semi-breakthrough in 2012: Scherzer has recorded one more out than Justin Verlander in one fewer start. No longer is an inability to work deep into games going to handicap Scherzer vis-a-vis awards. As far as expectations for the rest of the season, Scherzer’s BABIP will probably rise (.258 isn’t really plausible) but his strand rate will fall. If you look at FIP, which ignores both, his ERA “ought” to be a run lower. He’s third in the AL in K’s (and will probably be second by midnight tonight), and might be tied for the lead in wins tonight as well. Scherzer’s name should be – though probably not the favorite – on the short list of Cy Young candidates to watch in the American League.
If you’re one of those friends of SABR who believes that WAR is the one stat to rule them all and that the Cy Young award should therefore go to the WAR leader and only the WAR leader, you’d say that Anibal Sanchez should be #1 on the list (he currently leads AL starters with 3.4 WAR). He has been very good, as have other Tigers starters (Detroit has 4 of the top 10 starters in the AL by WAR) but WAR isn’t really the most important stat for winning the Cy Young award, though the guy who does win will probably also have a pretty good WAR total. The keys are K’s, wins and ERA. Particular attention will be paid to hitting the 20-win threshold and to actually leading the league in ERA, which is the only way that I can account for David Price winning the award in 2012 despite coming up 2.2 wins short of Justin Verlander. With that in mind, you’d have to say that the favorite at this early date is Clay Buchholz of the Sawx with his 9-0 record and league-leading 1.71 ERA. In fact, you’d have to say that Buchholz is the clear favorite.
Obviously things can change quickly, and a couple of rough outings can make a guy’s great ERA look much less impressive. That might have cost Jered Weaver the Cy Young late last season. A number of other guys look close enough to sneak ahead of Buchholz should he get shelled once or maybe twice. Sanchez is the only Tiger who doesn’t need a number of good starts (to get his ERA closer to his FIP or xFIP) to really make a move, but Sanchez’ win-loss record is only 6-5 and that shoulder pain should make you wonder if he’s going to be as effective going forward whether or not he misses more time. Verlander in particular has a tough task ahead of him to get his 3.76 ERA into the mid-to-upper 2′s where award winners wind up. If he wasn’t Justin Verlander, and didn’t already have 8 wins under his belt, we would probably classify him as an extreme long shot. His numbers don’t look much different from Justin Masterson of the Tribe and we certainly wouldn’t consider him a contender. Scherzer needs to get that ERA down. Fister needs to get that ERA down (and that win total up). All three (and Sanchez) have pitched well enough, despite a little bad luck, to suggest that they could do just that.
As far as non-Tiger contenders, no one can match Buchholz’ 9 wins and only Matt Moore and Justin Masterson can match Scherzer and Verlander with 8. Moore and Masterson are both solid, but have ERAs of 3.78 and 3.68 respectively much like Justin Verlander. But… they don’t exactly have the track record or peripherals of JV to lead you to expect dramatically different things from here on out. The list of contenders (though obviously with 100 games left to play, a guy could come out of nowhere to seize the thing) comes to guys with at least 6 wins, ERA’s under 3.00 and good peripherals. Start it off with the Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma – who is 7-1 with a 1.79 ERA – and Felix Hernandex – 7-4 and 2.49. Then we come to strikeout leader Yu Darvish, 7-2 2.75. And we wrap it up with Hiroki Kuroda of the Yanks (6-5, 2.84) and Alex Cobb of the Rays (6-2, 2.95). Chris Sale and Derek Holland come up a little short in the win column. James Shields – though the guy has been every bit as good as advertised for KC – has gotten so little run support through 13 starts that his 2-6 record gives him little if any chance to actually win the award.