In my third look at the Cy Young races, interleague play causes havoc on the NL hopefuls while a new contender emerges in the American League, though the question remains if he'll remain in the American League much longer.
NOTE: All stats through Sunday, June 27; League leaders in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. The number in parenthesis after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.
1. David Price, LHP, Rays (1)
Season Stats:11-3, 2.44 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.21 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 2.88 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 2.81 K/BB
Despite holding on to the top spot over the last three weeks, Price feels like an underwhelming front-runner. That's as much Ubaldo Jimenez's fault as Price's. It's also a product of league effects as the average NL team has scored 4.38 runs per game this season, while the average AL team has scored 4.56 runs per game. Indeed, Price is second in the AL in ERA, but there are five National League pitchers with lower ERAs than AL leader Cliff Lee. What's more, Price's strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio rank eighth and ninth, respectively, among the 10 pitchers to make this week's lists. Price is still getting lucky on balls in play as his opponents are hitting just .269 on fair balls that stay in the park (compared to a major league average of .299). He's also getting fantastic run support, which has helped him to that league-leading win total. The Rays have scored 5.86 runs per game for Price and have scored four or more runs for him 11 times, each one resulting in a Price victory. In the four games Price has started that his team has ultimately lost, the Rays have scored a total of six runs. At the same time, Price has allowed more than three earned runs in a game just once in his 15 starts, though he won that game, too.
2. Andy Pettitte, LHP, Yankees (2)
Season Stats: 9-2, 2.72 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.47 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 2-1, 3.42 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.56 K/BB
Pettitte's ugly outing against the Dodgers on Sunday night was just the third of his 15 starts this season in which he allowed more than two earned runs and just the second in which he allowed more than four. In the six starts prior to that, the 38-year-old lefty averaged 7 1/3 innings per start while posting a 2.25 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, and 4.11 K/BB. Like Price, Pettitte is succeeding despite relatively unimpressive peripherals thanks in large part to a .273 opponents average on balls in play and, as I mentioned last time, a spike in his double-play rate. It's worth noting, however, that over the course of his career, Pettitte's ERA has been nearly a half-run lower after the All-Star break than before. Last year, his second-half ERA was more than a run and a half lower than his first-half mark. So while Pettitte's BABIP might suggest some regression is on its way, Pettitte could very well step up his performance in the coming months to maintain his spot on this list.
3. Cliff Lee, LHP, Mariners (N/A)
Season Stats: 6-3, 2.39 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 19.00 K/BB, 4 CG
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 1.59 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, ? K/BB
While pitchers such as Price, Pettitte, and Phil Hughes have pitched well this season and have the wins and low ERAs to show for it, the AL Cy Young race has hungered for a truly dominant performance, particularly in contrast to the NL race. Enter Lee, who spent most of April on the disabled list with an abdominal strain but who, thanks in part to his league-leading four complete games, now qualifies for the ERA title, which he currently holds along with major league leads in WHIP and K/BB. Over his last six starts, Lee has averaged 8 1/3 innings per start, posted a 1.62 ERA, and struck out 44 men against just three walks. On the season his ratio is even better as he has walked just four -- four! -- men, in 86 2/3 innings. Lee hasn't walked a single batter in eight of his 11 starts including each of his last four (thus the amazing K/BB above). The catch is that Lee might not remain in the American League much longer as, pitching in his walk year, he's the top trade chip for a Mariners team that should be rebuilding, not reloading. Then again, if Lee is traded to an AL contender, the resulting boost in run and bullpen support could put him on the fast track to the award provided he stays healthy enough to get up around 200 innings by season's end. That last is a second strike against Lee. Though he's going deep into games, he's currently on pace for just 190 innings because of his DL stint, and no pitcher has ever won a Cy Young award after throwing fewer than 200 innings in a non-strike year.
4. Jon Lester, LHP, Red Sox (4)
Season Stats: 9-3, 2.86 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.70 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 2-1, 3.20 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.13 K/BB
Lester has been the best pitcher in the American League over his last dozen starts (8-1, 1.98 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 2.83 K/BB), but his first three outings this season were so bad (8.44 ERA) that it took his complete-game victory over the Giants on Sunday to get his ERA below 3.00. Lester has allowed one or no runs in nine of those last dozens starts and struck out seven or more men eight times. On pace for 234 strikeouts with a sinking ERA, he's poised to take advantage should Pettitte or Price experience any significant correction.
5. Jered Weaver, RHP, Angels (N/A)
Season Stats: 7-3, 3.01 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 4.92 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 2-1, 3.81 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 12.1 K/9, 11.67 K/BB
The major league strikeout leader with 118, Weaver made my initial Cy Young list, but fell off three weeks ago. He's back this week, slipping past Phil Hughes (10-1, 3.17 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (10-4, 2.45 ERA) for a variety of reasons: 1) Weaver is the only of the three to have thrown more than 100 innings in a major league season prior to this year and thus seems most likely to sustain his current level of effectiveness as his innings count rises; 2) Hughes, whose turn in the Yankee rotation was skipped this past weekend, is going to be limited to roughly 170 innings this year; 3) Buchholz hyperextended his knee on Saturday and had to leave his start after just one inning; 4) Weaver has the best peripherals of a trio and is the only one of the three likely to reach the voter-pleasing 200 strikeout benchmark (he's on pace for 248). In his last five starts, Weaver has struck out 44 men in 33 innings against just four walks. On the season, he has struck out six or more men in 15 of 16 starts while never walking more than three in a game. Weaver, who leads the majors with 13 quality starts, has had a quality start through six innings in each of his last seven outings, but in one of them he gave up two singles and a home run to the first three men he faced in the seventh. Even with those late runs included, Weaver has posted a 2.54 ERA over those last seven starts, though poor bullpen support (twice) and late-arriving offense (once) left him without a decision in three of them.
Off the List: Clay Buchholz (3), Phil Hughes (5)
1. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Rockies (1)
Season Stats:13-1, 1.60 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.64 K/BB, 3 CG, 2 SHO
Last Four Starts: 3-0, 4.05 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.50 K/BB
It seems we've finally found Jimenez's Achilles heel: facing American League teams at Coors Field. Two of Jimenez's last three starts came at home against the Blue Jays and Red Sox. In those two games, the only two in which he has given up more than two runs all season, he allowed a total of nine runs in just 11 2/3 innings (6.94 ERA). In his other 13 starts this season, Jimenez has allowed just 10 runs in 95 1/3 innings (0.94 ERA). Fortunately for Jimenez, interleague play is over.
2. Josh Johnson, RHP, Marlins (5)
Season Stats: 8-3, 1.83 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.96 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 2-1, 1.16 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 10.00 K/BB
From May 13 through June 20, Johnson allowed one or no runs in eight consecutive starts, the third-longest such streak in major league history behind Bob Gibson's 11 starts in 1968 and Jack Coombs' 10 in 1910. That streak broken this past Saturday when he allowed a whopping two runs in eight innings against the Padres. If you lop off his first two starts of the year, Johnson has gone 8-2 with a 1.38 ERA, 4.85 K/BB, and just three home runs allowed while averaging seven full innings per start in 14 starts, all of them quality. Johnson has lost just two games during that stretch; one was Roy Halladay's perfect game on May 29 and the other came this past Saturday when Florida lost 2-1.
3. Roy Halladay, RHP, Phillies (2)
Season Stats: 9-6, 2.29 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 6.00 K/BB, 5 CG, 3 SHO
Last Four Starts: 1-3, 3.10 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 6.25 K/9
Like Jimenez, Halladay's bugaboo has also been interleague play. Of the four starts in which Halladay has allowed three or more earned runs this season, three of them have come against American League teams. That might seem strange given Halladay's dominance in the American League East for most of the last decade, but it speaks to the gap between the two leagues. Halladay has a 1.51 ERA against NL opponents this year, while his best single-season mark as a Blue Jay was 2.41 in his injury-shortened 2005. His best full-season ERA prior to this year is the 2.78 he posted in 2008. Halladay's six losses this season seem like a lot for a pitcher this high on this list, but, again, he's only allowed more than two earned runs in a game four times. Contrary to expectations, he has received little run support from the defending NL champions, who have scored more than three runs in just five of Halladay's 16 starts. Halladay has three losses in his last four starts, and the slumping Phillies have scored a total of just four runs in those three games.
4. Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals (3)
Season Stats: 10-5, 2.47 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.69 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 2-2, 3.96 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 3.14 K/BB
Wainwright's worst start of the season was his last which -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- came in an interleague contest against the Blue Jays. Prior to that four-inning, five-run dud, he had lasted a minimum of six innings in each of his first 15 starts and surrendered as many as four runs just twice, never allowing more. Even in that game against the Blue Jays, just four of those five runs were earned. Wainwright has five losses in part because he has taken the loss each of the three times he has allowed more than three runs in a game. His other two losses ended in scores of 2-0 and 1-0.
5. Chris Carpenter, RHP, Cardinals (N/A)
Season Stats: 9-1, 2.63 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 3.17 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 2-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.27 K/BB
Carpenter has completed a minimum of six innings in each of his 16 starts this season and has allowed more than three runs in just four of them. His consistency and reliability give him his first appearance on this list, edging out Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo (7-3, 2.36 ERA) and the Mets' Mike Pelfrey (10-2, 2.71).
Off the List: Mike Pelfrey (4)