Feats of Clays: Kershaw, Buchholz lead Cy Young races

Thursday June 6th, 2013

Clayton Kershaw is making a strong bid for his second NL Cy Young award in the past three years.
Chris Williams/Icon SMI

How tight is the National League Cy Young award race right now? Well, Arizona's Patrick Corbin, the NL wins leader, is 9-0 with a 2.06 ERA (192 ERA+) and didn't make my top five below. Nor did St. Louis' Shelby Miller, who leads the NL in ERA and ERA+. That is somewhat shocking but it speaks to the depth of the pitching in the Senior Circuit. Corbin and Miller have thrown fewer innings then the five who got in, which is the biggest reason why they got squeezed out. Disagree? Well, which of the five men below would you take off to make room for them?

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, June 5. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics. The number in parentheses after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.

National League

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (1)

Season Stats: 5-4, 1.93 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.50 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 190 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-2, 3.10 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.67 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 1 CG

Kershaw is getting just 2.84 runs of support per 27 outs from the lousy Dodgers offense, which has scored just 10 runs total in the six starts of his that Los Angeles has lost. So throw out his record (which you should really do in every case, but that's a topic for another article) and consider that he has put up the rest of those numbers across a major league-leading 93 1/3 innings. That's enough to sneak him past the rest of a hyper-competitive field, but his lead over the next man is wafer thin.

2. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Nationals (3)

Season Stats: 8-3, 2.16 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 4.82 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 176 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-2, 3.10 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 4.3 K/9, 7.00 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 1 CG

Zimmermann had an ugly line against the Orioles two turns ago, but he actually had a quality start after six innings in that game. In the seventh, though, he got lit up for three more runs by the first four batters and then had a seventh run get charged to his line after he left the game. In his other 11 starts this season, he has allowed as many as three runs just once, and that came in one of his major-league-best three complete games.

Zimmermann has gone at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs in seven of his last eight starts, and he's third in the majors in innings pitched per start behind two other men still to come on this list. Also, he has walked just two men in 36 2/3 innings across his last five starts.

3. Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets (2)

Season Stats: 5-0, 2.17 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 4.68 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 170 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-0, 3.71 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 5.40 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS

Harvey's opponents hit .199 on balls in play in his first nine starts this season, a span over which he posted a 1.55 ERA and a 0.72 WHIP. In his last three starts, however, they have hit .400 on balls in play, and his ERA and WHIP over those three starts has have been 4.19 and 1.55, respectively. It will be interesting to see what happens with Harvey when his luck evens out. Even in those last three games, he managed to dominate the Yankees for eight innings (1 R, 0 BB, 10 Ks) with an ordinary .286 BABIP. There's no doubt that Harvey will remain one of the game's best pitchers, but there's also little doubt that some of his early success this season was the result of luck on balls in play.

4. Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals (5)

Season Stats: 8-3, 2.33 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 14.00 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 160 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-1, 2.37 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 14.50 K/BB, 7.6 IP/GS, 1 CG

Wainwright has walked six batters all season and leads the majors in innings per start while sharing the major league lead in complete games and shutouts. If you're thinking that Corbin belongs here, consider that Wainwright has thrown 20 percent more innings this season than the D-backs lefty and leads him in everything but wins (he's second with eight) and the ERA stats, including quality starts (Corbin is 10 for 11, but Wainwright 11 for 12).

5. Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies

Season Stats: 7-2, 2.45 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 5.69 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 163 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-0, 1.71 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 7.75 K/BB, 7.9 IP/GS, 1 SHO

Lee is the big gainer this week. In his last six starts, he has gone 5-0 with a 1.54 ERA, a 0.79 WHIP and 6.67 K/BB, while allowing just two home runs and averaging 7.8 innings per start. The Phillies won that lone no-decision as well, and in the only start in that stretch in which he allowed three runs (his last time out against the Brewers) he struck out 11 men against no walks. He's here over Corbin because the argument for Wainwright applies to Lee as well. Either both horses are ahead of the sophomore or neither is. It will be fascinating to see how these top seven (including Miller and Corbin) stack up three weeks from now.

Off the list: Patrick Corbin

American League

1. Clay Buchholz, RHP, Red Sox (2)

Season Stats: 8-0, 1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 2.75 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 271 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-0, 1.42 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.43 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS

Buccholz had his second-to-last turn skipped due to shoulder inflammation and his last start was limited to five innings by rain. Still, he was as effective as ever in that abbreviated outing, earning a cheap, two-hit shutout against the Yankees, which, in an odd twist, was just his second non-quality start of the season. Buchholz threw at least seven innings and allowed at most two runs in nine of his first 10 starts on the season, and was well on his way to making it 10 of 11 before this happened.

2. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, Mariners (3)

Season Stats: 6-1, 1.94 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 6.08 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 194 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-0, 2.12 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 4.80 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS

Iwakuma hasn't allowed a run in his last 21 2/3 innings and, after completing seven innings just once in six April starts, has failed to go that far just once in seven start since. He leads the majors in WHIP, is second in the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio and ERA+ and had a dominant outing against the White Sox in Wednesday night's wild extra-inning affair in which he allowed just three singles in eight scoreless innings.

3. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers

Season Stats: 7-2, 2.77 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 12.3 K/9, 4.63 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 162 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-1, 2.83 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 5.18 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS

Darvish leads the majors with five double-digit strikeout games this season and has authored three of the four games of 14 or more strikeouts on the season. He is the first pitcher with three games of 14 or more Ks in a single season since Randy Johnson had four such games in 2004, and it's only June 6. Darvish was more effective early this season (1.65 ERA in his first five starts) than he has been since (3.51 ERA in seven starts), but the pack has come back to him, and he did twirl seven scoreless innings against the Royals in his last turn.

4. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (1)

Season Stats: 7-4, 2.58 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 5.59 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 146 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-2, 5.19 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 4.42 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS

King Felix has just one quality start in his last four turns, but he was so good in his first nine starts that he can't be knocked off this list entirely. His league lead in innings pitched (90 2/3) is one reason why. The next man on this list has been more effective in preventing runs but has also thrown barely more than three-quarters as many frames.

5. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox

Season Stats: 5-3, 2.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 4.13 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 180 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-1, 0.66 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 4.25 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 2 GS

Sale missed two starts at the end of May due to shoulder inflammation but came back strong on Sunday, allowing just one run in six innings against the A's. He has thrown just eight fewer innings than Anibal Sanchez, who I have ranked sixth right now. Sale has allowed just two runs across 30 innings in his last four starts, hasn't yielded more than two runs in any of his last six starts and is nine-for-10 in quality starts on the season. He'll face the A's again on Friday.

Off the list: Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander

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