King Felix takes over AL Cy Young lead, Kershaw tops tight NL race

Thursday July 25th, 2013

Felix Hernandez has finished in the top-4 of the Cy Young voting three times in the past five years.
Chris Carlson/AP

The National League Cy Young race is quickly boiling down to the top three contenders, who appear here this week in the same order in which they appeared three weeks ago, but the American League race continues to change significantly from week to week. So much so that my leader from three weeks ago, Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma, has fallen off the list entirely after posting a 5.82 ERA in the interim and a 5.65 ERA over his last seven starts. However, Mariners fans won't be too disappointed by the identity of the new leader.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, July 3. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. The number in parentheses after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.

American League

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (4)

Season Stats: 11-4, 2.43 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 5.44 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 152 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-0, 0.86 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 5.67 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS

King Felix has gone 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over his last five starts, and that is only his second-best stretch of five or more starts this season. In six starts from mid-April to mid-May, he went 4-0 with a matching 0.82 ERA and WHIP. In the seven starts in between, he was below average (4.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP), but also unlucky, with opponents hitting .366 on balls in play. In the 11 starts comprising his two dominant stretches, his BABIP has been a reasonable .286.

2. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox (5)

Season Stats: 6-9, 2.81 ERA 1.02 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 4.73 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 155 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-2, 2.91 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, 4.67 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS

When Max Scherzer lost his first game earlier this month, I devised a quickie formula to determine how many losses he should have had to that point in the season. With the average American League team scoring 4.38 runs per game, I assigned a loss for every game in which he allowed five or more runs. Then I added a loss for every game in which he fell a combination of two runs or innings shy of a bare minimum quality start (6 IP, 3 ER), effectively adding all starts of four innings or less and starts in which he allowed four runs in five innings. According to that formula, Scherzer should have had three losses before he suffered his first actual loss to the Rangers on July 13. Here's how many losses the 6-9 Chris Sale should have by the same method: two.

Sale gave up eight runs in 4 1/3 innings in Cleveland on April 13 and allowed four runs in five innings in Minnesota on June 19. He did indeed lose both games, but in his other seven losses, he has posted a 2.46 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, averaged 7.3 innings per start, struck out 10.7 men per nine innings, 6.1 men for every walk and allowed just two home runs. The White Sox, meanwhile, have scored only eight runs in those seven losses, the most painful of which saw Sale allow just two unearned runs in eight innings while striking out 14 only to lose 2-1 to the Astros on June 14.

Outside of the two games he should have lost above, his only other non-quality start this season saw him allow four runs in 7 1/3 innings against the A's at home on June 7.

3. Bartolo Colon, RHP, A's

Season Stats: 13-3, 2.52 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 4.69 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 3 SHO, 153 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-0, 1.21 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, 7.00 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS, 1 SHO

Colon's last 13 starts have all been quality. Over that stretch, he has gone 10-1 with a 1.62 ERA, averaged 7.3 innings per start, completed at least seven innings 10 times, allowed three runs in a game just twice and walked more than two men in a game only once.

4. Max Scherzer, RHP, Tigers (3)

Season Stats: 14-1, 3.14 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 5.06 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 136 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-1, 3.43 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.60 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS

Beyond his good fortune in wins and losses, most but not all of which was the product of his outstanding pitching, Scherzer's season has been an odd one because of his unusual reverse home/road split. In his first three seasons as a Tiger, Scherzer had better numbers at home in pitching-friendly Comerica Park, but this year, after 10 starts both home and away, he has a 2.21 ERA and 0.79 WHIP on the road and a 4.20 ERA and 1.14 WHIP at home.

The primary reason for that split seems to be good luck on balls in play on the road, where Scherzer's BABIP is a mere .224. Still, his .302 BABIP at home doesn't explain his sub-par performance in Detroit, as he has allowed less than a hit per inning at home while maintaining his outstanding strikeout rate. I suppose that makes the combined results, his overall season line, an accurate representation of his performance on the season, but that split remains confounding.

5. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers (2)

Season Stats: 9-4, 2.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, 3.74 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 150 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-1, 3.65 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 1.67 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS

Darvish edges fellow countrymen Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda for the last spot this week. Darvish slumped a bit heading into the All-Star break, going 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in his last four starts before the break, only one of which was quality, but the Rangers made a deft move by using the break to give him a two week break via a disabled list stay for a sore shoulder, skipping just one of his starts in the process. Darvish returned from that breather on Monday and threw six scoreless innings against the Yankees and will take the ball again on Saturday in Cleveland.

Off the list: Hisashi Iwakuma

National League

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (1)

Season Stats: 9-6, 2.01 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 4.23 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 178 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-1, 2.45 ERA, 0.59 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 11.00 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS

Using my loses formula discussed in the Chris Sale comment above, Kershaw should have just one loss this season, that coming for a game against the Padres in April in which he allowed five runs but two were unearned. He has only allowed as many as four runs in two other starts this season, both lasting six or more innings, and has only failed to complete six innings in one other start this season, allowing just two runs in that outing.

Curiously, Kershaw has had a hard time with the Padres this season, going 0-3 with a 4.67 ERA in three starts against San Diego. In his other 18 starts this season, he is 9-3 with a 1.67 ERA.

2. Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals (2)

Season Stats: 13-5, 2.44 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 8.06 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 150 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 5.00 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS

Wainwright also qualifies for just one loss by my formula, that coming back on May 4 when he allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings in Milwaukee. That was the only start this season in which Wainwright, the major league innings leader, failed to complete six innings. Wainwright has not walked three men in a game all year. He has also not faced any team more than twice. His next start, on Friday, will be his first against the Braves this season.

3. Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets (3)

Season Stats: 8-2, 2.23 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 5.61 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 162 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-1, 1.93 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 16.00 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS

Harvey was impressive in his 10-start debut last year, but one reason he has made the leap to stardom in this, his first full season, is that he has greatly improved his control. In 10 starts last year, he walked 26 men, hit three others and threw three wild pitches. In 20 starts this year (and nearly three times as many innings), he has walked 28 men, hit just two others and thrown two wild pitches. Harvey's minor league rates were more consistent with those 10 starts from last year, but then his minor league career was so brief (26 starts in 2011 split between two levels, 20 at Triple-A last year before his call-up) that it would be a mistake to believe that his level of performance there was established enough to suggest a regression.

4. Patrick Corbin, RHP, Diamondbacks

Season Stats: 12-1, 2.31 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 3.19 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 1 CG, 167 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-0, 1.31 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 4.33 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS

How many losses would Corbin have according to my formula? Just two. Only once this season has he allowed five runs (July 2 against the Mets at Citi Field), and only once has he failed to complete six innings (June 12 at Dodger Stadium, when he went five innings and allowed four runs). Meanwhile, six of Corbin's no-decisions have come in games in which he has pitched at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs. If we gave him a win for every start in which he went at least six innings and allowed no more than two runs, then added on those two losses, he'd be 16-2.

The only reason Corbin is fourth on this list is because the top three men are having monster seasons. AL Cy Young leader Felix Hernandez would be no higher than fourth on this list.

5. Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies (5)

Season Stats: 10-4, 3.05 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 5.95 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 125 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-2, 6.05 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 16.00 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS

Lee has slumped over his last three starts, but the Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann, who was fourth on this list three weeks ago, has been even worse, going 1-2 with a 7.32 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in four July starts. For Zimmermann, that bad run has been due to a combination of bad luck on balls in play and one straight-up disaster start (2 IP, 7 R at home against the Dodgers on Sunday).

Lee's problem has been the long ball. He allowed nine home runs in his first 18 starts this season and has since allowed seven more in his last two. Against Washington on July 10 the only runs he allowed came on a quartet of solo home runs by four righthanded batters. In his last start, against the Mets on Sunday, he also allowed all of his runs on home runs by righthanders, but one of them was a three-run shot following a pair of singles. Lee was a homer-prone pitcher with an extreme fly-ball rate before his breakthrough 2008 season, inducing nearly two fly balls for every grounder, but his last two games were not a reversion to that now-ancient form. Most likely, they were a fluke.

Off the list: Jordan Zimmermann

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