Shelby Miller is living the high life in this week's Awards Watch, which checks in on the early Cy Young races in the National and American Leagues.
Since Awards Watch last checked in on the Cy Young races two weeks ago with our lightning round debut, the most noteworthy pitching performance has been that of last year’s American League winner Corey Kluber, who has struck out 30 men in 17 innings while allowing just one run and eight baserunners over his last two starts. However, Kluber took a 5.04 ERA into those starts and thus does not appear on the lists below, though if he continues his revival he may be on our list the next time we examine the Cy Young contenders on June 11.
In the National League, Max Scherzer has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball this season, and while he does appear below, he does not top our list. That is due primarily to one ill-fated pitch on May 6, which Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins turned into a three-run home run, significantly inflating Scherzer's ERA. So, if not Kluber and Scherzer, who is leading the Cy Young races? Read on.
Note: All stats are through Wednesday, May 20. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. The number in parentheses after a player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.
A “Maddux,” a term coined by blogger Jason Lukehart in 2012, is a nine-inning shutout of 100 or fewer pitches. Dating back to 1988, which is as far back as complete pitch-count data goes, Greg Maddux is the career leader in such games with 13. No one else has compiled more than the seven thrown by former lefty Zane Smith, and only Smith in '91 and Maddux in '98 have had three such games in a single season. Miller, however, already has two such starts in his last three turns.
On May 5, Miller shut out the Phillies on three hits and a walk, striking out eight and throwing just 99 pitches. This past Sunday, he blanked the Marlins on two singles and a walk, striking out four and throwing just 94 pitches while coming within one out of the year's first no-hitter. He is the only pitcher to throw a Maddux thus far this season, as well as the only pitcher with multiple complete games of any description this season.
Miller is also the major league leader in ERA, ERA+ and WHIP and has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his eight starts on the season, all but one of which have been Atlanta wins. As his .184 batting average on balls in play attests, Miller owes a fair amount of that success to the Braves’ fielders and good luck. But these rankings aren’t based on projection; they’re based on performance. No starting pitcher in the NL has been as effective as Miller this season.
Greinke is the only pitcher in the major leagues to have made more than one start this season and turn in a quality start every time. Only once has he even turned in the bare-minimum version (6 IP, 3 R). In fact, in his eight starts, Grienke has allowed multiple runs (earned or otherwise) just twice. Like Miller, there’s correction coming (Greinke has a .218 BABIP and 3.20 FIP), but those first eight starts give him an excellent foundation of success that should keep him on this list for some time.
3. Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals (2)
Season Stats: 4–3, 1.75 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 8.25 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 226 ERA+
Miller and Greinke have gotten better results, but no starter in the NL has pitched better than Scherzer to this point in the season. He has struck out 29.5% of the batters he has faced, fourth-best in the majors, and his 8.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the third highest in the majors (behind the absurd figures posted by the Yankees' Michael Pineda and the Mets' Bartolo Colon, who are at 18.33 and 15.33, respectively). Only the Reds' Johnny Cueto has averaged more innings per start in the NL, and no one in the Senior Circuit has a lower FIP than Scherzer’s 2.03.
The only blight on Scherzer's record is the five runs he allowed to the Marlins on May 6, but three of those were scored in the eighth inning. Take that inning out and Scherzer would have a 1.27 ERA and be atop this list.
Since giving up two runs in 5 1/3 innings in his first start of the season, Burnett has turned in seven straight quality starts and has yet to allow three runs in a game on the year. In fact, he has allowed two runs in just three of his eight starts and two earned runs in just two of those three. As Burnett's peripherals show, however, he has also had a fair amount of luck, though it’s been less about balls in play and more about balls staying in play—just three percent of his fly balls have left the park (compared to career and league averages, which are just under eight percent).
Harvey has pitched seven or more innings without allowing a run in three of his four starts this month, but has only picked up a win in one of those three. In his last two starts, he has struck out 18 men in 15 scoreless innings, allowing just nine hits and three walks, but his bullpen blew the save in both games, saddling Harvey with a pair of no-decisions. In his last three starts, Harvey has gone 0–1 despite an ERA of 1.29 thanks to the Mets scoring a total of four runs. Those disappointing results have masked what has been an outstanding showing over his last five starts, a span over which Harvey has averaged one run allowed and 7 1/3 innings per start for a 1.29 ERA.
Keuchel rebounded from a pair of ordinary starts (eight runs in 12 2/3 innings) to limit the Athletics to one unearned run over seven innings on Wednesday and maintain his hold on the top spot of this list. Keuchel has gone at least six innings in each of his nine starts this season, allowing more than one run in only three of them and more than two runs just twice. He leads the AL in ERA, ERA+ and innings pitched per start, and he would be one of just three Junior Circuit pitchers to have thrown a shutout this season had the Astros bothered scoring a run when he tossed nine scoreless innings in Oakland on April 24.
2. Sonny Gray, RHP, A’s
Season Stats: 4–2, 1.92 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.17 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 207 ERA+
Gray cleared room for Keuchel atop this list by turning in his second non-quality start of the year in a loss to Houston on Tuesday, giving up three runs in five innings. That makes two non-quality starts for Gray this year, though both have been near misses—along with Tuesday's outing, he gave up four runs in six innings on April 17 against the Royals. Gray has not allowed more than two runs in any of his other seven turns.
As with Scherzer in the NL, the third-place pitcher on this list has better peripherals than the two men ahead of him, with Hernandez besting Keuchel and Gray in strikeout rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio and WHIP. He's also one of two AL pitchers to have thrown an official shutout (Jered Weaver, who owns a 4.37 ERA, is the other). However, Hernandez has two non-quality starts this year, and he trails Keuchel and Gray in quality starts by one. Indeed, it was Hernandez’s last turn—in which he allowed a season-high four runs and four walks against just five strikeouts in six innings against the Red Sox—that limited him to the third spot on this list.
Odorizzi’s eight quality starts lead the AL and tie him with Greinke and the Phillies' Aaron Harang (the invisible sixth man on my NL list) for the major league lead. His only miss was on April 28 against the Yankees, when he allowed four runs in 6 1/3 innings without walking a batter. Only Kluber and Gray have thrown more innings in the AL this year than Odorizzi’s 59 1/3, and only Hernandez has a lower WHIP (and barely in both cases). No one on this list, however, has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio (Odorizzi’s 4.60 is fourth in the AL). In fact, Odorizzi had faced 118 straight batters without allowing a walk before issuing a two-out, full-count free pass to Jace Peterson in the third inning of his start against the Braves on Wednesday.
5. Chris Archer, RHP, Rays
Season Stats: 4–4, 2.47 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 3.88 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS, 159 ERA+
Odorizzi and Archer are two key reasons the Rays are tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East entering Thursday’s action. After a fantastic April, Archer stumbled in his first two May starts, but he has rebounded in his last two turns (13 IP, 3 R, 2 BB, 12 K), both of which were Tampa Bay wins. Thanks to those two starts and his superior peripherals, Archer edges out the Rangers’ Nick Martinez for the final spot on this list. Martinez is second in the league in ERA (1.88) and leads the league in ERA+ (218), but both of those are largely due to his stingy April. He had a 0.35 ERA in four turns that month but has posted a 3.68 ERA in the same number of outings this month.