New leader in AL Cy Young race while NL award looks all locked up
Every week I will rank the top five candidates in each league for one of baseball's three major awards. This week I revisit the Cy Young award races, which I first examined
Pettitte has allowed one or no runs in six of his 11 starts this season and has allowed more than two runs just twice. Seven of the 21 runs he has allowed on the season came in a single bad start against the Rays on May 20. Throw that start out, and Pettitte's ERA drops to 1.85, and his record rounds up to a perfect 7-0. Not bad for a guy who is a dozen years older than the next-oldest pitcher in my AL top five this week. The big difference for Pettitte this year has been his ability to induce double plays. The last two years, Pettitte enabled his defense to turn two in just nine percent of double play situations. This year, he's up to 24 percent, a career high and more than twice the major league average rate. Incidentally, Pettitte's highest Cy Young finish came in his sophomore season of 1996, when he won 21 games and finished second to the Blue Jays'
Buchholz and Hughes have followed similar paths to this year's Cy Young award race. Both were first-round draft picks (Hughes out of high school in 2004, Buchholz in the supplemental round out of college in 2005). Both were elite prospects. Both made their major league debuts in 2007. Neither allowed a hit in his second career start (Hughes pulled a hamstring in the seventh inning and departed, Buchholz pitched all nine frames). Both opened 2008 in their team's rotation but didn't last (Hughes again due to injury, Buchholz due to poor performance and short leash). Both opened 2009 in the minors but finished as key major league contributors (Hughes as a set-up man for the World Series champions, Buchholz as a Division Series starter). The key difference is that Buchholz threw 191 innings between the majors and minors last year, allowing him to shoulder a full workload this year which will allow him to pitch more innings this season than Hughes will, and that difference moves him ahead of Hughes on this list.
Go back five starts and Buchholz is 5-0 with a 0.99 ERA. That's one reason that the Red Sox have turned their season around, but Buchholz was the one Boston starter that was good when they were bad, posting a 2.19 ERA in April (albeit with the benefit of five unearned runs that were swept under the ERA rug). More recently, Buchholz hasn't allowed a run, earned or otherwise, in his last 18 1/3 innings.
When Lester, a
Based on his performance alone, Hughes should still be at the top of this list, but now that he is no longer leading the league in wins, ERA, and WHIP (as he was three weeks ago), his candidacy has to face the reality of his innings limit. Hughes has never thrown more than 146 innings in a season at any level, and because of injury in 2008 and his relief assignment last year, he hasn't thrown more than 106 total innings since 2007. The Yankees thus intend to impose a limit on Hughes' workload this year, believed to be about 170 innings. They already skipped him the first time through the rotation in April, and with
Jimenez made his 12th start this season on Sunday, June 6. Last year, eventual AL Cy Young award winner
Three weeks ago, I reported that no pitcher had thrown a no-hitter and won his league's Cy Young award in the same season since
The Cardinals have three starters worthy of Cy Young consideration at this point in the season. Rookie
Pelfrey is the only man on this list with a save, which he earned by pitching the bottom of the 20th inning in St. Louis back on April 17. That relief outing came in the middle of three scoreless April starts, but an early-May hiccup kept him off my previous list. As the above stats show, he's since rediscovered his early-April form. The six-foot-seven Pelfrey was the ninth-overall pick in the 2005 draft and is now in his third full season in the Mets' rotation at the age of 26. His success in the early going this year has come from the introduction of an effective split-finger fastball to compliment his low-90s sinker. That new pitch has contributed to small improvements in a variety of areas, including strikeout rate, home run rate, infield pop-up rate, and perhaps most importantly, ground-ball rate, that last boosting his double-play rate to a Pettitte-like 21 percent.
Since returning from Tommy John surgery around just before the 2008 All-Star break, Johnson has gone 28-8 with a 3.09 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, and 3.17 K/BB to establish himself as one of the National League's best starters. This year, he hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start since Opening Day (when he allowed four) and has limited the competition to one or none in seven of his 12 starts including each of his last five (0.53 ERA, 3.75 K/BB). Amazingly, Johnson won just three of those last five starts. In the other two, he took one no-decision (in a game the Marlins won 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth) and one loss. In the latter, he had the bad luck of being the opposing pitcher in Halladay's perfect game, which the Phillies won 1-0 on an unearned run.