In many seasons, it’s pretty easy for a discerning and knowledgeable fan to pick out the legitimate Cy Young award winner in each league. Sure, the argument can get a little murky when a statistically inclined fan and a traditionalist fan square off, but when truly analyzing performance the real winner often finds himself promoted thoroughly across this very internet. Last season there was little doubt that Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw (who both find themselves as legitimate contenders again in 2012) would be taking home the hardware; this time around, you could make a serious case for more than one hurler in each league.
The American League race has been pared down to two real contenders, the reigning winner Justin Verlander and 2010 victor Felix Hernandez. When looking at the performance of each candidate, there aren’t many ways to differentiate between their excellent seasons. Per FanGraphs, Verlander has the edge in WAR (6.5 to 5.9) and strikeout rate (8.99/9 to 8.58/9), while Hernandez has managed his walks slightly better (2.10/9 to 2.26/9) and has lower FIP (2.87 to 3.00) and xFIP (3.21 to 3.36) figures. Hernandez is within five innings pitched of Verlander, and both have been absolute workhorses. There really isn’t a way to decide which ace has had the better season, though it’s safe to say that voting for anyone else in the first position would be a grievous error.
While the junior circuit competition is down to the usual suspects, things get even more crowded in the National League. Many major media outlets have pegged Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey as the probable leader in the NL race with a week to go, and it’s not exactly difficult to see why. Dickey has been outstanding, and his perseverance and unusual path to success make him an undeniable story. Dickey trails both Kershaw and Washington’s Gio Gonzalez when it comes to WAR (he’s at 4.8 while Kershaw sits at 5.0 and Gonzalez has reached 5.4), but there are plenty of other factors that make Dickey’s case. He’s striking out 8.78/9 while walking only 2.13, and he’s the proud owner of a 2.69 ERA and 3.25 FIP.
Both Kershaw and Gonzalez have Dickey beat when it comes to strikeout rate and FIP, but Dickey has logged 16 more innings than the incumbent and 28 more innings than Gonzalez. That’s not insignificant when it comes to assessing a pitcher’s value. Dickey has essentially provided an extra couple of starts worth of quality innings, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. (I’m not sure why everyone keeps figuratively sneezing at things; I think it’s time for us to all collectively go to the figurative doctor). Still, how can you argue against the dominance of Gonzalez or the consistent mastery of Kershaw? Well, you really can’t.
Nearly every November when awards voting season comes around, I find myself frustrated with idiotic votes based on numbers and factors that I (and I think a lot of us in the online baseball community) find irrelevant and meaningless. I really don’t think 2012 is going to be that kind of season, because both leagues have multiple deserving winners and I don’t think one last start for each of these guys is going to do a whole lot to diminish their resumes. You could even argue that Johnny Cueto‘s season, which has earned gold stars for its lack of free passes and abundance of dependability, belongs in the NL conversation as well. This just might be the year in which your guy doesn’t win and you can’t do anything but shrug; the field is a fairly even one, and that’s not a bad thing.