Justin Verlander made a mockery of the American League for the majority of last season on the way to capturing 28 first place votes and taking home the Cy Young and MVP Awards. He’s firmly placed himself in the discussion through the first half of the 2012 season, but the race is much closer than it was a year ago.
5. Jered Weaver (LAA): 9-1, 2.13 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 68 K, 88.2 IP
The good for Weaver is that he leads the AL in ERA, WHIP, and batting average against (.194). And he threw a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins. On the negative side, of the top-8 qualified pitchers in the AL ERA race he’s pitched the fewest innings and is the only one under 100 at the moment. Weaver suffered a back injury on May 28 causing him to land on the disabled list and didn’t make his return until June 20. Since coming back he’s won all three of his starts, allowing just one earned run over 19.2 innings over that span. Had he not missed almost a month and put up numbers similar to what we’re accustomed to seeing from him during that time he’d surely be higher on the list, but for now it holds him back.
4. David Price (TB): 11-4, 2.82 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 105 K, 111.2 IP
Price is currently tied with Matt Harrison of the Texas Rangers for the AL lead in wins. He’s given up more than three earned runs just twice in 17 games and has allowed zero or one in eight. Price has faced 6 of the top 10 teams in runs scored, including the division rival Yankees four times, Red Sox twice, and Blue Jays twice. In 11 games versus those teams he’s come away with five wins and has a 3.81 ERA against competition that averages 4.9 runs per game. Playing in the offense heavy AL East will probably keep some of Price’s numbers below others on the list but for what he’s been able to do to this point against some of the best offenses baseball has to offer deserves commending.
3. Jake Peavy (CWS): 7-5, 2.85 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 108 K, 120 IP
The first thing that probably jumps out about Peavy’s numbers is his modest win total of 7, but we saw Felix Hernandez win a Cy Young with 13 so there’s that. He’s also given up 6 earned runs on one occasion and 7 on another. So why is he #3? 3 of his 5 losses easily could have been wins with anything resembling adequate run support. In losses to the Red Sox, Cardinals, and Cubs Peavy surrendered just one earned run in each start over 25 innings pitched. The White Sox were shutout in two of those games and scored one in the other. Against MLB’s top 4 teams in runs scored (Rangers, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Cardinals) he has a 2.05 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 35.1 IP. Peavy will probably have a much better shot at the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, and will likely battle teammate Adam Dunn for it, but he deserves to be in the Cy Young discussion.
2. Chris Sale (CWS): 10-2, 2.19 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 98 K, 102.2 IP
Earlier this season the White Sox toyed with the idea of making Sale the team’s closer. It’s a good thing they decided against that. He has the AL’s second best ERA, is tied for second lowest WHIP, tied for second in wins, and is one of only two qualified pitchers (Jered Weaver being the other) with an opponents batting average under .200 at .198. In looking at his game log the competition he’s faced hasn’t been what Peavy or Price has gone up against. Sale has faced more teams in the bottom 1o in runs (Royals, Astros, Mariners twice, Dodgers, A’s) than the top 10 (Rangers, Brewers) but he’s largely done what you’re supposed to against weaker competition. In just one start has Sale allowed more than 3 earned runs and he’s given up zero or one in nine.
1. Justin Verlander (DET): 9-5, 2.58 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 128 K, 132.2 IP
Justin Verlander ran away with the AL Cy Young last season and while he may not do so again this year he’s put together a strong case for another one through his first 18 starts in 2012. He leads the league in strikeouts, is fourth in ERA, tied for second in WHIP, third in batting average against (.200), has the most complete games (5), and is tops in innings pitched. While Verlander’s numbers in some of those categories fall short of others on the list when you account for his high innings total and that he’s faced the most batters in MLB (516) it gives them a bit more strength in my eyes. He’s gone 6+ innings in every start so far this season and gives you exactly what you want and expect from a top of the rotation starter.