Choosing Cy Young winners – it’s not that hard!

As previously detailed in my ROY cases for Noah Syndergaard and Xander Bogaerts, and MVP picks of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, I’ll occasionally be interspersing my usual content with my (probably misguided) award predictions for the upcoming season. Today marks the next installment pertaining to my poor judgement – it’s time to choose some Cy Young award winners. Fair warning, I’m not exactly going out on a limb with my picks.

Entering last season, you could make a justifiable case that either Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher in baseball, marginally ahead of Clayton Kershaw. 12 months later though, there’s no disputing the Dodgers’ ace is the best in the game.

Still just 26 (his birthday was last Wednesday), Kershaw has already racked up two Cy Young awards and three consecutive ERA titles, while his numbers over the last four years – 2.37 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP – all rank as best in the league. Coming off a 2013 season in which he went 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA, and had 17 games of at least 6.2 innings pitched and allowing one or fewer earned runs, the Texas native is somehow getting even better too; his walk rate has decreased from the 9-13% range he put up earlier in his career to an extremely frugal 5-7% during the past couple of seasons, and whilst doing so, the southpaw with the hammer curve has also maintained at least a 25.0% strikeout rate. Given that he furthermore possesses the power to re-write the BABIP laws (his .270 average is significantly below the typical league-wide .290-.300 range), the seven year, $215 million extension that Los Angeles signed their stud to this past winter could end up being a bargain should Kershaw keep up his current rate of performance – as speculated by Grantland’s Jonah Keri.

After providing yet another example of how Spring Training statistics don’t matter (he had a 9.20 ERA across 14.2 IP), Kershaw is already off to another dominant start – fanning 7 Arizona batters with his typically filthy array of curveballs and sliders over 6.2 innings in the opening game of the 2014 season. Though he finally gave up his first Opening Day earned run in his fourth such start, it’s shaping up to be yet another season in which the normally-charitable Kershaw makes even the sport’s best hitters look helpless – stranding them alone on an unforgiving island of pitching cruelty up in the batter’s box.

Unfortunately for the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez, barring voter fatigue, or God help us all, injury, the NL Cy Young hardware should be Kershaw’s for years to come should he simply stay on track. Get ready to clear some more room on the mantelpiece Clayton, you’ve got my (unrecognized) vote already.

The field of possible contenders among the American League is much wider; Yu Darvish, King Felix, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander all figure to be in the mix, but, as mentioned in yesterday’s gambling related post (when I wasn’t making fun Fernando Rodney actually having odds for the award), I’m picking David Price – he who has averaged 208 innings and a 78 ERA- over the past four years – to pick up his second Cy.

Having won the award in 2012, Price’s offseason regiment back at his alma mater Vanderbilt was disrupted by the bump in publicity he subsequently received. Unable to work out fully with his old Commodores Coach Tim Corbin, the Rays’ ace came out the gate slowly in 2013, allowing eight home runs and an opponent’s triple slash line of .294/.340/.471 in his first 55 innings pitched. By the time he came out of May 15 outing against the Boston Red Sox (in which lasted just 2.1 innings, allowing four runs) with a triceps injury, Price was sitting on a 5.24 ERA with a 1-4 record. He’d be out for six weeks, but would return with a vengeance.

Making 18 starts over the rest of the season (including Game 163 in Texas), Price would author a 2.53 ERA (37 ER/131.2 IP), allowing only 113 hits en route to a 9-4 record. Even more impressive though, was his immaculate control; after returning, the lefty’s velocity was down, but he still struck out 102 batters while only issuing 13 walks. By seasons end, Price paced the Junior Circuit in complete games (4), fewest walks per nine innings (1.3 BB/9), and also had the highest strikeout to walk ratio (5.59) – officially returning to the form that captured him the 2012 award, even despite a velocity drop (he didn’t throw one pitch of at least 97mph in 2013, after throwing more than 250 such pitches in 2012, though his average still sat at a very respectable 93.5mph).

At only 28, manager Joe Maddon believes his no. 1 to be entering “that era of five or six years of the best pitching” of his career, but 2014 will almost certainly be the last year Price spends in a Rays uniform; it was quite the industry surprise that Tampa didn’t move him during December’s Winter Meetings, and instead picked up his arbitration tab for the upcoming year. Consider this season the ultimate trade showcase then, as I expect Price to pick up exactly where he left off in 2013 and then, trophy in hand, be moved next winter in exchange for a veritable bounty. It might be another two years until he’s paid like the ace he is then, but hopefully a second Cy Young for the meantime will be sufficient consolation for Price.

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