Handicapping the AL Cy Young Race
When the clock turns to September the typical baseball fan turns their attention to the pennant races and award races. Most fantasy players have figured out whether they will be in the playoffs or not. So, our attention moves to Cy Young races during this edition. The American League race is wide open with more than three weeks remaining in the regular season. Most handicappers use complex statistics to evaluate the race. Normally I would do that, but this time around we will use the traditional fantasy categories to handicap the race.
- Chris Sale—Chicago White Sox
We add quality starts since it is the most common sixth category in fantasy sports. Sale is a longshot in reality because most of these victories and quality starts came before the all-star break. However, when do a composite ranking he ends up coming out on top. With three weeks remaining in the season he likely won’t finish on top on even the composite rankings if trends continue as they have. While it doesn’t make perfect sense, September performance has always meant more than the other five months.
It has been a tumultuous season for Sale. He began the season by getting right in the middle of the Adam Laroche controversy in Spring Training. Then, came the bizarre incident where he cut up a bunch of jerseys after complaining they made him feel uncomfortable. Whether he is mentally unstable or simply trying to get out of Chicago is anyone’s best guess.
- Justin Verlander—Detroit Tigers
Verlander has momentum on his side. He might just be the yin to Chris Sale’s raging yang. He began the season so poorly that some people were thinking that he was reaching the beginning of the end. Since then, he has been the best pitcher in the American League. He already has a Cy Young Award and MVP to his credit. If he wins another one then he could begin to cement his resume for the Hall of Fame.
In the meantime, his resume is built largely on ranking second in the league in strikeouts and first in the league in quality starts. Quality starts were a Scott Boras invention, but they are often more instructive than wins and losses. It measures how many times a starter has kept his team in the game. Verlander is not only the top pitcher in the American League in that category, but he is number one in all of baseball.
- Corey Kluber—Cleveland Indians
Kluber has proven that 2015 wasn’t a fluke. Like Verlander, he has been getting better as the season has been going along. Cy Young voters don’t focus nearly as much on team success as MVP voters, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Unlike Sale and Verlander, Kluber has led his team to a likely divisional championship. The Indians pitching has been more responsible for their success than their hitting.
Kluber’s strength is that he contributes in every category. He ranks in the top five among qualifying AL starters in every major category except for ERA. That could be rectified with one dominant start. At the same time, he doesn’t lead the league in any category, so he has to be seen as a longer shot at this point.
- Rick Porcello—Boston Red Sox
Every year there is a pitcher like Porcello. He comes out of nowhere to win a bunch of games, but when the dust settles he isn’t tremendously better than what he had been before. Drew Pomeranz has similar numbers in nearly every category except for his won-loss record. Just like in fantasy baseball, we can pay too much attention to wins and losses and ignore the other numbers.
Don’t get me wrong, you are better off with Porcello on your roster than off. That being said, there is no compelling argument for him to claim the Cy Young Award outside of those wins. The moment he wins his 20th game he will become a compelling candidate by default. Here is hoping the Cy Young voters avoid the temptation to rubber stamp his candidacy.
- Jose Quintana—Chicago White Sox
One could conceivably argue that Quintana has been a more consistent and better overall pitcher than his teammate. The fact that the White Sox have two of the top five starters in the league and are still languishing in fourth place probably tells you all you need to know about their roster. It helps explain how someone as talented and effective as Quintana has basically been a .500 pitcher in his career.
I hate getting on soapboxes, but it is either time to ignore wins and losses or it is time to revamp the rule governing how wins are doled out. This is one of the reasons why quality starts have become increasingly popular as a fantasy category. Quintana is tied for third in that category, but it only one out of second place. A vote for Quintana is a vote for progress.