AL: CC Sabathia. CC won the award in 2007 with the Indians and has finished no worse than fifth in the Cy Young voting every year since then (5th in ’08; 4th in ’09 and ’11; 3rd in ’10). And just about each time, he’s had a legitimate case to win the thing. This year, I think he’ll finally repeat as the Cy Young Award winner. He’s got everything the voters want: he’s a workhorse, he’s incredibly good at not letting runs cross home plate, and he’ll win a lot of games. Maybe this (and my NL pick) is a sentimental pick, but I don’t think it’s that far fetched.
NL: Cole Hamels. I think I predict this one almost every year, but now I think it’s going to come true. Hamels is a top-flight lefty pitcher who plays for a winning team. He’ll have to overshadow teammates Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee to win the award, but if there’s anyone who can do that, it’s him. Like Sabathia, he does just about everything right: he pitches a lot of innings, he strikes guys out, he doesn’t walk a lot of guys, and he doesn’t allow many runs to score. Prove me right, Cole.
AL: Justin Verlander – He’s the best pitcher in the American League. Even with Cleveland and Kansas City improving, he pitches in the worst division in all of baseball. I don’t like Miguel Cabrera at third base either but, money aside, the Tigers made themselves an even better team. MVP? No. Cy Young? Yes. I’m not picking against him. If I was, I might just put my money on David Price. ERA jump aside, he’s taken a step forward in each Major League season. He’s still very young and very talented and Matt Moore mania be damned, he’s the best pitcher in Tampa Bay. So Verlander is my pick but watch out for Price.
NL: Cliff Lee – I want to say Stephen Strasburg and I might just do it if he wasn’t innings limited. But he is so I won’t. That leaves Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Zack Greinke among others. They’re all likely to be great candidates. It’s hard to differentiate at this point in the season. But Lee is often overlooked in Philly (it’s easy to forget he had a better xFIP than Halladay AND Kershaw). I really think he’s going to have another strong season and I’ll give him the nod. My dark horse is Yovani Gallardo. I thought he’d take that final step into ace territory two years ago, and last year, and I’m still not done believing there’s more there.
AL: CC Sabathia: I think its only a matter of time that CC finally wins a CY Young with the Yankees. There were plenty of stats (all the ones that mattered) that indicated that he should have won last year, and with that I feel he’s ready to reclaim his thrown in the American League. With Miguel Cabrera fielding at 3B and Prince Fielder fielding at 1B, its Justin Verlander’s turn to see the wrath of a poor defensive driven ERA. Other than Felix Hernandez, I don’t think any other pitcher will compete for the AL Cy Young.
NL: Zack Greinke: Like Sabathia, Greinke led his division in xFIP. I believe he’ll be able to replicate his performance based on his incredible K/9 rate, but this season won’t have the huge ERA-FIP differential. Clayton Kershaw has some incredible talent, but I think its Greinke’s time to shine in a potential contract year.
AL: Felix Hernadnex (runners up: Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia)
King Felix is still the best pitcher in the AL and he’ll remind us all of that next year. Justin Verlander is by no means over rated, but his 2011 wasn’t as good as advertised. He’ll have another stellar season next year, but it won’t generate the same hype. CC will remain his beastly self, but playing in the AL East means his ERA will always be just a bit higher than the competition’s.
NL: Roy Halladay (runners up: Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum)
Roy Halladay hasn’t had a FIP above 3.06 since 2007. His xFIP has been no higher than 3.11 that entire time. We should name the NL award in his honor. Kershaw may be the perennial favorite, but beginning in 2013. Lincecum is just as good as he ever was.
AL: Justin Verlander (runners up: Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia)
It would be easy to pick Verlander to regress in 2012, especially if Miguel Cabrera does get significant playing time at 3rd base. However, given how weak his divisional competition is, I can’t see how he won’t post dominant numbers again. King Felix will give him a run for his money, and CC Sabathia won’t be far behind, but the level of competition they will be facing could make a huge difference in their stats.
NL: Clayton Kershaw (runners up: Roy Halladay, Tim Linecum)
The scary thing is that Kershaw could still be improving. He has the benefit of pitching in a pitcher-friendly park and a weak division, and also manages to pile up strikeouts and while keeping his walk rate at a reasonable level. Halladay is far from washed up and Lincecum is still a freak, but they both will have teammates in contention for the award who might steal votes.
AL) Felix Hernandez- Verlander won’t get the same hype this year as he did in 2011 thanks to the arrival of Prince Fielder, David Price always seems to have just enough crummy starts to eliminate himself as a top contender, and CC has the anti-Yankee bias working against him. This leaves the door wide open for 2010 AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. His peripherals last season were almost identical to 2010 except for an increase in ERA (3.47 from 2.27), and he might stand to get a few more Ws this season if Jesus, Justin Smoak, and Dustin Ackley can help the offense score a few more runs for him. It seems like he’s been around forever, but at 26 Hernandez is just starting to reach his prime years and reports from Mariners camp say he looks great this spring (save for that last start). He’s left to carry that staff with Pineda gone and he’ll do just that. He’s my pick.
NL) Clayton Kershaw- Clayton Kershaw is scary good. If I were a hitter in the NL West, I would have nightmares about the guy. He’s big, he’s left-handed, he can strike you out with any of his pitches, and his numbers from 2011 are downright silly: 2.28/2.47/2.84 slash line, 9.57 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 6.8 fWAR in 233.1 IP. That 2.08 BB/9 was down from 3.57 in 2010, which was down from 4.79 in 2009. And the kid just turned 24 years old! He’s still learning to refine his game and still getting better, which makes him even scarier. Like Hernandez, Kershaw is going to be expected to carry what could be a very shaky Dodgers’ pitching staff, something that should work to his advantage as the Halladays, Lees, Hamelses, and Lincecums of the world steal votes from each other. A 2nd Cy Young at age 24 would be very impressive, and I don’t think it will be Kershaw’s last.
American League: Felix Hernandez. The 2010 Cy Young Winner is still the best pitcher in baseball. His ERA took a hit last season, but his K/BB ratio didn’t budge. He’s somehow still just 26 years old, so he could even still improve. A poor W-L record could hold him back, but he’s my pick for the best pitcher of 2012.
National League: Clayton Kershaw. I’m betting he repeats as Cy Young winner in 2012. He put together his fantastic 7-WAR season at just 23 years old. Kershaw may be far from his peak at this point. He’ll look real good in pinstripes one day.
AL Cy Young
01. Jered Weaver
02. CC Sabathia
03. Justin Verlander
We in the analytics community tend to fall in love with “luck,” and it is something that may be as inane as those on the other side of the coin that cannot even discuss BABIP or LOB% or HR/FB without foaming at the mouth. Jered Weaver has posted below league-average BABIP and HR/FB numbers throughout his career, and his ability to mix two or three fastballs, a slider, a change-up, and a curve likely has much more to do with that than any amount of luck. I suspect that this season – the last year of Weaver’s 20s – will be the year in which he dominates from wire to wire, matching his 2010 strikeout rates and maintaining tremendous run prevention numbers. The improved offense, with Albert Pujols, Vernon Wells in an even-numbered year, a healthy Kendrys Morales, and (possibly) a Mike Trout sighting should help with the wins narrative, to boot.
NL Cy Young
01. Cole Hamels
02. Roy Halladay
03. Tim Lincecum
In 2011, Hamels quietly pieced together the very best season of his career, posting well above-average strikeout, walk, and groundball rates. There are a litany of possible explanations for this – maturation, natural talent, sitting in the bullpen with Halladay and Lee whispering into his ears … but I am quite certain that the revelation that was somewhat obscured by the brilliance of the aforementioned 1a. and 1b. was entirely real, and a precursor of things to come. Now, at the age of 28 and on the cusp of nine-figures this winter, I think we may see an early contender for the best season of this young decade.