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Who’s going to win the American League Cy Young?

Kluber has a case. So do a whole bunch of other guys.

Harry How/Getty Images

There are 25 days left in the 2016 regular season, and there are still a number of postseason spots up for grabs. It also means starting pitchers only have four or five more opportunities to make their case for the Cy Young Award. The American League race is wide open right now, with a number of starters and one closer all having some sort of reasonable argument. Among the ten pitchers I could see landing atop a voter’s ballot is Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber. Can he become the first pitcher to win the Cy Young twice with the Tribe?

The Candidates

Corey Kluber (Indians)

3.16 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 150 ERA+ 190.2 IP, 15-9, 198 K, 1.34 WPA, 5.8 bWAR, 4.7 fWAR

He's your guy if... you're on board with WAR. Kluber leads AL pitchers in bWAR and is tied for the lead in fWAR. He leads the AL in FIP, is tied for the lead in ERA+, and is close to the lead in ERA, innings pitched, and strikeouts. He's not going to win 20 games the way one or two others probably will, and his WPA doesn't look impressive compared to that of some of the others here, but those are both largely dependent on the performance of teammates.

Justin Verlander (Tigers)

3.28 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 126 ERA+, 195.0 IP, 14-7, 209 K, 2.67 WPA, 5.1 bWAR, 4.3 fWAR

He's your guy if... you like a guy who pitches deep into games and strikes a lot of guys out. Verlander has bounced back from a couple down years to post numbers that look a lot like the ones he posted during his peak. I think it's hard to argue for him deserving the top spot right now, but he's close enough that a good final four or five games could certainly be enough.

Chris Sale (White Sox)

3.07 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 132 ERA+, 193.2 IP, 15-7, 193K, 2.90 WPA, 5.0 bWAR, 4.7 fWAR

He's your guy if... you want someone who rates well by just about any metric, and like someone with strong context-dependent performance. Sale is in the top three for both versions of WAR, and his numbers are very similar to Kluber's, with two notable differences: Sale's adjusted ERA (ERA+) isn't nearly as impressive a Kluber's, and Sale's WPA is the best of any American League starting pitcher.

Cole Hamels (Rangers)

3.25 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 141 ERA+, 174.2 IP, 14-5, 175 K, 1.76 WPA, 5.0 bWAR, 2.6 fWAR

He's your guy if... you like the narrative of choosing the ace from the team with the best record. Really, that description sells Hamels short, because he is having a really good season, but it's hard to put together a solid case for him as the league's best right now. Kluber is ahead of him in everything I've listed except for WPA. Still, if Kluber falters, Hamels could lead AL pitchers in bWAR, so by season's end his case could certainly have come together.

Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees)

3.11 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 141 ERA+, 179.1 IP, 12-4, 150 K, 1.98 WPA, 4.7 bWAR, 4.7 fWAR

He's your guy if... he finishes well. Tanaka hasn't gotten a ton of attention, but he's been really, really good, and is tied for the lead in fWAR right now. If he pitches well enough to get his ERA below 3.00, and a couple other guys falter, Tanaka's traditional and advanced resumes will both be strong. Team success doesn't impact Cy Young voting as much as it does MVP voting, but if the Yankees are able to win one of the Wild Card spots, Tanaka could benefit.

Rick Porcello (Red Sox)

3.23 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 143 ERA+, 186.2 IP, 19-3, 154 K, 1.23 WPA, 4.2 bWAR, 4.0 fWAR

He's your guy if... you like those 19 wins (and just 3 losses). Porcello might be the only MLB pitcher to win 20 games this season, and while that doesn't have quite the same hold it did a decade ago, it's still a powerful draw for many Cy Young voters. Among all the starters here, I think Porcello has the best chance of actually winning the award, and it's not as though his record is the only thing working in his favor. He's fifth in the AL in innings pitched, and his ERA+ ranks fourth among qualified pitchers.

J.A. Happ (Blue Jays)

3.34 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 129 ERA+, 164.1 IP, 17-4, 144 K, 1.75 WPA, 3.4 bWAR, 2.8 fWAR

He's your guy if... he gets to 20 wins and that sort of things moves you. Even if he gets there, he'll need to lower his ERA a bit, because even among those attracted to wins, Porcello is likely to have at least as many, and Porcello has better rate stats at the moment. If those two are close in a lot of categories, some voters might fall back on which team wins the AL East as their tiebreaker, and Toronto is slightly behind right now.

Aaron Sanchez (Blue Jays)

2.92 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 147 ERA+, 169.1 IP, 13-2, 138 K, 2.84 WPA, 4.1 bWAR, 3.6 fWAR

He's your guy if... you believe ERA is king among pitching statistics. Sanchez currently leads qualified starters, and while his lead is slim, if he holds onto it and wins another three games or so, his ERA and winning percentage will appeal to lot of more traditional voters.

Michael Fulmer (Tigers)

2.77 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 150 ERA+, 136.2 IP, 10-6, 112 K, 1.01 WPA, 4.9 bWAR, 2.5 fWAR

He's your guy if... he pitches enough innings to qualify and keeps his ERA about where it is, allowing him to lead the league, something no rookie has done in 40 years. The gulf between his ERA and FIP will turn off voters who notice and care about FIP, so I don't think there's anyway Fulmer wins, but anyone who leads the league in ERA might pull in a couple first place votes,

Zach Britton (Orioles)

0.65 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 687 ERA+, 55.0 IP, 40 saves, 62 K, 4.85 WPA, 3.3 bWAR, 1.9 fWAR

He's your guy if... you don't find yourself bowled over by this year's crop of starting pitchers, and are willing to support a guy who's thrown not even 30% as many innings as the league leaders. Britton leads the AL in saves, and his current ERA+ would be the highest in Major League history among pitchers with 50+ innings.

My Ballot

Whatever your ballot looks like now, you've got to be open to pretty significant changes between now and the end of the season, because things are so close. I didn't even mention Jose Quintana, because I don't think he has any case for winning or deserving to, but he could certainly be in someone's top five. If the voting were held right now, I think Britton would become the first AL relief pitcher to win the Cy Young since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. The last pitcher with a season like Britton is having was Fernando Rodney in 2012, and he only finished fifth in the voting (with one first-place vote), but the two starters who took the rest of the first-place votes that season each had an ERA more than a quarter run lower than the current league leader this season. Rick Porcello doesn't have 20 wins yet, but if that changes, he might be the smart money pick. Neither of those guy's is my pick though, because while I respect Britton's season, I'm among those who has trouble with a reliever really being better than even the best starters in a given season.

For now...

  • 1) Corey Kluber
  • 2) Chris Sale
  • 3) Justin Verlander
  • 4) Masahiro Tanaka
  • 5) Zach Britton