The last Oakland Athletic to win the Cy Young was Barry Zito in 2002. Since then, only three A's pitchers have received votes: Tim Hudson (2003), Keith Foulke (2003), and Trevor Cahill (2011). Each of them received stray votes on the back-ends of a couple of ballots and didn't factor into the race at all. It's been 11 years since an Oakland pitcher got serious consideration for the Cy Young.
That will change this year. Bartolo Colon is going to get serious consideration. Colon won the award in 2005, which means that, since 2003, Colon has more Cy Youngs than the entire Athletics organization. Let's take a look at some of the leading candidates, starting with a list of pitchers who appear in the top 20 in WAR on both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference:
There are a few notable omissions from this list. Jon Lester, C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Chris Tillman each had fantastic seasons with 200+ innings and good W-L records (except for Holland's 10-9 mark), but they don't quite make the cut. David Price, Justin Masterson, and Andy Pettitte were all good, but they each failed to reach 200 innings and probably won't get any votes.
Let's pare down the list a bit further. Quintana was good, but his 9-7 record will get him no attention from voters. Kuroda actually had a losing record on the Yankees, which seems impossible for a starting pitcher with an active pulse -- he's out. Fister is only the third or fourth best pitcher on his own team, so he's cut. Shields will get lost among the bigger names, better records, and lower ERA's surrounding him. On the other hand, the list doesn't have nearly enough closers given the voters' love of bloated save totals. Jim Johnson may get some votes, as could Joe Nathan, Greg Holland, and Mariano Rivera. I'm adding Holland and Nathan to the list due their 40+ saves and sub-2 ERA's.
Here is our short list, with some key stats (that is, the type of stats that voters care about):
|Bartolo Colon||18-6, 2.65 ERA, 117 strikeouts|
|Yu Darvish||13-9, 2.83 ERA, 277 strikeouts|
|Felix Hernandez||12-10, 3.04 ERA, 216 strikeouts|
|Hisashi Iwakuma||14-6, 2.66 ERA, 185 strikeouts|
|Chris Sale||11-14, 3.07 ERA, 226 strikeouts|
|Anibal Sanchez||14-8, 2.57 ERA, 202 strikeouts|
|Max Scherzer||21-3, 2.90 ERA, 240 strikeouts|
|Justin Verlander||13-12, 3.46 ERA, 217 strikeouts|
|Greg Holland||47 saves, 1.21 ERA, 103 strikeouts|
|Joe Nathan||43 saves, 1.39 ERA, 73 strikeouts|
|Koji Uehara||21 saves, 1.09 ERA, 101 strikeouts|
Before you say anything about the stats in that table, just stop. You and I both know that these are the fundamentals on which Cy Young voting is based. Other stats may get looked at, but only if you pass the Win-Loss-ERA test.
Let's start cutting the list down a bit further. All three of those closers had marvelous years and they will probably each get at least one stray down-ballot vote (as will Johnson with his 50 saves), but none will get serious consideration this year. Last year, Fernando Rodney saved 48 games and set an all-time ERA record (0.60). He got one first-place vote. None of these closers will get a first-place vote. They're out.
Chris Sale...had a losing record? Seriously? Man, the White Sox are terrible. Sorry, dude. You don't get votes with a losing record, even if you are one of the best pitchers in the league according to both versions of WAR. Verlander was good, but his numbers seem downright pedestrian compared to his monster 2011 and 2012 seasons. Also, his ERA and W-L record aren't up to snuff. He won't get serious votes in what is perceived to be an "off year" for him. Felix looked like a front-runner as recently as August 11, but he fell apart down the stretch -- he lost his last five decisions and saw his ERA shoot up by over half a run over his final six starts. It seems sacrilegious to bump him from this list, especially since he's won the award with a lackluster W-L record before, but he's gone too.
We have five starters left, which is convenient because there are now five spots on the Cy Young ballot. Let's take a look at each pitcher.
Scherzer is the obvious front-runner. He's the only pitcher in the majors to reach 20 wins this year, he's got a great ERA, he struck out a ton of hitters, he limited the walks and homers, he leads AL pitchers in fWAR (and is a close third in bWAR), his team won its division, he probably loves kittens, and I just saw him help an old lady cross the street. He's the perfect candidate -- a champion of both old-school and new-fangled stats, and the ace of the best starting rotation in baseball. It doesn't get more obvious than this. He's going to win, he should win, and I'd put him first on my ballot if I were a voter. Done and done. Let's discuss who may finish second.
If Darvish doesn't lose four different 1-0 games, then his record is closer to 17-5 and he becomes a more serious candidate. However, that stat has become very widely cited, and I think that voters will be aware of it and allow themselves to overlook his W-L record. He threw 209⅔ innings, he led the world in strikeouts by a huge margin, and he posted a sub-3 ERA. He also has this awesome GIF. He'll get a lot of votes.
When Colon won the Cy Young in 2005, it was purely on the strength of his W-L record. Johan Santana was superior in every conceivable way that year -- ERA (by over half a run), innings, hits, homers, WAR (by more than three wins) -- but Colon had those 21 wins and the voters just couldn't help themselves. It was a complete joke.
His resume is better this year, but it's still tough for me to fit him in my top three. He has the ERA this year, and he actually led the AL with three shutouts, but I put a big premium on innings with this award and Colon only tallied 190⅓. That's a huge problem for me. The late-career resurgence is a cool story, the fat jokes are hilarious, and I obviously have a huge bias toward my favorite team's player, but Colon may not even crack my top five. If he were to win, though, then I hope the headline would be: "Going back for seconds: Bartolo Colon wins another Cy Young."
Iwakuma might be the biggest snub this year. His excellent season flew mostly under the radar, and he is overshadowed by his famous teammate Felix. However, he threw a ton of innings, posted the third-best ERA and fourth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the league, managed a good W-L record on a bad team, and made the All-Star roster. I'm not convinced that he'll get any serious attention in the voting, but he's in my top five.
He's very similar to Colon. He led the league in ERA and posted a solid record, but he pitched only 182 innings. He's going to get attention for his ERA, but he actually might fall out of my top five due to the small workload. A low ERA is less impressive when your competition threw an extra 20-40 innings.
Given all of that, here is my theoretical Cy Young ballot:
1. Scherzer -- Hands down best pitcher in the AL this year.
2. Darvish -- Dominant pitcher with rotten luck.
3. Iwakuma -- OK, maybe Oakland should have signed him when they had the chance.
4. Sale -- Third-worst run support in the league will cost him real-life votes.
5. Hernandez -- Yep, I'm picking Felix over Colon. Can you blame me?
For the record, Colon would have been sixth on my ballot if there were one more spot. Iwakuma and Sale are interchangeable here; I gave Iwakuma the traditional-stat tiebreaker, but Sale could easily be third.
Here is how I think the real-life voting will play out:
5. Iwakuma/Hernandez (pick one)
Other pitchers who will get some votes: Sale, Verlander, Lester, Wilson, and at least a couple of closers. At least one person will give Rivera a token lifetime-achievement vote.
This is the most difficult race to predict, because the Cy Young voting has evolved faster than that of the other major awards. Felix, Zack Greinke, and Tim Lincecum have each won with unspectacular W-L records, so perhaps that stat is finally falling by the wayside and I'm not giving the voters enough credit for critical thinking. But then, David Price won last year over the more-deserving Verlander, probably on the strength of his 20th win (same with Dickey over Kershaw in the NL). Also, I think that flashy ERA's will still win the day over larger workloads and superior peripherals. One way or the other, I think that we can all agree that Scherzer is going to win and Colon is going to be on a lot of ballots.
Where do you think Colon will finish in the Cy Young race? Will the voters continue to look beyond W-L records, or will they fall back into their old habits? Which stats do you care most about for this award, and what would your theoretical ballot look like? Let us know in the comments!