With 20 percent of the 2013 season in the books, lets take a look at ten pitchers earning 2013 consideration as Cy Young candidates. In February, I wrote a preview for the Cy Young candidates of the 2013 season, using two advanced statistical prediction tools (SIERA and xFIP). Now that most pitchers have had six to seven starts under their belts, there is data available to make better informed predictions on candidates for this year’s awards. To determine the front-runners Wins Above Replacement, or WAR will be used, a stat that allows us to compare player valve to each other (which was invented for articles like this) and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) which tells us how the pitcher performs removing both luck and fielding from the equation.
*I would like to note that I do not value relievers enough to consider them Cy Young candidates. Craig Kimbrel was arguably the best reliever in baseball last year, and according the Baseball Reference, he contributed a little over 3 wins above replacement. Compare that to other notable starters with a WAR of 3 such as Ryan Dempster, Wade Miley or Jonathan Niese.
Stats: WAR = Wins Above Replacement, FIP = Fielding Independent Pitching, BABIP = Batting Average on Balls in Play
2013 WAR: 1.9, FIP: 1.91
Wainwright is putting up excellent numbers to start this season. He is striking out almost nine batters and walking less than one per nine innings. His BABIP is a high .350, meaning if anything he has been unlucky this year and his numbers may improve.
2013 WAR: 1.3, FIP: 2.60
While Kershaw is striking out batters at a good clip, he is also walking batters at a higher rate than his career average. He has been excellent at stranding runners this year, but his stats may decline as more of these runners score.
2013 WAR: 1.3, FIP: 2.27
Harvey is the Mets’ young phenom. He is striking out batters at a high rate, not walking many, and leaving a lot of runners stranded. However, his BABIP is a low .210, meaning he has been extremely lucky to begin this season. Expect his numbers to fall somewhat back to earth as the season progresses. However, if his strikeout rate continues, I would expect his name to be in the mix come September.
2013 WAR: 1.2, FIP: 2.28
Would anyone have expected to be talking about A.J. Burnett as a Cy Young candidate in the 2013 season? I know I sure didn’t. Burnett has been striking out almost four more batters per nine innings than last year and has been giving up considerably less home runs. Giving up fewer home runs and striking out more batters will lead to more success for any pitcher, and if Burnett can keep up this pace he may see some new hardware.
Dark Horse: Madison Bumgarner
2013 WAR: 0.9, FIP: 2.94
With the rest of the Giants rotation struggling, Bumgarner has picked up the slack. The key to Mad-Bum’s success has always been throwing strikes, and that theme has not changed this year. If he can strike out some more batters, his WAR and FIP numbers will improve and his name will begin circulating in conversations of Cy Young candidates.
2013 WAR: 2.0, FIP: 2.11
Buchholz has been the anchor for the suddenly resurgent Red Sox this year. He is seeing success due to an increased strikeout rate and a low home run rate. Although these rates are both significantly better than his career averages, if Buchholz can sustain them throughout the year he will be in the running for the best pitcher the AL.
2013 WAR: 2.0, FIP: 1.96
What else is there to say about Verlander, the guy who just continues to pitch well. Even though statistically he is not even the Tigers’ best starting pitcher (that goes to Anibal Sanchez), Verlander’s track record is enough to convince me that his success will continue throughout the year.
2013 WAR: 1.6, FIP: 2.17
King Felix has come out of the gate in 2013 with every intention of repeating his numbers from 2012. He is walking less batters and striking more out than in previous years. Even if we allow for some regression over the course of the season, that still puts Felix at career average Felix numbers, which have been good enough to win the award in previous years.
2013 WAR: 1.9, FIP: 1.88
Darvish has begun his 2013 season by mowing down hitters at an absurd rate of 14 batters per 9 innings. While it is highly unlikely that this rate will continue all season, both WAR and FIP value stikeouts highly, and even a moderate reduction in strikeout rate will have Yu’s mentioned as a Cy Young candidate in 2013.
Dark Horse: James Shields
2013 WAR: 1.5, FIP: 2.64
With both the Royals early season success, and a move from the dreaded AL East to the Central, Shields is poised to have a solid year. If the Royals can continue winning, it would not be surprising to see Shields’ name pop up as a Cy Young candidate, especially if they manage to make the playoffs.