AL Cy Young Mystery

At this time last year, baseball analysts and fans were scratching their heads and asking themselves, Who do we vote for to be the National League Cy Young Award winner?

Those same people are asking themselves this year, Who do we vote for to be the American League Cy Young Award winner?

Basically the same question, but for way different reasons.

Last year’s race in the NL to determine the best pitcher in the league was between two pitchers; clear front-runners – Zack Greinke and, eventual winner, Jake Arrieta.

This year’s race in the AL to determine the league’s best pitcher is between a number of pitchers, with no clear front-runner.

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Chris Tillman of the Baltimore Orioles is one of those front runners. Through 22 starts this season, he has a 14-3 record and has yet to get the loss in more than one start in a month this season.   Photo by Nick Wass / Associate Press

Over the last few years baseball fans have gotten used to strong, dominant pitching in the National League – Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Noah Syndergaard, Greinke, and Arrieta. The list can be expanded, but you get the picture.

Lately the Cy Young race in the NL has seemed to have a 1A and 1B in choices.

The same doesn’t hold true in the AL in 2016.

At this point there isn’t a clear front-runner for the award.

White Sox ace Chris Sale (14-3) was likely the favorite after the start of the season, but his résumé has lost some of its polish, thanks in part, to his off-the-field antics.

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Chris Sale didn’t get the win in his only start since the All-Star break, but he deserved to get win No. 15 as he pitched eight innings without giving up a run in a no decision against Seattle on July 18. Photo by Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press

Baltimore‘s Chris Tillman (14-3) had the chance to separate himself from the pack Tuesday night, but after allowing six runs on nine hits in a losing effort at home against Colorado, the trophy has left the Charm City for the time being.

Another candidate for the award may be Toronto‘s Aaron Sanchez, who has an 11-1 record and with a 2.72 ERA.

Other leading candidates are Texas Cole Hamels (11-2), Danny Salazar (11-3) of Cleveland, and surprisingly the Red Sox Rick Porcello (13-2).

That’s just how wide open this is. Rick Porcello of all people is actually in the conversation.

Statistically, Sanchez is the best of the aforementioned group of starters in terms of ERA (2.72) and has the highest percentage of quality starts (80%).

Sale’s 1.01 WHIP is the best of the group, he is tied for the most wins, and is also in the top two in strikeouts (129), K’s per 9 IP (8.73), strikeout to walk ratio (4.45) and has the second-lowest opponent batting average at .216.

Salazar is tops in K’s, and K/9, has allowed the fewest runs and at .211 has the lowest opponent batting average. Hamels, meanwhile, is towards the middle of the group in major statistical categories, but there’s a lot to like – his earned-run average is low, WHIP is low, he has a good amount of strikeouts, and his 84.62 win percentage is the second best of the group.

As well as he has pitched this year, Tillman’s numbers are actually towards the bottom when talking about this group of starters. They’re not bad, just not the best. When looking at his numbers, though, it is important to remember that he has made at least two more starts than any of the five other starters.

In fact, Tillman has given up the second-most runs, but in terms of runs per start, he’s in the top three.

Tillman is also 8-2 against teams with winning records, and has the lowest run support of the leading candidates for the award.

According to ESPN’s Cy Young Award Predictor, a method by Bill James and’s Rob Neyer that uses past results to predict who the award winner will be, Tillman is the leader in the American League amongst starting pitchers.

In actuality, the true leader, according to James and Neyer, is Baltimore closer Zach Britton. A closer hasn’t won the award in either league since Eric Gagne in 2003. A reliever hasn’t won it in the AL since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.

If Tillman or Britton would manage to win the award, they would be the first Orioles pitcher to win it since Mike Flanagan in 1979.

It’s easy to see why there isn’t a clear-cut favorite to earn the title of best pitcher in the American League in 2016 just yet. Sure there’s been a number of good pitchers, but there hasn’t been one great pitcher in the AL this year.

Not yet, at least.

August is just around the corner. It’s time for one of these pitchers to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.


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