Who Should Win the American League Cy Young Award?

The race for AL Cy Young is down to two pitchers, and it's a virtual coin flip.

It shouldn't come as a shock that Seattle Mariners' ace Felix Hernandez is one of the leading candidates for the American League Cy Young Award this year. After all, King Felix has already won this thing once before, in 2010 (oddly the only season since 2009 in which he didn't make the AL All Star team), and has been in the top five of Cy Young voting three times in the last six years.

And while Hernandez has been outstanding once again this season, there is a relative newcomer to the proceedings, Cleveland Indians' right-hander Corey Kluber, who has been every bit as good as his more famous competitor for top pitching honors in the AL.

We know both have been really, really good in 2014. But as the season winds down to the final four games for most teams, it's almost impossible to decide which of these pitchers should win the Cy Young. Here is how some of their numbers break down.

Corey Kluber6.97.02.28179227.210.21.942.532.38
Felix Hernandez6.46.02.19146230.29.41.792.342.6

So, what do we look at here? What's most important? Certainly not wins, which are now widely seen throughout baseball as more of a "team" rather than an "individual" statistic. So while Kluber has 17 wins and Hernandez has 14, that will not factor into my decision-making process.

I also am not a fan of using a team's success as a factor in determining who wins individual postseason awards. In this case, it doesn't really matter, as it appears both pitchers will not participate in the postseason. But that also means that I am not going to give bonus points to a pitcher from a playoff team, like Detroit's David Price, over Kluber or Hernandez.

So with one start left in the 2014 season possible for both pitchers (Kluber would start in the second-to-last game of the season if his spot in the rotation holds, Hernandez would pitch in the final game of the season), the numbers above show Kluber with a slight edge in most of those categories.

The Analytics

Our nERD figure for both players indicate Kluber has saved his team more runs this season than Hernandez. Kluber's nERD of 2.28 means he would have saved his team 2.28 runs a game more than a league-average pitcher over a 27-out game, slightly better than King Felix's 2.19 nERD. In terms of FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), Kluber betters Hernandez 7.0-to-6.0, and in Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement (bWAR), Kluber is also on top, 6.9-to-6.4.

These are three very important metrics which take into account ERA, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), walks, strikeouts, home runs, and virtually every other important pitching statistic. However, it's still beneficial to look at the counting stats as well, to see for ourselves how each pitcher stacks up.

The Counting Stats

Kluber has piled up more strikeouts than Hernandez, 258-to-241 (David Price leads all AL pitchers with 263) and has a better strikeouts-per-nine innings (K/9) total, too (10.2-to-9.4). However, Hernandez has been a touch stingier with the walks, giving up just 1.79 walks-per-nine (BB/9), compared to 1.94 for Kluber. And Hernandez' ERA of 2.34 is better than Kluber's 2.53 (Chicago's Chris Sale leads that category at 2.17).

In terms of batting average against, Hernandez has allowed opponents to hit just .201 against him this year, trailing only Los Angeles' Garrett Richards (.200) in that category. Kluber is 12th in the AL in batting average against, at .233. Hernandez also has a better WHIP than Kluber (0.94-to-1.10), although Kluber has given up fewer home runs per nine innings (HR/9), 0.55-to-0.62.

Pressure Situations

Here is how both pitchers have done in High Leverage Situations (for example, how did a pitcher perform with a one-run lead in the later innings, as opposed to a one-run lead in the early innings) and with runners in scoring position (RISP).


Again, there doesn't seem to be a clear winner here. According to weighted on base average (wOBA), Corey Kluber has been a bit better in "high leverage" situations (.265-to-.281), while Hernandez has been stingier with runners in scoring position (.227-to-.250).

The Verdict

Until this week, King Felix probably had the lead in this race. That was until he gave up eight earned runs on seven hits, three walks and five strikeouts in just 4.2 innings on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Heading into that game, his ERA stood at 2.07, and he led Kluber in both bWAR and ERA. Meanwhile, Kluber was just named AL Pitcher of the Week for last week, after going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 28 strikeouts in two starts.

Since most of the counting and high leverage stats are pretty much even between the two, we're left at the three main metrics for judging pitchers to make our decision. And in terms of nERD, fWAR and bWAR, it seems clear that Kluber has a slightly better case for the AL Cy Young Award than Hernandez.

Of course, it's possible both pitchers will make one more start this week, with one last chance for each to nose ahead of the other.