It’s time for the End of the Year Awards. This is one of my favorite articles to write each year. It’s also a mandatory article per my affiliation with the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. However, it’s not a problem as I love writing these and always hope my vote helps pick the individuals I deem as the correct recipients of each individual reward. So let’s continue with the….
Walter Johnson Award (Cy Young)
1. Felix Hernandez
2. Corey Kluber
3. Chris Sale
4. Jon Lester
5. David Price
The Walter Johnson Award is one of two awards where we list more than 3 people. And that’s where it gets hard. It’s often easy to pick out the best player at a position in any individual year. However it is far more difficult to make a list of the top 3 at any position, much less the top 5. But I did my best.
There were plenty of talented pitchers to consider. In addition to the 5 I listed above, I thought long and hard about Garrett Richards, Dallas Keuchel, Alex Cobb, Sony Gray, Max Scherzer and James Shields. All those pitchers had great years. The one thing that all of them had in common with my top 5 (save one addition and one abstention) is that they were in the league’s top 10 in ERA rankings. I don’t think that earned run average is the be-all and end-all of pitchers stats, but it is one of the better ones. We now know that wins are an overrated stat. We love strikeouts and know they are important. But you can be a successful pitcher without recording a ton of strikeouts. So while I weighed a number of stats, one of the heaviest was ERA. However I also gave a lot of credence to WHIP and BAA. They give you an idea of how dominant a pitcher is in any inning. And all of the guys I considered were ranked highly in those stats as well. So while there were a ton of talented pitchers who great seasons in the AL this year, I spent a lot of time studying the stats before I settled on my top 5.
Fifth on that list is David Price who split his year between the Rays and Tigers. He is a dominant lefty and the only person that wasn’t in the top 10 in ERA that I considered (the only pitcher in the top 10 of ERA I didn’t consider was Yordano Ventura who was good, but not as dominant as others on the list). He still had a very good ERA though, ranking 12th in the AL with a 3.26. But he made up for not ranking as highly there by being a workhorse. He led the league with 248 IP and 271 Ks. And in addition to his strikeout dominance he kept hitters off base with a low WHIP. The 240 BAA wasn’t as strong as the numbers his fellow hurlers put up, but that’s why he’s ranked 5th. His ability to go deep into games and shut down offenses with the strikeout was overwhelming. Add to that an ERA and WHIP that are both very gppd, and you have a top pitcher in the AL, as he has proven he is year after year.
Number 4 on my list was Jon Lester. He was another guy who split time between two teams: the Red Sox and Athletics. While a lot of people aren’t sure if the A’s made a good trade when they acquired Lester, the discussion never focuses on Lester’s contribution. He ended the year at 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA, fourth best in the AL. He was also fairly dominant in the strikeout category with 220 in 219 IP. Similar to Price, he was a workhorse who had the ability to strikeout out the opposing offenses to take over games. He wasn’t as dominant as Price and had a 236 BAA, which didn’t stack up as well to the other pitchers on this list. But his low ERA and high strikeout rate put him fourth on my list, which is very impressive in this stacked AL Cy Young race.
The man who was third on my list was Chris Sale. Sale was a guy who’s overall numbers don’t stack up as well, but that’s because injury limited him to only 26 starts. The reason he still made my list was because of how dominant he was in those starts. He pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title and came in second in the AL with a 2.17 ERA. In addition, he went 12-4 in his 26 starts with a mind blowing 208 Ks in 174 IP. That was the best K-rate in the league. What was even more impressive to me was his 0.97 WHIP and 205 BAA. WHIP measures how many runners you allow in an inning. 1.25-1.30 is average. To pitch to a WHIP close to 1 is very impressive. To pitch to an ERA UNDER 1 is downright phenomenal. And that’s what Sale did in his injury-shortened season. It’s not easy to make the list of top pitchers in the league at all. It’s even harder when you have about 6 fewer starts. The fact that he not only made the list but also made it as high as third shows how dominant he was.
The number 2 man on my list was Corey Kluber. He is the least-known name, but was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. He was tied for the league lead with 18 Wins. And those wins came for a Cleveland Indians team that didn’t make the playoffs. But the win total wasn’t what impressed me. It was everything else. He had a 2.44 ERA, third best in the league. He had 269 Ks, second best in the league. He had 235 IP, also third best in the league. His WHIP was 1.09. His BAA was 233. Not only did he hit all the numbers I look at, he also ranked in the top 3 of all as well. Kluber is one of the few pitchers who can overpower you with the strikeout, while still pitching with the finesse of the best control guys in the game. He may not be a household name yet, but he will be if he continues to pitch like this.
However, my winner of the Walter Johnson Award has to be Felix Hernandez. King Felix really never had much competition when you break down the numbers. The gap between him and the rest of the league was huge (though it should be said that for me the gap between Kluber and the guys behind him was just as big). Hernandez went 15-6 for a resurgent Mariners team that came within one game of the playoffs. But that’s not what did it. It was everything else. He won the ERA title with a 2.14 final total. It was only 0.03 points lower than the next nearest competitor, but that competitor started 8 fewer games. And beyond him the next nearest guy was at 2.44 (Kluber). His 0.92 WHIP was the lowest in the AL. That means he put fewer men on base per inning that any pitcher in the American League. His 200 BAA was also the lowest, meaning that hitters did worse against him than any other starter in the league. And on top of that, he still had an overpowering 248 Ks, good for fourth in the league and 236 IP which ranked second. He could come into a game and shut the other team down with the best power pitchers. However, his low WHIP and ERA are the building blocks of successful pitching. And he is the textbook example. Bad things happen when men got on base whether it is via a hit, walk or taking a pitch in the back. No one kept hitters off base better than Felix Hernandez in the AL. And that’s why he’s my winner for the 2014 AL Walter Johnson Award.