Last season, Justin Verlander destroyed all competition in the race for the AL Cy Young, and won the award unanimously after a dominant season. Maybe someone else should have at least gotten one vote, but you really couldn’t argue against Verlander without sounding a little bit silly. He’s looking to repeat in 2012.
Favorites: Justin Verlander, come on down. With the Tigers adding Prince Fielder on offense, they could score enough runs to enable Verlander to win 26 or 27 games. But then there’s the issue of Detroit’s defense, which took a major hit with the shift of Miguel Cabrera to third base and Fielder now taking hold of first. Dan Haren had one of the best years of his career last season, despite a drop in strikeout rate, but is nearly a lock for 200 innings, an ERA around 3.00, and control that would make Greg Maddux blush. Haren’s new teammate, CJ Wilson, became Texas’s staff ace last year en route to being one of the league’s best pitchers. He turned that into a nice contract, and if he continues to improve (despite being 31, his arm has very low mileage right now), he could be the best pitcher in the game.
Last Season’s Favorites: Jered Weaver had his second straight five win season, but thanks to a massive drop in strikeout rate, his 2010 season was actually a little more impressive despite a better win/loss record last year. CC Sabathia has had six straight five win seasons, pretty much the model of consistency, and last year, he finally regained his strikeout touch that he had during his magical 2008 season with the Indians and Brewers. James Shields had his first career season with an ERA under 3.00 last year, and backed it up by throwing 30 more innings than his previous career high.
Rookie Studs: the Rangers replaced Wilson in their rotation with Japanese import Yu Darvish, one of the best pitchers in Japan during his career. Darvish has excelled this spring, and his success could translate to the majors very quickly. The Rays will start the season with the top pitching prospect in baseball, Matt Moore, in their rotation, and he has the potential to win the Cy Young one day, probably one day very soon.
Thriving in Mediocrity: Felix Hernandez is a former Cy Young winner, and the soon-to-be 26 year old has three straight five win seasons, a career 3.23 ERA, and yet, is just one game above .500 in the last two seasons. Seattle’s awful defense submarined his hopes at repeating as winner last year. Brandon McCarthy is a once hyped pitching prospect who couldn’t latch on with two teams, but became a force last season in Oakland, his third team. Featuring pinpoint control, McCarthy is the next great young A’s pitcher, a title he’ll hold until the team decides they can’t afford him and trades him (likely in the next 12 months). I need to give some love to the criminally underrated Justin Masterson as well, who gets ground balls like it’s no ones business, and prevents runs in bunches from scoring due to that ability.
Other Names to Remember: David Price of the Rays clearly has the talent to win a Cy Young as a former number one overall pick, and his strikeout and walk rates went in the right direction last year. Keep in mind that Price has really only been a full-time starter in the majors for three seasons. Brandon Morrow has monster stuff, and when he isn’t walking guys, he’s one of the best pitchers in the league. Jon Lester took a step back last year during the beer and fried chicken debacle in Boston, but had three straight five win seasons prior to that. He still strikes out a batter an inning, too.
The Verdict: I honestly think the changes that Detroit made this offseason will hurt Verlander, and that his ERA goes up at least half a run. My pick is Haren, just because of how complete of a team the Angels are and how much he’s been overlooked during his career.