The American League has always has a very talented crop of pitchers. 12 different players have won the Cy Young award since 2000, with the only repeat winner being Johan Santana of the Twins (though Roy Halladay and Roger Clemens have won in both leagues). David Price eked out a wn over 2011 winner Justin Verlander to win the 2012 award, and those two are definitely in the running in 2013, along with several others.
Verlander and Price were the consensus favorites among our staff, and for good reason. Verlander has thrown over 200 innings in six straight seasons, but it's been his run over the last four years that has thrown him into the stratusphere of elite pitchers across the game. Since 2009, Verlander has thrown 953 2/3 innings, struck out 977 hitters, posted a 2.95 ERA, and accrued 28.5 fWAR for the Tigers. Until Verlander proves he can't do it anymore or jumps to the National League, he's the favorite to win the AL Cy Young award every year.
Price had the finest year of his career in 2012 for the Rays, striking out 205 in 217 innings and leading the league with a 2.56 ERA. As silly as it sounds, he probably edged out Verlander because he won 20 games, compared to just 17 for the 2011 MVP. But Price's progession throughout his career is tough to ignore, and he's still in his prime at 27. Price might also get a boost from playing in the AL East, historically the toughest division in baseball (though that superlative will likely disappear this year). As the reigning award winner, all eyes will be on him this year as he looks to become the first AL pitcher to win back to back Cy Young awards since Pedro Martinez in 1999-2000.
Jered Weaver of the Angels is getting some love across the game too going into 2013, even though 2012 was his worst season in terms of fWAR since his rookie year of 2006. Weaver's already middling velocity took a step back in 2012. But Weaver is still the ace of one of the American League favorites this year in Anaheim, and the wins that will certainly come with that offense in place will get him some brownie points among the voters. Three straight top five finishes definitely indicates that Weaver is ridiculously close to breaking through.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez could have won the award in 2012, but ran out of gas in September after he posted a 6.62 ERA in 35 1/3 innings. If Hernandez pitches like he did over the first five months of 2012, when he had a 2.43 ERA, he can easily win his second Cy Young award. The knock on the 26-year old Hernandez (who turns 27 in April) is that the Mariners are a perennially disappointing team, and Hernandez gets a lot of flack for the fact that his team has no offense at all. He's been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last four years, doesn't have a 20 win season, and is just five games over .500 over the last three seasons. Somehow, writers use that against Hernandez. If he played for a contender year in and year out, he'd be one of the faces of the game.
One of the more popular candidates online is Yu Darvish of the Rangers, and for good reason. During his debut season in America, the 26-year old Darvish struck out 221 hitters in just 191 1/3 innings and turned into a monster near the end of the year, when he struck out nearly 30% of the batters he faced over August and September.while chopping down his walks and becoming close to unhittable, allowing just six extra base hits in 36 2/3 September innings. With Josh Hamilton gone, Darvish is continuing his transformation into the face of the Rangers, and he's poised for a monster season.
Finally, here's a potential dark horse to keep an eye on: Chris Sale of the White Sox. After spending the first two years of his pro career as a reliever, Sale transitioned to the White Sox rotation in 2012, and quite frankly, he was awesome. Sale struck out 192 in 192 innings for Chicago, walking just 51 and posting a 3.05 ERA. Along with Jake Peavy, Sale formed a stout duo at the top of the White Sox rotation, carrying the pitching staff kicking and screaming to an 85 win season. There are always questions about Sale's health given his delivery, but the soon-to-be 24-year old could take his game to another level in 2013 in his sophomore season as a White Sox starter.