AL Cy Young Race: Has Corey Kluber Trumped Felix Hernandez?

Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays

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At the end of August, there weren’t many questions as to who the best pitcher in the American League was. Felix Hernandez was having an ultra-dominant 2014 campaign and was leading the playoff charge for Seattle while topping the AL in every meaningful category. In the background, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber was quietly baffling hitters and missing bats at a terrific clip. Now that the season is ending, Kluber has caught up to (and in some cases passed) King Felix in most statistics. In a race that’s to0 close to call, it may come down to the final start of the season, one with playoff implications for both pitchers. Here’s the case for each AL ace.

Felix Hernandez: Harder to crack

Felix can easily take the AL Cy Young Award with his brilliant season. A look at the counting stats show a masterful 2.34 ERA and an AL-best 0.94 WHIP, and that’s with his ERA vaulting from 2.07 after his worst start of the season against Toronto on September 23. Hitters are batting a pathetic .203 off Felix ahead of his final start. He’s thrown more innings than Kluber (230.2 IP) and beats The Klube in ERA and WHIP.

In fact, throw out the clunker against Toronto (4.2 IP, 8 ER) and there is a case to be made that Felix Hernandez is unquestionably worthy of the 2014 AL Cy Young Award. The problem is that game happened, and it happened at a time when Seattle desperately need the league’s best pitcher to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive. These factors loom large to voters (as they should), but give Felix the Cy Young and no injustice will be done.

Now onto Corey Kluber.

Minnesota Twins v Cleveland Indians - Game One

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Corey Kluber: Higher WAR, better stretch run

In an identical 33 starts to Felix’s, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber has amassed a 17-9 record with a 2.53 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Hitters “rake” at a .235 clip off Kluber, who trails Hernandez in the traditional counting stats. However, the exception comes in strikeouts. If Cy Young voters want a dominant package but decide strikeouts weigh more heavily than WHIP or ERA, Kluber’s 258 K’s going into his September 26 start give him the edge.

Advanced stat heads will appreciate Kluber’s 6.9 WAR (Felix: 6.4 WAR), which leads the AL. Kluber had to overcome King Felix in this stat through his dominant stretch run. This clutch performance is why Kluber is the AL Cy Young to many MLB analysts. In his last four starts, Kluber threw 32.1 IP (or 8 IP per start) while allowing a total of 5 ER and striking out 43 batters  (all four games won by the Indians). Talk about closing strong: Kluber struck out 28 in 15 innings over two starts in the thick of the pennant race. If you had to pick one pitcher for the playoff push, it would have been the Cleveland ace.

If the decision isn’t hard enough, Felix Hernandez set a record by allowing 2 R or fewer with 7 IP or more in 16 straight games. Corey Kluber had nine games where he struck out 10 or more and gave up 2 ER or fewer with 7 IP or more (Felix had five such games). Maybe just throw out the stats because they’re almost a wash. Whoever throws better in his final start, award him the 2014 AL Cy Young.

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