Francisco Liriano threw another gem of a game for the Pirates last night, going seven innings, giving up one earned run on four hits, and two walks. He improved his record to 11-4, and has taken decisions in each of his fifteen starts this season. The last Pirates pitcher to win eleven of his first fourteen starts was Dock Ellis in 1971, Ellis finished the year with a 19-9 record, an ERA of 3.06, and 137 strikeouts. Liriano’s win totals are great, but that’s not the reason he’s really deserving as a candidate for the Cy Young. His ERA is a sparkling 2.16 on the year. He’s striking out 9.4 hitters per nine innings pitched, with a total of 100 over 95.2 innings pitched. His strikeout to base on balls ratio is 2.70.
Liriano has done nothing but deal ever since coming off the DL from an injury to his non-throwing arm. Over his last ten starts, Liriano has given up four earned runs or more only twice. He’s had only one start since the beginning of June in which he didn’t go at least six innings (July 19th against Cincinnati). His ERA has been progressively better from month to month, his May ERA was 2.35, his June ERA was 2.15, and his July ERA has been a sparkling 2.06.
All this to say, Liriano has been one of the best pitchers in the N.L. and all of baseball this season, and deserves serious consideration for the Cy Young. He has some stiff competition for the award though, right now Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, and Matt Harvey all have strong arguments to make as well.
Kershaw’s line has been reminiscent of Justin Verlander‘s 2011 campaign, and arguably even better. He’s currently sitting on a 10-6 record, a 1.96 ERA, and 156 strikeouts, for a rate of 8.8K/9. His WHIP is a ridiculous 0.873, virtually unheard of. He’s going to have an advantage over Liriano for a few reasons: First, he plays in Los Angeles. Having a bigger market is sure to gain him notoriety and votes. Second, although Liriano’s win/loss record is better (which is often an aspect of a pitcher’s worth that gets too much consideration), Kershaw’s ERA and WHIP are both so ridiculously good, it’s going to be tough to argue that Kershaw has been a less valuable pitcher for his team than Liriano or anyone else.
Wainwright has the best win/loss record of any of the major candidates for the Cy Young, posting a 13-6 record in his decisions so far. His ERA is excellent, at 2.51, not as impressive as the ERA of the other three pitchers, but still shining. He’s struck out 145 hitters over 161.2 innings pitched, but his control is what’s most impressive. Wainwright has an incredible 8.1 SO/BB ratio, compare that to Liriano’s 2.70, Harvey’s 5.66 (also incredible), or Kershaw’s 4.46, and it shows how well Wainwright has done with pounding the strike zone. He may not have the ERA of the others, but it’s still very good, to go along with having the best record, and incredible control of the strike zone, Wainwright is a strongly deserving candidate as well.
Harvey’s case might be one of the toughest ones, because he’s the new kid on the block. That being said, he’s been nothing short of splendid this year, and started the All-Star game at Citi Field for the N.L. as well. He’s the youngest of the group of candidates, but with a win/loss record of 8-2, an ERA of 2.11, and 164 strikeouts over 145 innings of work, Harvey has a solid chance at winning the award. His strikeouts are the most in the N.L., and he also has the best K/9 rate of any of the candidates, sitting at 10.2 on the season. If Harvey keeps the strikeout count high, and the ERA low, there’s no reason why he can’t stay in the discussion at the end of the season, but he’ll have a hard time actually winning the award, going up against the likes of Kershaw, Wainwright, and Liriano.
Liriano is a deserving candidate for the Cy Young award, when compared with other top pitchers in the league, but he won’t win it this year. Given that Kershaw has dominated in a way better than any pitcher’s season in recent memory (even Verlander’s 2011 campaign), he’s got to be the favorite to win the award going forward. Wainwright and Harvey have both been excellent, piling up strikeouts like cordwood, and keeping their walks and hits allowed to a minimum. Smart money says that Kershaw will win the award this year, but Pirates fans (and baseball fans in general) should be appreciative of the great things Liriano has done so far this year. If Liriano keeps things up, he’ll have a chance at the Cy Young, but more importantly, he’ll have a great chance at getting a playoff start for the Pirates, the first one for the franchise in over two decades.