First-quarter awards: AL Cy Young

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doug fister throwing.jpgNo Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander or Jon Lester here.
We’ll turn to VORP again here to give us a top 10 list:
1. Doug Fister – 21.4 – 3-2, 1.96 ERA, 25/10 K/BB in 55 IP
2. Shaun Marcum – 20.0 – 3-1, 2.61 ERA, 45/14 K/BB in 62 IP
3. David Price – 19.4 – 6-1, 1.81 ERA, 44/20 K/BB in 54 2/3 IP
4. Andy Pettitte – 18.7 – 5-0, 1.79 ERA, 29/16 K/BB in 45 1/3 IP
5. Matt Garza – 18.7 – 5-1, 2.38 ERA, 48/17 K/BB in 56 2/3 IP
6. John Danks – 18.4 – 3-3, 2.26 ERA, 45/16 K/BB in 55 2/3 IP
7. Jeff Niemann – 16.4 – 3-0, 2.54 ERA, 31/16 K/BB in 49 2/3 IP
8. Ricky Romero – 16.4 – 4-1, 2.88 ERA, 59/21 K/BB in 56 1/3 IP
9. Phil Hughes – 16.0 – 5-0, 2.25 ERA, 42/15 K/BB in 44 IP
10. C.J. Wilson – 15.7 – 3-1, 2.55 ERA, 39/19 K/BB in 53 IP
Yeah, matches my preseason rankings exactly.
Relievers worth adding to the mix include Jose Valverde (0.51 ERA, 10 saves in 11 chances) and Rafael Soriano (1.59 ERA, 10 saves in 10 chances).
By ERA, Pettitte has been the AL’s top pitcher. However, he’s made just seven starts and he ranks 15th in WHIP.
The league WHIP leaders are Fister at 0.91 and Marcum at 0.97, with Hughes, Jason Vargas and Dallas Braden right behind at 0.98.
Unlike in the NL, strength of schedule isn’t much of a factor here:
Fister – 720 OPS against
Marcum – 730
Price – 731
Pettitte – 715
Garza – 717
Danks – 731
Niemann – 730
Romero – 698
Hughes – 741
Wilson – 733
I think Hughes has been the American League’s best pitcher so far, but like Pettitte, he’s made seven starts, while the competition has made eight or nine. And he’s not far enough out in front to make up for the gap in innings.
Fister has miraculously limited hitters to a .203 average despite striking out just 25 batters in 55 innings. He’s getting a ton of help from a top-notch defense. Safeco Field is playing a part as well; 70 percent of Fister’s innings have come at home.
Marcum is getting less help from his defense and his ballpark. Plus, like Fister, he’s yet to allow an unearned run. Still, while I’m not big on win-loss records, it is disappointing that he’s won just one-third of his starts despite decent run support.
Price is the only AL starter with six wins. He’s yet to allow more than three runs in a start. The Rays scored a total of three runs in his loss and no-decision. He has allowed three unearned runs, but they all came in wins.
This just isn’t an easy call. And none of the pitchers under consideration now are close to sure things to be in the mix at season’s end. I’m going with Price, in large part because of his innings advantage over Hughes. I wouldn’t argue against Fister, though. While his defense has shouldered much of the load, he’s been ridiculously effective.
First-quarter AL Cy Young Award
1. Price
2. Hughes
3. Fister

Phil Bickford suspended 50 games for drug of abuse

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  Phil Bickford of the U.S. Team pitches during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at PETCO Park on July 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Brewers’ right-hander Phil Bickford received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a drug of abuse, per the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin. This is the second time Bickford has been suspended for recreational drug use, as he was previously penalized in 2015 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the amateur draft.

Bickford was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft and was later dealt to the Brewers for lefty reliever Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. He finished his 2016 campaign in High-A Brevard County, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, 10.0 K/9 rate and 5.0 BB/9 over 27 innings.

Two other suspensions were handed down on Friday, one to Toronto minor league right-hander Pedro Loficial for a positive test for metabolites of Stanozolol and one to Miami minor league outfielder Casey Soltis for a second positive test for drugs of abuse. Loficial will serve a 72-game suspension, while Soltis will serve 50 games. All three suspensions are due to start at the beginning of the 2017 season for each respective minor league team.

Brewers’ GM David Stearns issued a statement after the Commissioner’s Office announced Bickford’s suspension (via Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America):

We are very disappointed to learn of Phil’s suspension, but we fully support the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Testing Program and its enforcement by the Commissioner’s Office. Phil understands he made a mistake, and we fully anticipate that he will learn from this experience.

Diamondbacks sign Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million deal

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 21:  Fernando Rodney #56 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 21, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Confirming a report from Tuesday, the Diamondbacks officially signed right-hander Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million contract on Friday. The 39-year-old stands to receive up to $4 million in incentives, per Jack MacGruder of FanRag Sports, with $250,000 kicking in when the veteran reaches 40, 50 and 60 appearances and $500,000 if he reaches 70.

Rodney came three games shy of the 70-appearance mark in 2016 during back-to-back stints with the Padres and Marlins. He put up a cumulative 3.44 ERA on the year, which effectively disguised the extreme split during his performances in San Diego and Miami. The Diamondbacks aren’t anywhere close to contending in 2017, but Rodney should stabilize the back end of their bullpen while providing Arizona GM Mike Hazen with a potential trade chip during next year’s deadline.

Hazen issued a statement following the signing:

With Fernando, we’re getting an established Major League closer and a veteran presence in the bullpen. It is helpful to have someone with his experience on the back end to slow the game down and get the final three outs.