First-third awards: 2011 AL Cy Young

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On to the AL Cy Young Award race.  First, the league’s ERA leaders:

1. Josh Beckett (Red Sox): 4-2, 1.80 ERA, 63/25 K/BB in 70 IP
2. Jered Weaver (Angels): 6-4, 2.10 ERA, 77/20 K/BB in 85 2/3 IP
3. James Shields (Rays): 5-3, 2.15 ERA, 81/18 K/BB in 83 2/3 IP
4. Gio Gonzalez (Athletics): 5-2, 2.17 ERA, 63/28 K/BB in 62 1/3 IP
5. Dan Haren (Angels): 5-3, 2.29 ERA, 74/14 K/BB in 86 1/3 IP
6. Trevor Cahill (Athletics): 6-4, 2.31 ERA, 58/30 K/BB in 78 IP
7. Alexi Ogando (Rangers): 5-0, 2.33 ERA, 47/15 K/BB in 65 2/3 IP
8. Michael Pineda (Mariners): 6-2, 2.42 ERA, 66/19 K/BB in 63 1/3 IP
9. Josh Tomlin (Indians): 6-2, 2.74 ERA, 34/10 K/BB in 65 2/3 IP
10. Jeremy Hellickson (Rays): 6-3, 2.80 ERA, 46/27 K/BB in 64 1/3 IP

Notice the presence of two rookies and two sophomores who don’t miss rookie eligibility by much.

Next up is WAR, the Baseball-Reference version:

1. Josh Beckett (Red Sox): 3.2
2. Jered Weaver (Angels): 2.9
3. Trevor Cahill (Athletics): 2.7
4. Dan Haren (Angels): 2.5
5. Alexi Ogando (Rangers): 2.4
6. James Shields (Rays): 2.4
7. Zach Britton (Orioles): 2.3
8. Brett Anderson (Athletics): 2.2
9. Michael Pineda (Mariners): 2.2
10. Justin Verlander (Tigers): 2.2

There’s one more rookie.

And the Fangraphs version of WAR, which is based much more on FIP than ERA:

1. Jered Weaver (Angels): 2.7
2. Dan Haren (Angels): 2.7
3. CC Sabathia (Yankees): 2.2
4. Felix Hernandez (Mariners): 2.2
5. James Shields (Rays): 2.0
6. Brandon McCarthy (Athletics): 2.0
7. Josh Beckett (Red Sox): 2.0
8. Justin Verlander (Tigers): 1.8
9. David Price (Rays): 1.8
10. Michael Pineda (Mariners): 1.8

By trying to take luck out of the equation, Fangraphs generates a very different list. Cahill comes in at 1.0 in their WAR, ranking him behind four White Sox starters, including Edwin Jackson (4.63 ERA) at 1.6.

With Sabathia and King Felix in the top five, the Fangraphs list does look like something we might see at the end of the season. Still, I’m not a fan of basing pitching awards on FIP. I like it better as a predictive tool.

So, those are our candidates. I don’t see any relievers worth adding to the mix. Sergio Santos comes closest with his 1.40 ERA and eight saves in 25 2/3 innings.

Right now, I think the Cy comes down to Beckett and Weaver. Beckett has the nice ERA edge, while Weaver has pitched an extra 16 innings. Normally, I’d say the innings outweigh the modest quality gap. However, here’s one more set of numbers:

Opposing hitters OPS

Beckett: .756
Verlander: .735
Shields: .730
Weaver: .724
Gonzalez: .722
Pineda: .721
Cahill: .719
Haren: .716

Having made two starts against the Yankees and two against the Indians, Beckett has faced far-and-away the most difficult schedule of the top candidates to date. I think that rates him an edge in the competition.

As for the other spot, I’m favoring Shields. Verlander leads the AL in innings and has pitched better than his 3.12 ERA suggests, but Shields is just three innings behind him and has allowed 11 fewer runs.

AL Cy Young
1. Beckett
2. Weaver
3. Shields

Blue Jays release John Axford

John Axford
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The Blue Jays have released right-handed reliever John Axford from his minor league contract, per an announcement on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi speculates that the move could provide an avenue for the club to rework Axford’s contract, but the Blue Jays have yet to confirm or deny the report.

Axford, 35, was dealt a blow on Thursday after getting diagnosed with a stress reaction in the olecranon bone of his right elbow. Elbow soreness dogged the right-hander through much of his time in camp, and although he was scheduled for a follow-up examination later this spring, a definite return date had not been established.

Prior to the diagnosis, Axford was tabbed for a setup role with the team in 2019. He pitched to mixed results in 2018 (thanks in part to a late-season fracture of his right fibula) with a 5.27 ERA, 4.9 BB/9, and 9.8 SO/9 through 54 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays and Dodgers. Now, however, it’s not certain that he’ll return to the mound this season in any capacity.

Axford isn’t the only reliever the Blue Jays have lost to injury lately, either, as right-handers Ryan Tepera and Bud Norris have been sidelined with right elbow inflammation and forearm fatigue, respectively. Per Davidi, the Blue Jays offered Norris a $100,000 retention bonus to prevent him from opting out of the minor league contract he signed in February.