2012 midseason awards: AL Cy Young

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The AL Cy Young balloting turned into a rout last year, as Justin Verlander lapped the field on his way to taking league MVP honors. At the midway point, this year’s Cy is still very much in doubt.

Here’s the league top 10 in ERA:

Jered Weaver (LAA): 9-1, 2.13 ERA, 68/21 K/BB in 88 2/3 IP
Chris Sale (CWS): 10-2, 2.19 ERA, 98/25 K/BB in 102 2/3 IP
C.J. Wilson (LAA): 9-4, 2.33 ERA, 84/46 K/BB in 104 1/3 IP
Justin Verlander (Det): 9-5, 2.58 ERA, 128/30 K/BB in 132 2/3 IP
David Price (TB): 11-4, 2.82 ERA, 105/37 K/BB in 111 2/3 IP
Jake Peavy (CWS): 6-5, 2.96 ERA, 101/24 K/BB in 112 2/3 IP
Matt Harrison (Tex): 11-3, 3.16 ERA, 65/25 K/BB in 105 1/3 IP
Hiroki Kuroda (NYY): 8-7, 3.17 ERA, 80/31 K/BB in 102 1/3 IP
Felix Hernandez (Sea): 6-5, 3.26 ERA, 122/32 K/BB in 116 IP
Jason Hammel (Bal): 8-4, 3.43 ERA, 97/34 K/BB in 99 2/3 IP

Oakland’s Jarrod Parker, at 2.46 in 80 1/3 IP, and Brandon McCarthy, at 2.54 in 78 innings, just miss the cut for qualifying.

Here’s the WAR top 10 from Baseball-reference:

Sale: 4.4
Verlander: 4.4
Peavy: 3.9
Harrison: 3.3
Kuroda: 2.9
Price: 2.7
Parker: 2.6
Weaver: 2.6
Hammel: 2.4
Wilson: 2.4

That’s nine of the top 10 from the ERA list, plus Parker. The lone omission is King Felix, who comes in at 1.5.

WAR’s top reliever is Jim Johnson at 2.3, followed by Pedro Strop at 1.9 and rookie Ryan Cook and Robbie Ross at 1.7.

I don’t think any of the relievers belong in the mix at this point. Ernesto Frieri might if one included his Padres numbers as well, but he’s thrown just 24 1/3 innings for the Angels.

I want to look at the ERA leaders again, this time at their strength of schedule. Here’s their opponents overall OPS to date:

Weaver: .731
Sale: .727
Wilson: .750
Verlander: .763
Price: .775
Peavy: .757
Harrison: .729
Kuroda: .749
Hernandez: .744
Hammel: .762

I probably weigh this more than most, but there are some big differences there. Price has faced 451 batters this year, and on average, they’ve had about 50 points of OPS on the guys Sale has faced. Price has already made four starts against the Yankees, two against Toronto, two against Boston and one against Texas. Sale, on the other hand, has made a total of two starts against teams in the top 10 in the majors in runs scored (Texas and Milwaukee).

My feeling is that the three spots on the ballot come down to the guys ranked second through sixth in ERA. Here they are again:

Chris Sale (CWS): 10-2, 2.19 ERA, 98/25 K/BB in 102 2/3 IP
C.J. Wilson (LAA): 9-4, 2.33 ERA, 84/46 K/BB in 104 1/3 IP
Justin Verlander (Det): 9-5, 2.58 ERA, 128/30 K/BB in 132 2/3 IP
David Price (TB): 11-4, 2.82 ERA, 105/37 K/BB in 111 2/3 IP
Jake Peavy (CWS): 6-5, 2.96 ERA, 101/24 K/BB in 112 2/3 IP

Weaver’s 15-20 innings behind the pack here, so that takes him out of the running for me. WAR puts both Harrison and Kuroda in the top five, but I don’t see it. They’re a bit behind in ERA, their K/BB ratios and WHIPs don’t stand out and they don’t get bonus points for their schedules.

I think Verlander has to get the edge, thanks in large part to that inning total. I don’t know that he’s been the AL’s best pitcher this year, but I believe he’s been the most valuable because of those extra innings he’s thrown. And it’s not like anyone else really stands out as the best. Sale has the ERA, but he’s faced the weakest competition of the group. Wilson’s stats apart from his ERA are less than stellar, and he’s given up seven unearned runs. I like the fact that Price has faced so many top offenses, but he does have a 1.20 WHIP, compared to the 0.95 marks for both Verlander and Sale. Also, he works in a friendlier ballpark for pitchers.

Peavy can’t be dismissed. He’s faced five top-10 offenses, and the White Sox have scored a total of two runs in his five losses. He’s a strong No. 4 here, but I’m going elsewhere with the top three.

My ballot
1. Verlander
2. Sale
3. Price

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.