The Cy Young award is kind of silly. Fans and bloggers alike routinely mock the award and the curmudgeonly old voters stuck in their ways, leading to the general pointlessness of it all. I mean, who really cares about the Cy Young? The Cy Young matters to them, which is why it still matters to us. There's no greater individual honor for a pitcher, and you can't exactly place a FIP or SIERA title in a hutch in the den, though I'm going to attempt to later.
Felix Hernandez is having the best year of his career. He's striking out more batters than ever, and he's walking less too. His FIP/xFIP/SIERA are career bests by large margins. He's on pace to beat his previous best in fWAR, and his K/BB ratio is an absurd 5.39, second to only David Price in the American League.
It seems like this Felix should win something for this. I hate saying "in any other year," because people say it every year, so it doesn't really mean anything. It's hard to be the very best at something, even when you're amazing. This year, Felix has to go against a bunch of other people who have been really, really good. Felix Hernandez is having the best year of his life, and he isn't running away with the Cy Young.
The primary contender is Max Scherzer. Scherzer strikes out more batters per inning than Felix, but that's about it. Except for the 17-1 record.
I'd like to pretend that voters don't care about wins anymore. That Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young in 2010 with a 13-12 record was vindication for those of us who have been hoping for the death of that statistic's relevance for years. The truth is, Felix was better than everyone else that year by a large enough margin that voters really didn't have a choice, even with the pedestrian record. While it'd be nice to pretend like they have moved on, they probably haven't. If Scherzer manages to go 22-2, it seems likely that he'll be rewarded for it, and playing for a contender won't hurt.
MLB Network's Brian Kenny has taken this year as his opportunity to "kill the win." He repeats this on MLB Now and his Twitter account ad nauseum, and while it might actually raise some awareness among fans, does it seem likely that writers set in their ways are going to suddenly change their views because Kenny is bullying them into it? Kenny tries to educate, but the resilience has started to come across as bull-headed, and I have concern that his posturing is starting to drive an even bigger wedge into the divide. Nobody likes to be pushed around - and often times, people push back.
The reality is that we won't likely see real changes in award voting for more than a few years. Not until writers like Jon Heyman retire and their votes are replaced by the likes of Dave Cameron and Eno Sarris. There's already been a statistical revolution - we're living it - but there's going to be some lag in award voting, and even though the awareness level continues to rise, things probably won't be close to right for another decade, if not longer.
Complaining about the voting process doesn't really do anything productive. It isn't going to change, at least not for now. The more interesting topic is simply examining who's been the best pitcher in the American League, which in is really a separate conversation from the Cy Young. If Scherzer doesn't drop off too badly and gets 20 wins, he's probably going to get it.
Determining who the league's best pitcher actually is deserves a separate name, so let's call it the Henter award. Henter pitched for Miami in Bases Loaded, and routinely made everyone look like 2010 Brandon Wood. Since obscure video game references is what I care about more than just about anything, it's the only name that fits.
The Henter Award Candidates:
If Anibal Sanchez wasn't nearly 50 innings behind Felix, he might have the best case out of anyone to win the Henter. Holland isn't a serious contender, and even though Chris Sale and Darvish have been outstanding, they don't compare to the overall excellence of Felix. When you break it down by rank, it starts to become more and more obvious who the leader in the clubhouse is, so to speak. Felix dominates in traditional numbers and saber numbers alike, and the latter is reflected in his league leading fWAR. If you prefer Baseball-Reference's methodology, Felix leads for bWAR as well, while Sale comes in 2nd and Scherzer is 3rd. Iwakuma is 5th, for curiosity's sake.
Consider the league's best pitchers in 2007, and compare to this group. Eric Wedge won manager of the year in 2007. A lot has changed in six years.
Whether Felix Hernandez wins the Cy Young or some pointless name for an award that doesn't exist, he's been absolutely terrific, and that alone is reason to celebrate. In a terrific year for pitching in the American League, a Seattle Mariner currently sits on top. Maybe he'll get rewarded for it in a couple months. Maybe he won't. Right now, in this moment, he's the best.
Whatever happens, it is a joy to be able to watch this level of dominance every five to six days. He's still ours.