Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts August 22, 2010.  REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Last night, Clay Buchholz went eight solid innings allowing only one earned run on five hits over eight innings while striking out five and walking one. The effort resulted in his 17th win of the season and lowered his ERA to 2.33.

With only one more start to finish off his 2010 campaign, Buchholz will battle down to the wire with Seattle’s Felix Hernandez for the American League ERA crown. However, despite his fantastic season, Buchholz has failed to garner much support for the AL Cy Young Award.

If he finishes the season with the best ERA in the AL and 17 or 18 wins, should he be considered the front-runner to win the AL Cy Young Award?

Unlike the MVP award, the Cy Young Award does not suggest that a player has to be the “most valuable” to his team or the league. Instead, the Cy Young award should be awarded to the best pitcher, period.

Last season, Zack Greinke won the AL Cy Young despite a moderate win total. His peripheral stats (i.e. K/9, BB/9, FIP etc…) were in a class of their own. This season, it is Felix Hernandez that finds himself in a similar situation. Hernandez leads the league in ERA and sports a 3.34 K/BB rate, but holds a 12-12 record while pitching for one of the most offensively challenged teams in the majors.

Buchholz has done his best to match Hernandez in ERA, but his peripheral stats are far inferior. Both his strikeout and walk rates are below average and one could argue that a very low .267 BABIP against paints his ERA in a lucky light. However, traditionalists would point to five more wins and five fewer losses.

Then there are the other front-runners, according to the mainstream media: CC Sabathia and David Price. Both of those pitchers also stack up better in the peripheral stats department. As a matter of fact, Buchholz doesn’t even come close in most peripheral departments compared to the other front-runners.

Stats as of 9/26/10

Player ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 Whiff%
Clay Buchholz 2.39 3.68 4.24 6.25 3.59 21%
Felix Hernandez 2.31 3.07 3.42 8.45 2.53 22%
CC Sabathia 3.26 3.56 3.82 7.42 2.83 20.5
David Price 2.84 3.54 4.03 8.07 3.56 21%

Hernandez has the best numbers for every category listed above. He even has a slightly better ground ball rate than Buchholz. Sabathia and Price have better strikeout rates than Buchholz as well. Clearly, despite such a great ERA and 17 wins, Buchholz has not been as good of a pitcher as the rest based on his raw numbers.

Does this mean that Buchholz does not deserve Cy Young votes? That depends on your point of view. Most pitchers can go through fluke hot streaks that are aided by a low BABIP against among other things, but Buchholz has been limiting his runs allowed all season long. Whether or not that continues next season is another issue, but we can all agree that Buchholz has done a few things extremely well in 2010.

First, his ground ball rate is among the 20 best in baseball. Second, his HR/9 rate is the seventh lowest in baseball. Keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark are two big factors in a pitcher’s overall success.

If I had to vote on the top five pitchers in the American League this season, I would not vote for Buchholz as one of the group. This is mostly because of the numbers compared above. The two things a pitcher has the most control over are strikeouts and walks. Both are signs of raw dominance or lack there of. Buchholz falls well short in both of those categories. Home runs allowed, BABIP and ERA can have much more variation based on randomness or “luck”.

That being said, let’s not take away from what Buchholz has done this season. Throw away the stats for a second. We have a young pitcher that took the single biggest stride forward in his career in 2010. Buchholz went from a question mark to a penciled in part of the Sox future rotation and showed beyond a doubt his ability to remain effective against big league hitters over a full season.

The my opinion

While it seems like the names mentioned above get most of the Cy Young attention, none have been a better pitcher in 2010 than my AL Cy Young vote…Francisco Liriano.

Player ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 Whiff%
Francisco Liriano 3.48 2.50 3.08 9.42 2.75 27%
Felix Hernandez 2.31 3.07 3.42 8.45 2.53 22%
CC Sabathia 3.26 3.56 3.82 7.42 2.83 20.5
David Price 2.84 3.54 4.03 8.07 3.56 21%

Forget his 14-9 record. There were plenty of games where Liriano pitched more than well enough to deserve a win, but was let down by his offense or defense. He has the highest BABIP against of the group above (.342). Liriano also has the lowest HR/9 ratio in baseball and a ground ball rate of over 50 percent.

Based on his raw numbers that show just how dominant of a pitcher he has been this season, Francisco Liriano should win the AL Cy Young.

Your opinion, of course, is welcomed for discussion.