Did you know that the Red Sox have three legitimate MVP candidates?  Of course you did, because no one will stop talking about it!  While I have to admit it’s incredibly cool to have so many of “our” players worthy of such an honor, I’m sick of hearing about it already.  In fact, the ESPN crew discussed it so much during last Sunday night’s broadcast, I considered taking a shot of liquor every time someone brought it up.  I decided against partaking in my own personal drinking game for two reasons:  (1) alcohol poisoning is not something I’m interested in experiencing, and (2) I didn’t have nearly enough alcohol to make it through the entire game.  Clearly, I’m slathering the hyperbole on heavily, but you get the point.  

In an effort to steer the direction away from the never ending “three MVP candidate” debate, I’ve decided to start another debate.  Is Josh Beckett worthy of winning the Cy Young Award?  Certainly, there’s a case to be made on behalf of Beckett.  Just one season after posing a dreadful 5.78 ERA that was complimented by declining peripherals, a skyrocketing home run rate, and a gaudy .338 BABIP; he’s completely turned his performance around.  (While that shouldn’t come into play during the voting process, it’s still worth noting.)  He’s exhibited better command; shown a greater ability to coax batters into chasing pitches thrown outside of the zone; and managed to keep the ball in the ball park despite an elevated fly ball rate.  Not surprisingly, his ERA is significantly lower this season; currently sitting at 2.17, which is good for second place in the AL behind the Angels’ Jered Weaver.  Interestingly enough, despite his marked improvements in his peripherals, there’s evidence indicating Beckett may be benefiting from some good fortune.  In addition to his lower than anticipated .225 BABIP, all four major ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and tRA) show his true talent ERA performance to be more than a run higher than what he’s currently produced.  While I’m not saying Beckett doesn’t deserve the praise he’s received thus far for his performance, he’s a likely candidate to see a healthy dose of regression toward the mean either before the end of this season or at the start of the 2012 season.

So how does he fare against his closest competitors for the award?  Let’s take a quick look.  (All stats are effective August 8th.)

fWAR – C.C. Sabathia (5.9), Justin Verlander (5.6), Weaver (5.5), Dan Haren (5.0), Beckett (3.4)

ERA – Weaver (1.78), Beckett (2.17), Verlander (2.30), Sabathia (2.81), Haren (2.81)

FIP – Sabathia (2.58), Weaver (2.58), Haren (2.72), Verlander (2.73), Beckett (3.29)

K% – Verlander (25.8%), Beckett (22.6%), Sabathia (22.6%), Weaver (22.1%), Haren (20.5%)

K/BB – Haren (5.71), Verlander (4.89), Weaver (3.85), Sabathia (3.65), Beckett (3.26)

SNWP – Sabathia (.598), Verlander (.579), Weaver (.578), Haren (.555), Beckett (.486)

While fWAR (or bWAR for that matter) isn’t a fool proof statistic for determining who should win the Cy Young Award, the fact Beckett sits 1.6 WAR behind the fourth best pitcher in this group is not insignificant.  He also pulls up the rear (by significant margins) in FIP, K/BB, and SNWP, which also doesn’t help his case.  Based on the statistics I’ve provided above, it looks like there’s a pretty clear cut case favoring the Yankees’ Sabathia as the front runner for the award. Still, before we hand over the CYA, I want to take a look at one more factor.

It’s not a secret that Beckett’s owned the Yankees this season.  In four starts, he’s 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA and a 30/7 K/BB ratio over 27 innings.  Sabathia, on the other hand, has performed very poorly against his team’s chief rival, posting an 0-4 record with a 7.20 ERA with a 21/10 K/BB ratio over 25 innings.  While this doesn’t prove Beckett’s a better pitcher overall, it does show that (at least in a small sample size), he’s been a better pitcher than Sabathia when facing their most formidable opponents.

Furthermore due to the unbalanced schedule, Beckett and Sabathia have carried the burden of pitching the bulk of their games against the beasts of the AL East.  At the same time, Verlander, Haren, and Weaver have been given ample opportunity (at least in theory) to beat up on teams from the significantly weaker AL Central and AL West respectively.  Is that really true though?  While it seems logical, sometimes what seems to be logical is really just falacy.  Let’s take a look at how each pitcher’s fare against the major league’s top competition.

Beckett vs. teams > .500 – 15 starts, 1.82 ERA, 85/29 K/BB in 99 innings

Haren vs. teams > .500 – 12 starts, 2.93 ERA, 75/12 K/BB in 86 innings

Sabathia vs. teams > .500 – 16 starts, 3.53 ERA, 103/35 K/BB in 114-2/3 innings

Verlander  vs. teams > .500 – 12 starts, 1.87 ERA, 87/20 K/BB in 91-1/3 innings

Weaver vs. teams > .500 – 11 starts, 2.70 ERA, 73/21 K/BB in 76-2/3 innings

While Sabathia and Beckett have made a few more starts against teams with winning records than Haren, Verlander, and Weaver; all five pitchers have pitched well against the top competition.  (Sabathia’s stats would look significantly better if his performance against the Red Sox was stripped from the calculations.)  As a result, it’s unfair to claim Haren, Verlander, and Weaver achieved their success by beating up on the bottom feeders.  It’s simply not true.

Still, despite Beckett’s outstanding performance under the most crucial of circumstances, it’s not good enough for me to place him atop my pretend CYA ballot.  Sabathia’s the clear front runner with Verlander lurking closely behind.  With seven weeks remaining in the season, there’s still plenty of time for Beckett (or another pitcher) to make a strong move into serious contention.  Award voters love so-called clutch performance that occurs over the final two months of the season.  Considering Beckett’s pedigree, he seems like a prime candidate to take advantage of such a situation.  That said, all things being equal, Sabathia will probably beat out the Red Sox ace once again.

What are your thoughts?  If the season was to end today, would Beckett deserve the Cy Young?  If so, share your reasons.  If not, who would be a better option and why?  Share your thoughts in the comments section provided below.