It was "The Year of the Pitcher" after all, so it should come as no surprise that this was easily the most difficult ballot to construct. Not so much at the top, since each league featured a pitcher who was at least a notch or two above the rest of the competition, but the rest of the ballot was a real struggle. In both leagues, there were at least a dozen players who I thought well worthy of consideration, but eventually, this is what I came up with.
Honorable Mention: Justin Verlander (Tigers), Francisco Liriano (Twins), Jon Lester (Red Sox), Trevor Cahill (Athletics), C. J. Wilson (Rangers), Gio Gonzalez (Athletics), Zach Greinke (Royals), Colby Lewis (Rangers)
5. Jered Weaver (Angels)
For the first time since his career began, the Angels were not a serious contender, so Weaver's breakout season, which we've been anticipating for at least two or three years, managed to fly under the radar. He led the league in strikeouts (233), while also managing a career low walk rate. He piled on the innings (224) and posted an ERA (3.01) and WHIP (1.07) which in many years would make him the cream of the crop. Not so in "The Year of the Pitcher."
4. David Price (Rays)
By going 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA in six September starts, Price nearly pitched his way to the top of the ballot. And, although he struggled against the mighty Rangers (and, really, who hasn't) in the ALDS, Price showed confidently in 2010 that all the hype surrounding the #1 pick in the '07 draft was completely justified. The 25-year-old southpaw will probably be back on this ballot several times in the coming seasons, particularly if he manages another sparkling ERA (2.72) like this one. What held Price back (slightly) this season was a clear limitation on his innings (he was almost 42 innings off the league lead) and moderate struggles with control (3.4 BB/9). Nevertheless, he won 19 games for the league's best team (at least in terms of record).
3. C. C. Sabathia (Yankees)
Yes, he's a Yankee, so his teddy-bear personality doesn't play as well with the rest of the nation as it did when he was carrying underdogs like the Indians and the Brewers. Yes, King Felix was clearly the better pitcher this season, and likely would have won more than 21 games if he'd had the luxury of pitching in front of the C.C.'s teammates. However, there's been a lot of over-the-top player-hating on The Big Sleep, who, besides leading the league in wins, was #2 in innings (238), #6 in strikeouts (197), #7 in ERA (3.18), and #8 in WAR (5.1). He absolutely owned Yankee Stadium (11-2, 3.00), which C. J. Wilson discovered this past week, isn't necessarily friendly to southpaws. At 40-15 after two years, C. C. Sabathia is putting himself in the position to be the first pitcher to ever be undervalued with a $100+ Million contract.
2. Cliff Lee (Rangers/Mariners)
This vote actually has nothing to do with his historic postseason run. Cliff Lee was, during the 2010 regular season, according to FanGraphs, the most valuable pitcher in all of baseball, posting a 7.0 WAR, which is 0.4 better than even Roy Halladay. I'm not sure I would take Lee's season ahead of Halladay's, or for that matter King Felix's, but what WAR does make clear is that Lee's production goes well beyond his 12-9 record. For starters, his ridiculous 10.28 K/BB ratio is the second best in the history of the sport for a pitcher who threw at least 150 innings (Bret Saberhagen, '94 is the trivia question answer, in case you were wondering). Moreover, with seven complete games and 17 starts where he went at least eight innings, Lee averaged over 7 2/3 innings per start, better even than Halladay. Basically, even though his win totals were underwhelming, Lee enters free agency with a very legitimate argument that he is "the best pitcher in baseball."
1. Felix Hernandez (Mariners)
You're probably sick of the explanations, as King Felix has been a posterchild for sabermetrics since the end of August. Yes, if Felix wins a Cy Young, he would have easily the lowest win total and the worst winning percentage of any starting pitcher in the history of the award. But, of course, his team boasted one of the worst offenses in the history of the game. He led the AL in innings (250) by a significant margin, and also paced the league in ERA (2.27), QS% (0.88), Opponents Average (.212), and Opponents OPS (585), while finishing one strikeout behind Weaver. It's very hard to imagine what more King Felix could've done.
Honorable Mention: Roy Oswalt (Phillies/Astros), Josh Johnson (Marlins), Brett Myers (Astros), Yovani Gallardo (Brewers), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Mat Latos (Padres), Matt Cain (Giants)
5. Chris Carpenter (Cardinals)
Carp has been so good for so long that he frequently gets overlooked, especially now that he has a teammate putting up equally gaudy numbers, but at age 35, he's still as dominant as ever, and showed it during his 35 starts in 2010, going 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
4. Tim Lincecum (Giants)
We were spoiled by the Freak in his first two full seasons, to such an extent that his 3.43 ERA this season seems like a major backslide. However, it is unduly influenced by his first slump, which lasted much of August. That month aside, Lincecum still managed to be one of the best pitchers in his league, again pacing the senior circuit in strikeouts and finishing fifth in the league in WAR (5.1). Moreover, his 5-1 record in September (with a 1.94 ERA) powered the Giants into the playoffs, for which he gains a little boost on my ballot.
3. Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)
2. Ubaldo Jimenez (Rockies)
This was probably the hardest decision on either side of ballot. The performances of Wainwright and Jimenez were eerily similar:
Jimenez: 19-8, 2.88 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 214 K, 222 IP
Wainwright: 20-11, 2.42 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 213 K, 230 IP
Wainwright clearly has slight edges in most of the basic stat categories, but I chose to give in to the popular refrain coming out of Colorado in the second half: "If you punish CarGo for hitting at Coors, you've got to reward Ubaldo for pitching there." I think there's a great deal of truth in this and for that reason (as well as my general affinity for watching Ubaldo pitch) I gave the edge to the Rockies Ace.
1. Roy Halladay (Phillies)
Most of you are probably sick of reading my lavish praise for Doc. If you aren't, you can certainly check out the nineteen previous posts I've made in which he's featured prominently. For the time being, I will simple point out again that the expectations were obscenely high when he was acquired by the Phillies this offseason and he lived up to them. No easy feat.