David Price speaks with reverence and humility of the American League Cy Young Award, which he is in position to win tonight.
"To be voted the best pitcher for your league that year, it would be very special," Price said. "That's an award I would love to win, and I would be very humbled by it."
The Rays' ace left-hander, from all indications and analysis, has a strong chance to win, votes cast before the playoffs by 28 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The other finalists are Detroit's Justin Verlander and Los Angeles' Jered Weaver.
Price's primary credentials are obvious: He led the AL, and was second in the majors, with a 2.56 ERA, and he, along with Weaver, topped the AL with 20 wins.
But beyond that, the best reason for Price to win is whom he pitched against.
• Price was 10-2, 2.51 in 16 starts against AL East teams, representing four of the league's top eight offensive teams by on-base plus slugging percentage, or OPS.
• Price was 13-3, 2.27 in 19 games (and 62 percent of his innings) against teams that finished .500 or better, matching Weaver for the most such wins. (Verlander was 8-4, 2.63.)
• Price faced hitters with the highest aggregate OPS, as compiled by Baseball Prospectus, of the finalists, .763 (fifth among AL starters), compared to Verlander, .758 (15th) and Weaver .749 (29th).
"Strength of schedule," Price said. "That's part of it, being in the AL East, you face those tough teams all the time."
There are other reasons, of course.
Take consistency: In 23 of Price's 31 starts (74.2 percent), he went seven or more innings, most in the majors. (Verlander did so in only 21 of 33, 64 percent; Weaver 16 of 30, 53 percent.)
Take competitiveness: In 23 starts, Price allowed two earned runs or fewer, most in the AL. (Weaver and Verlander each had 22.)
Take resilience: Price twice pitched eight shutout innings with nothing to show for it, part of six total no-decisions in which he had a 1.62 ERA. (Though Price had better overall run support than Verlander, it was extreme — there were six games when the Rays didn't score while Price was in, and three others with one or two runs.)
A strong case certainly can be made for Verlander, from as simple as basic stats that, aside from wins, weren't much different than last year when he was the unanimous winner (and AL MVP) to some advanced sabermetric stats such WAR, which attempts to quantify a player's value; ERA-plus, which factors in the ballpark; and FIP and DIPS, which seek to define a pitcher's performance independent of his team's defense.
But the primary argument is that Verlander threw more innings than Price, struck out more batters and finished more games.
Weaver, though pitching less, matched Price's 20 wins, allowed the lowest average against, .214, and had the best average of walks and hits per innings pitched, 1.02.
"I know where the numbers stand," Verlander said. "I think the only thing that really kind of hurts me is the win total, but I think we've seen … in recent years past the voters have kind of started to look beyond win totals and really kind of dove into the numbers a little bit more, and I think that might be beneficial toward me."
Price knows what he means. In 2010, Price was 19-6, 2.72 with pretty good peripheral stats but finished a disappointing second in the Cy Young vote to Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who had an AL-best 2.27 ERA and AL-most 249 2/3 innings but was only 13-12.
From the field
What do the players think? When asked in mid September to vote for the league's "Outstanding Pitcher" for the Players Choice awards, they voted for Price — and didn't have Verlander in their top three, with Weaver and Chicago's Chris Sale the other finalists.
Leading the league in ERA and wins has traditionally been worthy of a Cy Young. Since the leagues went to separate awards in 1967, 19 pitchers led (outright or shared) in both categories and 18 were voted winners. (In 1984, Baltimore's Mike Boddicker finished fourth in the AL vote as Detroit closer Willie Hernandez won.)
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]