- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
It’s tough to argue against Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer winning the AL Cy Young award. After all, he’s the one with the bright and shiny 21-3 record after Wednesday, when he struck out 10 over seven shutout innings against the lowly Minnesota Twins. Scherzer owns a 2.90 ERA, 240 strikeouts and his 0.97 WHIP is the best in the AL. The voters will flock to him for his record and the fact his team won its division, which frankly should be irrelevant to the conversation but isn’t.
Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma was also pretty good on Wednesday night. He tossed eight shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals, striking out nine and finishing his season with a 2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 185 strikeouts. He was 14-6 and when fantasy owners needed him most he didn’t allow a run in his final three outings, and four of five. In addition, his 7.0 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was second among AL pitchers to Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale. Scherzer’s WAR is 6.7.
Who was the better value? Hmmm, let’s see now, Scherzer was a ninth-round pick in ESPN average live drafts. Sale went in the seventh round. Felix Hernandez, who won the 2010 Cy Young award for the same Mariners with pretty similar numbers to Iwakuma, was a third-rounder. Iwakuma, in his second year in the U.S., went undrafted in most leagues, the 78th starting pitcher off the draft board, behind Tommy Hanson, Josh Beckett and Chris Carpenter, who never threw a pitch. That’s value. Big-time value.
So let’s give some major props to Iwakuma. His statistical achievements were vital to fantasy owners, especially in relation to acquisition price -- he was generally a waiver-wire pick -- and for that reason he gets the nod as fantasy’s MVP among pitchers. As of now, he’s fifth among all hurlers on the Player Rater, behind Clayton Kershaw, Scherzer, Craig Kimbrel and Adam Wainwright, all of whom were far more coveted picks. The case can also be made for Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez, who also didn’t win a ton of games thanks to the mess around him, but was outstanding. He’s the top fantasy rookie, easily beating out Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Wil Myers and the many NL starting pitchers, like Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran.
What’s noteworthy for 2014 is that everyone is going to love Fernandez and question Iwakuma. Take colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft’s pitcher rankings from this week. Fernandez is 10th, Iwakuma is 32nd. Neither number seems out of line, so be wary of BABIP against in each case. Fernandez leads baseball in the category, Iwakuma is sixth. A ridiculously low BABIP is often unsustainable, but elite strikeout pitchers like Kershaw and Fernandez often continue to produce these numbers annually. Iwakuma averaged 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings, good but not awesome, and he’s 31 years old and not a flamethrower who reaches the mid-90s. Not even close. This is why Iwakuma missed mine and Cockcroft’s top 30 pitchers for 2014. Look for some regression here, and from others that benefited from BABIP, like Chicago Cubs lefty Travis Wood, Oakland Athletics right-handers A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, Baltimore Orioles right-handers Chris Tillman, Scott Feldman and Miguel Gonzalez, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo, Kansas City Royals right-hander Ervin Santana and Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Jeff Locke.
Box score bits (AL): Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing most of the month with a foot injury. He played four innings and had a single, a walk and scored two runs. The Red Sox want Ellsbury to get many at-bats the final weekend, but do not expect stolen base attempts. … Los Angeles Angels right-hander Jered Weaver tossed seven innings of one-run ball to beat the Oakland Athletics Wednesday. Weaver hadn’t pitched in 11 days thanks to forearm tightness, but he looked terrific against the AL West champs. Weaver should be a top-15 hurler in next season’s drafts. … Where will Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton end up in drafts? Hamilton has been a huge disappointment, but he had two hits, two RBIs and stole his fourth base Wednesday. He has been better in September. Do you feel lucky? Hamilton is probably not even a top-20 outfielder anymore. … Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney had three hits and scored two runs Wednesday. He’s hitting .299 for the season. Loney isn’t likely to get drafted next season, but his peripheral numbers look pretty legit. He could do this again. … Baltimore Orioles infielder Jonathan Schoop homered in his big league debut Wednesday. Schoop, playing second base, scored three runs. He really didn’t do much at Triple-A Norfolk, but he’s only 21. Watch him in 2015. … Cleveland Indians right-hander Justin Masterson, who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 2 due to an oblique injury, tossed a scoreless ninth inning Wednesday. Could Masterson replace Chris Perez as closer the final weekend? It’s possible. Masterson has had a terrific season and could be worth an addition this weekend.
Box score bits (NL): It was easy to mock the Daisuke Matsuzaka signing by the New York Mets, but he tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings at playoff-bound Cincinnati Wednesday, and has won three consecutive starts. Matsuzaka is a painfully slow worker, but he should find work in 2014. If your fantasy league is deep enough, he could have value. … Any question who is closing for St. Louis? Rookie Trevor Rosenthal saved all three games in the sweep over the Washington Nationals. On Wednesday, he lowered his ERA to 2.66. … Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday returned to the lineup after missing three games with a sore back. The Cardinals haven’t fully secured their division, so look for Holliday to get more at-bats this weekend. … By the way, Holliday has 20 home runs in 517 at-bats. Matt Adams homered again Wednesday, and has 17 blasts in 284 at-bats. Watch out next season. … Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte stole three bases Wednesday, giving him 40 on the season. Very impressive. Marte probably misses the top-10 outfielders for 2014, but not by much. Just be wary, he hits .260. … Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse tossed a two-hit shutout in Atlanta Wednesday, lowering his ERA to 3.35. Lohse didn’t match his 2012 numbers, but as the last pitcher on a fantasy staff, he continues to show his worth and should in 2014.