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Originally published September 26, 2013 at 7:46 PM | Page modified September 27, 2013 at 10:38 PM

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Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma deserves some attention in Cy Young voting

Watch out for next year, now that Iwakuma has forced his way to the periphery of the discussion for a Cy Young award.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Friday

Oakland @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports

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Hisashi Iwakuma is highly unlikely to win the American League Cy Young Award when votes are handed in this weekend.

For one thing, the Mariners starter would have to halt the runaway freight train named Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers, whose 21-3 record and strong secondary numbers have made him a Cy Young favorite for most of the season. Iwakuma was mentioned earlier this season in Cy Young discussions, but faded midyear and only really began making his case anew these past few weeks.

But even if Iwakuma can’t generate enough last-minute support to stop Scherzer’s momentum, his numbers – traditional and sabermetric – are still strong enough to rank among the league’s best.

“First and foremost, like I said in spring training, one of my goals was to stay healthy through the long course of the season and stay in the rotation for a long time during the season,’’ Iwakuma said Wednesday night, through interpreter Antony Suzuki, after tossing eight scoreless innings to defeat the Kansas City Royals and improve to 14-6 in his final outing of the year. “I accomplished that goal with 200-plus innings, so I’m very happy with that.’’

Iwakuma is only the fifth Japanese starter to surpass 200 innings in the majors. His outing against the Royals upped his innings count to 2192 / 3, second in the league by just two innings to James Shields of the Royals and better than the 2141 / 3 posted by Scherzer.

In terms of earned-run average, Iwakuma finishes at 2.66, which is just behind the league-leading 2.64 of both Bartolo Colon of the Athletics and Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers, while Scherzer sits fifth at 2.90. But Colon faces the Mariners on Friday while Sanchez pitches on Saturday, meaning Iwakuma could very well be the league leader in ERA by the time the season ends.

Typically, being the league leader in ERA and top-two in innings pitched would garner someone plenty of Cy Young consideration. Especially given how voters have de-emphasized wins the past few years since Felix Hernandez captured the Cy Young with just 13 victories in 2010.

But Scherzer still has plenty of other traditional statistics going, like his 240 strikeouts – second only to fellow Cy Young hopeful Yu Darvish of the Rangers at 269. Iwakuma has logged 185 strikeouts but sits well back of Scherzer, Darvish and another potential Cy Young darkhorse, Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox.

The relative lack of strikeouts and higher rate of home runs allowed by Iwakuma means he doesn’t fare well in the FanGraphs version of the sabermetric Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat. FanGraphs WAR has a component that places a heavy emphasis on strikeout ability and ranks Scherzer in the lead with a 6.4 score, followed by Felix Hernandez at 5.9 — even though Hernandez has barely pitched in September.

Iwakuma finishes well down the list in 11th with a 4.2.

But things change big-time with the other version of the WAR stat – the one produced by Baseball Reference – which uses as a main component a “runs against’’ formula of which pitcher was best at preventing both earned and unearned runs. Using this sabermetric formula, Sale of the White Sox tops the list with a 7.2 score, with Iwakuma second at 7.0 and Scherzer third at 6.7.

Given the margin of error for all types of WAR stats, picking which of those three pitchers was best on that scale might be too close to call. Ultimately, though, Scherzer still finishes high enough in the major traditional categories, leads one of the sabermetric WAR categories and also has the terrific 21-3 record and leading numbers in batting average and on-base percentage allowed.

And it’s the combination of faring well in a multitude of categories that could carry the day for Scherzer when voting results are announced in November.

There’s also the factor that voters were well aware of Scherzer after his prominent role getting the Tigers to the World Series last year. Iwakuma was relatively unknown until recently, and his recent surge – going 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA in eight starts since mid-August – likely caught many observers by surprise.

But that might not be the case next year, now that Iwakuma has at least forced his way to the periphery of the discussion.

“It’s just been a lot of fun to watch him have a great season,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “And a lot of fun to watch him continue to progress over here.

“He does the work, he pays attention to the game, prepares himself well and he handles everything in a grand fashion too out there. I appreciate that.’’

By the numbers
Starter Hisashi Iwakuma finished his second season with a 14-6 record and 2.66 earned-run average. He’s among the American League leaders in several categories.
Category No.AL rank
Starts33 tie-1st
Innings 219.22nd
ERA 2.663rd
WHIP 1.0062nd
Quality starts 23 tie-3rd
Wins 14tie-7th
K/BB ratio 4.40 4th
Opp. avg .220 3rd
Opp. OPS.630 6th
Avg RISP .184 3rd
By the numbers
Starter Hisashi Iwakuma finished his second season with a 14-6 record and 2.66 earned-run average. He’s among the American League leaders in several categories.
Category No.AL rank
Starts33 tie-1st
Innings 219.22nd
ERA 2.663rd
WHIP 1.0062nd
Quality starts 23 tie-3rd
Wins 14tie-7th
K/BB ratio 4.40 4th
Opp. avg .220 3rd
Opp. OPS.630 6th
Avg RISP .184 3rd

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @gbakermariners. Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners

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