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MLB: Early Cy Young Leaders

As of today, we are right around 1/6 of the way through the 2010 MLB season. We’re nearing the point where we can really get a feel for how players and teams are performing, and what it might mean for the rest of the season.

With that in mind, I decided to pick my early leaders for AL and NL Cy Young:

American League – Francisco Liriano, Twins

In addition to the Cy Young, Liriano would have to be a leading contender for Comeback Player of the Year as well. The 26 year-old lefthander, who is three years removed from Tommy John surgery, is starting to regain the form that made him one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball. Coming off a forgettable 2009 season, where he finished 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA, Liriano has been a resurgent force atop the Twins’ rotation. Through five starts this season, Liriano is 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA (2nd best in the AL), and has yet to allow a home run in his 36 innings of work.

So what has been Liriano’s secret to success in 2010? Confidence, both in his health and his stuff. In ’08 and ’09, it was clear, when watching Liriano pitch, that he was holding back because of his elbow. This was especially true when throwing his slider, which had been one of the best in the game. This season, however, Liriano has seen his fastball velocity return to pre-surgery levels, and his slider has become an out pitch once again. Liriano’s return to dominance has been a pleasant surprise for the Minnesota Twins, who currently lead the AL Central with a 19-10 record.

Other Contenders: CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett (Yankees), Matt Garza and James Shields (Rays)

National League – Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies

While the American League is lacking in early Cy Young contenders, the National League has several pitchers who have staked an early claim to the award. None more so than Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez. The 26 year-old righthander, who burst onto the scene during the Rockies’ 2007 World Series run, is quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball. Jimenez has been the most dominant pitcher in the National League in 2010, narrowly edging out Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay. On April 17, Jimenez threw the first no-hitter in Rockies history against the Atlanta Braves. In his most recent start, a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres on May 3, Jimenez racked up 13 strikeouts over 7 strong innings. Overall, Jimenez has put together an eye-popping early stat line: 6-0, 0.87 ERA, 44 K in 41.1 innings pitched. Jimenez is in the hunt for the Pitching Triple Crown, as he sits tied for 1st in Wins, 1st in ERA, and tied for 4th in K’s.

What makes Jimenez so dominant is, first and foremost, his great stuff. He features one of the best fastball-slider combinations in baseball, and everything he throws has outstanding velocity and movement. As he has matured physically, his velocity has gradually risen. This season, as he begins to enter his prime, his fastball and slider velocities are the highest of his career. According to FanGraphs, Jimenez’s average fastball velocity is 96.8 mph, and an even 88 mph for his slider. What also makes Jimenez special is his ability to hold that incredible velocity deep into starts. He has always been known as a hard-thrower, but this season, Jimenez is putting it all together and realizing his, seemingly, unlimited potential.

Other Contenders: Roy Halladay (Phillies), Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito (Giants), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)

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