Brian T. Chan, Sports Editor

Take the following blindfolded taste test: Pitcher A, valued at $23 million according to FanGraphs, posted a 16-6 record with a 3.21 ERA last season, and Pitcher B posted an 18-3 record with a 2.90 ERA, but was valued at $14.9 million. Which pitcher was considered for the AL Cy Young award last season?

Unlike last year, Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester faces a stiffer competition this season. Dominating the AL, Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke is the frontrunner to win the award, the first for a Royals’ pitcher since David Cone won the Cy Young 15 years ago. Like Cone, who won in the shortened season due to the infamous strike, Greinke faces a situation in which the skeptical voters may reluctantly select a representative from the team that currently sits in the cellar of the league.

I will avoid the Greinke discussion, which emerges in the media everyday, and rather provide an argument for Lester to be considered in this year’s ballot.

This season it has been a complete turnaround in the wrong direction for Lester’s teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka, although he recently had one of his best outings since returning from the disabled list.

Comparing Lester to Matsuzaka last season, Matsuzaka held the advantage in the traditional stats: wins and ERA. Matsuzaka held opponents to an AL-best .211 batting average.

The 29-year-old Matsuzaka may not have given up many hits, but he did excessively issue free passes. He gave up 5.05 walks per nine innings, most in the AL last season. The 25-year-old Lester, on the other hand, moderately walked batters, but still had a lower WHIP than Matsuzaka. As a result, Lester registered 210-1/3 innings in 33 starts (approximately 6-1/3 innings per start) while Matsuzaka had just 167-2/3 innings in 29 starts (5-2/3 innings per start).

With a 14-7 record and 3.33 ERA, Lester has a much tougher competition in this year’s AL Cy Young candidacy, which includes Greinke, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners, CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees, Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.

Aside from Greinke, Halladay is probably the most complete pitcher in the group with his impeccable control.

The argument for Sabathia is that he leads the AL with 18 wins and plays in New York. I do not buy this argument because the same could be said about Lester in a big market. However, Sabathia should be considered because of his post-All Star performance. If that is the case, Lester is right beside Sabathia with the exception of four wins.

Verlander leads the AL with 10.24 strikeouts per nine innings, and Lester is second with 9.94 strikeouts per nine innings. Hernandez is a groundball hawk, posting a 52.6 percent groundball rate.

Lester is a relatively balanced pitcher with a 47.9 percent groundball rate. In the Apr. 15, 2009 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Dave Cameron points out that the alternative of groundball outs lead to more durable and efficient power pitchers. Once displaced in baseball, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joel Pineiro has revamped his career with the sinking fastball, resulting in a 61.5 percent groundball rate.

Whereas Hernandez and Halladay economize on their pitches, Verlander, on the other end of the spectrum, relies mostly on the strikeouts. Lester is caught in the middle as he is able to generate outs both ways even though he does have a high pitch count per inning.

Greinke continues to sway voters with his dominating presence, allowing just one earned run in the last 30 innings. Even though Greinke has distanced himself from the others, Lester should be considered one of the top five candidates in the AL and commended for another outstanding season.

Matsuzaka, also known as Pitcher B, received two second-place votes and finished third in the ballot with 10 voting points last year. Lester, who in this experiment is Pitcher A, was not even considered for the award whereas a 40-year-old “Moose” and two closers received votes.