There are a number of justifiable winners for the American League Cy Young Award, however, one man stands above the rest.
Ok, so maybe choosing a winner for this award isn’t a simple task. The National League Cy Young Award is a lock, with Jacob deGrom sure to win. He’s on pace to become just the 18th pitcher in the last 118 years to pitch at least 160 innings and finish with more than 200 strikeouts, an ERA of under 2.00 and a WHIP of under 1.00. On the American League side, the race is a little different.
Chris Sale’s name is commonly thrown out as a possible winner, and he has a legitimate case. Over his last seven starts, Sale is 5-0 with an unbelievable 0.24 ERA. He’s struck out 68, walked five and given up 19 hits over 38 innings. However, he has made just three starts since July 28, so he doesn’t have the innings under his belt to qualify for the league leaderboards. I don’t want that to take away from the overwhelmingly spectacular season Sale has had, but it removes him from Cy Young consideration in my book.
Trevor Bauer falls into this same category, having not pitched since August 11 but still leading the AL in pitcher fWAR (12-6, 3.05 ERA, 6.1 fWAR). Luis Severino was a serious candidate after a 14-2, 2.31 ERA first-half of the season. Unfortunately, Severino has posted a 6.48 ERA since the All-Star break and opponents are hitting .307 against him.
That leaves us with who should be the top four candidates for this award: Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber and Blake Snell. As a baseball fan who craves for 1-0 pitcher duels and superior bullpen strategy, having such a high number of legitimate finalists for the Cy Young is an amazing problem to have. One of these names has stood out above the rest, however: Tampa Bay Rays LHP Blake Snell.
Blake Snell’s stats create a beautiful image.
First, the basic/traditional stats on the 25-year-old Snell. After two subpar seasons to begin his career, Snell is currently 19-5 with a 2.03 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. He’s logged 195 strikeouts and limited hitters to a .183 average (lowest in AL) across a career-high 164 innings. His 19 wins lead the league while his ERA ranks second and his WHIP is the sixth-lowest mark in the league (third in the AL).
To be the best, you have to beat the best, right? Blake Snell has done exactly that in 2018. Against American League playoff teams (NY, BOS, CLE, OAK, HOU) Snell is 9-2 with a 2.00 ERA, striking out 87 and limiting these high-powered offenses to 42 hits in 72 innings. He’s also doing something many starting pitchers fail to: average six innings per start in each of those critical games.
In 24 of his 28 starts, Snell has given up two or fewer earned runs. That’s 86% of his starts. In seven of those starts, he went at least seven innings. He has eight starts in which he has given up two or fewer hits.
Mike Petriello of MLB.com put out some very intriguing numbers surrounding Snell’s ERA including:
- Lowest ERA in Tampa Bay franchise history
- Third-lowest ERA in American League since 1990 (behind Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens)
- Fifth-lowest home ERA (1.24) since 1946
Snell may fall behind Cole and Verlander in strikeout (31%) and walk percentage (9%), however, his hits per nine (5.8) leads all of the majors and his 201 ERA+ is good for tops in the American League (second only to deGrom in all of MLB).
The biggest takeaway is Snell’s consistency across the board. Pick a leaderboard and you will find Snell’s name at or near the top of every single one of them.
How has Blake Snell been so good?
Snell has lived in the strike zone a little more this season (up to 44.8 from 42.8% last season) but has reduced the amount of contact made against these pitches by 6%. The big difference between his 2017 data and his 2018 data: curveball usage.
Snell has used his curveball nearly 20% of the time (up nearly 10% from last year). Opponents haven’t been able to hit the curve, posting a .123 batting average against the pitch, which Baseball Savant says should actually be lower to .116. Mixing in more breaking pitches with his new 96 mph fastball (up nearly 2 mph from 2016 and 2017) has helped to limit quality contact against Snell, dropping the percentage of “solid” contact to 4.4% in 2018, down from 6.3% last year. The league average in 2018 is 5.5%.
Snell is sure to be overlooked by many due to the simple fact that he plays for the Tampa Bay Rays. Luckily, the Rays have been one of the most exciting teams in baseball over the past month, meaning more publicity for the young ace.
While Major League Baseball would surely love for Chris Sale, the ace of the league’s best team, to win the Cy Young Award, how about we vote based on statistics that you can’t argue against?
What do you think, MLB fans? Comment below with your pick for the AL Cy Young award or #TakeASeat and follow @ArmchairMLB to let us know!
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