The voting process is going to be more interesting than ever for all of these MLB player awards. Instead of having a sample size of 30+ starts for the American League Cy Young Award winner, the voters will have 10-12 starts.
Think about these pitching lines over the course of 12 starts:
7 IP, 3 ER, 7 H, 9 K, 2 BB
6.1 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 7 K, 2 BB
8 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 10 K, 1 BB
3.2 IP, 6 ER, 10 H, 4 K, 0 BB
5.2 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 6 K, 3 BB
8.1 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 11 K, 2 BB
6 IP, 3 ER, 8 H, 5 K, 1 BB
5.1 IP, 4 ER, 6 H, 8 K, 2 BB
7.1 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 9 K, 3 BB
6.2 IP, 3 ER, 7 H, 6 K, 1 BB
7 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 10 K, 2 BB
8 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 11 K, 1 BB
That would be 79.1 IP, 29 ER, 63 H, 96 K, 20 BB. That’s a 3.29 ERA, but there is only one really bad start in that equation. That is well over a 4/1 K/BB ratio, bordering on 5/1. Well under a hit per inning. Let’s say that the Win-Loss record in those starts is 8-2.
Bartolo Colon won the Cy Young with a 3.48 ERA in 2005. This mark would be the highest since then. Is this a Cy Young caliber season? It extrapolates out to about 240 strikeouts in a 200-inning season.
Do we need absolute dominance in a 12-start sample size to win the Cy Young? It does seem like that would be the benchmark. We’ve seen guys like Jack Flaherty last season run an ERA under 1.00 for stretches like this. Is that what we need to see?
If so, how much does that narrow down the field? We also know that voters, for better or for worse, also consider team performance when voting for these things. Can you win the Cy Young and miss the playoffs? Can you be dominant, but be on a bad team? Can you make the playoffs, but lose votes to your teammate(s)?
We’ll figure that out as best we can along the way. Here are the AL Cy Young award candidates per 5Dimes Sportsbook:
Gerrit Cole is the massive favorite, as he moves from the Houston Astros to the New York Yankees. Cole’s park factor has for pitchers has taken a hit with the division move and this schedule format also hurts in that he faces four competent teams in interleague play.
He’s +280 and deserves to be the favorite because he can put up some very gaudy strikeout numbers in this format. However, what about his teammate James Paxton at +3500?
Would Cole outshine Paxton over 162 games and 30 starts? Probably. Will he outshine Paxton over 12 starts? Probably, but to the point where the two guys are lined more than $32 apart? That seems a little bit crazy to me, as Paxton could very well be dominant and have the right types of strikeout numbers with over a K per inning.
Will these two guys pull votes from each other? That seems like a realistic possibility if both pitch well and the Yankees hold serve as the division winner.
Similarly, the Indians face the same thing with Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger. Even Carlos Carrasco is only +3000. He could work his way into the discussion if he returns to his 2017-18 form. Bieber and Clevinger both profile to be excellent and have a much more favorable schedule than that of the Yankees or most other teams. They’ll get the Royals and Tigers for 20 games and the Pirates for six more, so nearly half of the schedule is against bottom-feeders.
The strikeout numbers should be there, but the Indians also have a suspect bullpen. If pitcher wins become a factor because voters are stuck in the 1990s, then those guys might have some hurdles to overcome in the voting process.
Again, similarly, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow are all on the same team. They have maybe the best bullpen in the American League behind them, which is an advantage not afforded to the Indians, but if the Rays play really well, they could all share some votes.
Morton would probably be the most attractive pick in that group because of the high strikeout potential that he has shown to pair with low walk rates. Also, with Snell and Glasnow battling injuries last season and an elite bullpen, the Rays may opt to protect those two arms a little more.
You really have to consider so many more factors than usual this season. You want pitchers that are going to be unshackled. Pitchers that are going to have the opportunity to have make or break innings in the sixth and seventh because all games are magnified in this small sample size and more aggressive managers are likely to pull the plug if they have the bullpen to do so. Teams like the Rays. Teams like the Twins, which would cross off Jose Berrios for me.
The Indians don’t have a choice, so maybe their triumvirate is worth exploring more in a Cy Young context, but I’d prefer other avenues.
Here are a couple of picks I would consider for the AL Cy Young:
Lucas Giolito (+1600) – Lucas Giolito is the unquestioned ace of the White Sox staff, so he won’t be forced to share the spotlight with anybody. The White Sox bullpen projects to be pretty average, so Giolito shouldn’t have his hands tied to the point of other pitchers.
Teams coming from a little bit off the pace are also going to draw more favor in the eyes of voters. The White Sox, while lined in the futures markets in step with the Indians, haven’t been to the playoffs in a while. The thought process is that it is Minnesota’s division to lose and the Indians are the likely Wild Card contender, at least until the White Sox prove otherwise.
Great stories or teams with buzz are going to have a higher perception. There is a “been there, done that” mentality about the Indians and Twins. If the White Sox make a push, and Giolito is a huge part of it, he is going to be viewed in a very favorable light.
Giolito has the strikeout potential, as evidenced by what we saw last season, and also had a big 12-start run in May and June, so he has it in him for sure.
Justin Verlander (+700) – This is an unsexy pick. I get it. What I also get is that Justin Verlander no longer shares the spotlight with Gerrit Cole. He is front and center in the Astros rotation, a rotation that is top-heavy with Verlander, Zack Greinke, and Lance McCullers, whose stuff looked explosive in his last tune-up. In all honesty, if you find a book with a McCullers price, he wouldn’t be a bad gamble.
Verlander will have the strikeouts. By virtue of being in the AL West, Verlander will also have the luxury of working in several good pitcher’s parks this season, like Oakland, Seattle, and in interleague games at NL West parks. Coors Field is the only great hitter’s park in that division.
We know Verlander racks up the strikeouts and throws strikes. With pitchers having a unique ramp-up to the season, control and command could be issues. Verlander gave up a ton of home runs last season, but most were solo homers. He’s also going to be a workhorse in this format and shouldn’t be limited by pitch counts or innings thresholds. He’ll have more of a chance to rack up those counting stats.
I don’t think Verlander should be this far behind Cole. The two should be closer in price, as Houston should be every bit as good or better than the Yankees and Verlander should have the numbers to be in consideration.