Handicapping the AL Cy Young Race


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The AL Cy Young race has been a good one in recent years, and it looks like it’ll be another exciting one this season. The Houston Astros have two of the top contenders for the award, but a few other names are still lurking around. With that in mind, we’ll breakdown some of the top contenders for the 2019 American League Cy Young award.

The Favorite

Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

Take a look at some major pitching stats such as ERA, batting average against, strikeout/walk ratio, WHIP, WAR, and quality starts, and you’ll find Justin Verlander’s name in the top five for all of them. His opponents batting average on balls in play is sitting at 1.97; almost 40 points lower than his closest competitor. Stranding runners has also been an important part of his game, as that number is sitting around 90%. We’ve seen dominating seasons from Verlander before, and his incredible numbers put him just ahead of a crowded field in a bid for his first Cy Young since 2011 when he was also named MVP. Something that could hold Verlander back? He’s given up the most home runs in the American League with 28. 

Current Hypothetical Odds: +150

The Field

Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays

It’s not often the Rays are willing to spend in free agency, but the two-year, $30M contract they gave to the 35-year old Charlie Morton has been paying off nicely. Morton leads the league in ERA at 2.61, and also holds opposing hitters to a relatively low .318 slugging percentage with only 10 home runs given up. He has allowed a few more runs than usual in July, but has still won three of his four starts along with striking out 32 and only walking seven this month. Whether or not he can keep his numbers low for the rest of the season, and become the second straight Cy Young winner out of Tampa, remains to be seen. 

Current Hypothetical Odds: +300

Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros

The second Houston pitcher on this list (third if you want to count Morton, who had a renaissance of sorts with the Astros), but perhaps one with just as solid of a case. Cole’s 13.5 K/9 rate leads the majors, and he’s on pace to become just the 18th pitcher since 1900 to have 300 strikeouts in a season. His WHIP isn’t too shabby either, currently sitting at 1.0. Watching him and teammate Verlander battle for the award should be interesting to watch, as Cole looks for another top-five finish in Cy Young voting. 

Current Hypothetical Odds: +325

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox

What a turnaround it’s been for Giolito. His ERA has been almost cut in half over the course of a season (6.13 in 2018 to 3.12 in 2019), his WAR has gone from -1.3 to 3.8, and he already has more strikeouts and wins than he did last year. His 13.3% swinging-strike rate has shown that the changes to his repertoire have been working. He hasn’t been throwing his sinker, and his fastball has increased velocity from 92.8 to 94.6 miles per hour. It’s not uncommon for a 23-year old pitcher to struggle the way Giolito did in 2018, but few are able to turn around this drastically so quickly. He is one of the feel-good stories of the season, and that may be enough to get him some extra votes. He could end up going from one of the worst pitchers in the AL in 2018, to the best in 2019.

Current Hypothetical Odds: +800

Mike Minor or Lance Lynn, Texas Rangers

The Rangers made some major moves to their rotation in the offseason, and while Shelby Miller and Drew Smyly didn’t work out so great, Minor and Lynn currently lead the AL in pitching WAR with 6.1 and 4.8, respectively. Minor wasn’t a new addition, but he has started pitching like an ace in 2019. He is one of three pitchers to have more than one complete game, and has gone at least seven innings in nine of his 20 starts. His K/BB ratio could use some work at 2.14, but he also averages 9.14 strikeouts per nine innings, and holds opponents to a .226 average. Not bad for a guy who had to miss two whole seasons with some serious injuries.

As for Lynn, his ERA is higher at 3.93 which can be attributed to his opponents .325 BABIP, but he also walks fewer and has more strikeouts than his counterpart. While he doesn’t have a complete game to his credit yet, he is third in the league in innings pitched, and has gone at least six innings in every start since April 28th. Even though a pitchers win-loss record hasn’t seemed to be as important in Cy Young voting recently, Lynn is tied for the league lead with 12 wins under his belt. The Rangers may have cooled off a bit and still sit 6.5 games back of a Wild Card spot, but with Minor and Lynn leading the rotation, they’ll still have a chance. 

Current Hypothetical Odds: Minor +1600, Lynn +2000

Also Considered: Jose Berrios/Jake Odorizzi, Minnesota TwinsMathew Boyd, Detroit Tigers; Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians; Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox; Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays

Predicting who wins this race is a tough call. It’s tough to bet against Verlander and the remarkable season he’s had, but it will be tough to keep his BABIP and strand rate that low for the rest of the season. Even though the narrative favors Giolito, right now my money is on Gerrit Cole to win his first Cy Young due to his impressive strikeout rate and the fact that he hasn’t been credited with a loss since May 22nd. If the White Sox can pull up towards playoff contention though, watch out for Giolito.

Featured Image: Getty Images

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