Mixed results down the stretch open the door for debate.
On Thursday night, the Yankees put it on a pitcher with a strong Cy Young resume, Toronto’s Robbie Ray. Ray allowed four hits and walked three while allowing five earned runs in 5.1 innings in the biggest game of the year for the Blue Jays (to date).
On Wednesday, the Yankees sent their ace to the mound. Gerrit Cole could have put his stamp on the Cy Young race with a dominant outing, but his numbers were comparable to Ray’s: nine hits allowed, five earned runs and six strikeouts in six innings.
With two less-than-ideal outings in their final starts of the regular season, two of the perceived front-runners for the American League’s top pitching honor have opened the door for some conversation about who deserves the Cy Young this year.
So who should win it?
The Case for Cole
Cole hasn’t been dominant from start to finish. He has had stretches of being the guy the Yankees gave a king’s ransom, but at times he’s been frustratingly inconsistent.
Assuming he doesn’t need to start a Game 163, here’s what Cole has on his resume for the 2021 campaign:
- 181.1 IP (5th in the AL)
- 243 strikeouts (2nd in the AL)
- 16 wins (AL leader)
- 5.5 WAR (2nd in the AL)
- 1.06 WHIP (2nd in the AL)
- 18 quality starts (3rd in the AL)
- 3.23 ERA (3rd in the AL)
Those are all pretty good. Indeed, in many years being top-three in almost all categories would likely have your name etched into the nameplate on the award this season. The problem is: the same name is ahead of Cole in many of those categories.
The Case for Ray
Ray had a terrific season — in a contract year. He was exactly what the Blue Jays needed at the front of their rotation and helped them stay *this close* to the playoff hunt all the way into the final weekend of the regular season.
So where did Ray rank in the same statistical categories we used for Cole?
- 193.1 IP (1st in the AL)
- 248 strikeouts (1st in MLB)
- 16 wins (3rd in the AL)
- 6.7 WAR (1st in the AL)
- 1.04 WHIP (1st in the AL)
- 23 quality starts (1st in the AL)
- 2.84 ERA (1st in the AL)
Lots of firsts in there, which will help bolster his case for the Cy Young this year.
But are there others who deserve consideration?
Lance Lynn had a lot of talk in the middle of the season about being the leader for the AL Cy Young after a strong start for the White Sox. But he tapered off down the stretch and spent some time on the shelf.
- Lynn’s Resume: 10-6, 2.72 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 172 Ks, 152.0 IP, 13 quality starts, 5.1 WAR
Lynn’s teammate, Carlos Rodon, may have a strong case. But he, too, spent time down the stretch on the IL. He bet on himself and re-signed with the White Sox this season and won big; he was named an All-Star and has had a terrific season.
- Rodon’s Resume: 13-5, 2.37 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 185 Ks, 132.2 IP, 9 quality starts, 5.0 WAR
Chris Flexen has quietly been a stud for the Mariners as they have crept into the AL East-dominated Wild Card race. He doesn’t carry the name brand of Cole or the play in a city that gets as many eyeballs as Toronto, Chicago or certainly New York, but he’s had a terrific overall season.
- Flexen’s Resume: 14-6, 3.67 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 124 Ks, 174.1 IP, 15 quality starts, 3.2 WAR
So who should win it?
The Yankees being in the postseason (we feel pretty confident heading into the final weekend) could help Cole. And both White Sox starters deserve votes.
But the American League Cy Young Award should go to Robbie Ray this season.
It’s clear when you look at his rankings that he’s been the best pitcher in the American League this year. And he’s going to get paid for his efforts; a relatively weak free agent class will make his strong season even more expensive for his next employer.