It’s been a week and a half since we introduced the #Edwin4CyYoung campaign and a lot has happened in the American League. While the campaign began as a way to celebrate Edwin Díaz’s incredible season, there was a narrow path he could follow that would end with him holding a trophy at the end of the year. What was a less-than-serious venture may have a little more weight now.
Of course, Díaz needs to hold up his end of the bargain when it comes to earning the Cy Young award. When Max Muncy hit his game-tying home run off Díaz on August 18, my first thought was how it would affect his award chase. His next three appearances resulted in saves—including a narrow escape on Saturday night—pushing his season total to 50. That puts him on track to match the single-season MLB record. With 31 games remaining, the Mariners just need to play 12 close games to get him enough opportunities. That seems doable. If he comes close to or breaks the record, his case for winning the Cy Young gets much stronger.
What about the rest of the field? There’s been some significant movement in the field and I think it benefits Díaz’s case. The only way he’ll earn enough consideration is if there aren’t any standout starting pitchers in the American League. Below are the nine other top candidates for the Cy Young award and a brief look at their recent performances.
Chris Sale: ↘
If Chris Sale had stayed healthy this year, he would be the clear frontrunner to win. He leads the league in strikeout rate, ERA, and FIP, but his shoulder injury creates a ton of uncertainty for the rest of his season. In the last 15 years, there have been just two pitchers who have won the Cy Young award with less than 200 innings pitched: Clayton Kershaw in 2014 with 198 IP and Éric Gagné in 2003 as a closer. Sale currently has 146 IP and is on the verge of beginning a throwing program, the first step in returning from the disabled list. If we assume the Red Sox will be fairly conservative with their ace pitcher—keeping their playoff run in mind—it’s possible he’ll only have three or four more starts this season. FanGraphs projects he’ll reach 175 IP exactly. That seems optimistic to me. The BBWAA voters could break with tradition and decide to reward an otherwise historic season from Sale. Now that’s a funny thought.
Trevor Bauer: ↓
Trevor Bauer was putting together a season that could have rivaled Sale’s but a stress fracture in his leg has him sidelined even longer than Sale. He probably won’t return until the final week in September and only so he can be ready for Cleveland’s playoff run. The innings pitched dilemma applies to Bauer too. He could surpass 175 IP if he returned from the disabled list in time to make two starts. FanGraphs projects he’ll only be able to make one abbreviated start.
Gerrit Cole: ↗
Gerrit Cole might have the best case to win the Cy Young if Sale’s injury rules him out. Cole’s strikeout rate (2nd), ERA (5th), and FIP (3rd) all rank in the top 5 in the American League. The one thing that might hold him back is his win-loss record. We all recognize the folly of pitcher wins but the BBWAA still values them. At 11-5, Cole will be hard pressed to accumulate enough wins to really standout to the voters, especially since you’d expect a higher win total for a pitcher playing for the team with the third best record in the American League. He’s also seen his ERA increase from 2.54 to 2.73 over his last five starts.
Justin Verlander: —
Cole’s increase in ERA pales in comparison to Justin Verlander’s. He’s suffered through an increase of almost half a run over his last five starts, from 2.24 to 2.72 (backed by a 5.04 FIP over that stretch). He’s still in the conversation with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the American League. He, too, could suffer from a lower than expected win-loss record.
Corey Kluber: —
It’s uncanny how almost every starter on this list has struggled in August. Kluber hasn’t suffered as much as Cole or Verlander but his ERA is much closer to three after his last five starts. He does lead the American League in innings pitched and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is second to Verlander’s. He also has a shot at 20 wins as well.
Luis Severino: ↘
Luis Severino’s struggles extend much further than his last five games. Since the All-Star break, he’s posted a 6.63 ERA and a 4.35 FIP, pushing his overall ERA well over three. The only thing that might help his case is his win-loss record. He leads the American League in wins and has a good chance to be one of the few 20-game winners this year.
Blake Snell: ↑
Blake Snell has put together a pretty impressive run since returning from the disabled list at the beginning of August. He’s allowed just three runs total in his last five starts. His ERA is now second only to Sale in the American League but his FIP just doesn’t back it up. Because of his injury earlier this season, he won’t come close to reaching 200 IP either.
Carlos Carrasco: —
Carlos Carrasco’s excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio (4th in the AL) just can’t make up for his high ERA.
James Paxton: ↘
While it’s fun to dream about James Paxton’s chances at the Cy Young, he realistically doesn’t have a shot, especially since he’s been sidelined for the second time this season.