Cy Young Rankings: Alcantara's to lose in NL, Verlander eyes 3rd
Welcome to the fourth edition of theScore's 2022 Cy Young Rankings, where we pick the top five pitchers from each league. Let's look at who's making a strong impression as we enter the final two months of the season.
5. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Like last time, Ohtani isn't a qualified starting pitcher, missing the threshold by a mere two innings. However, he's still tied for fourth among AL starters with at least 100 IP by FanGraphs WAR. While he's had limited work compared to his peers on this list, Ohtani's been so unbelievably dominant that he still has more strikeouts than Kevin Gausman, Justin Verlander, and 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray, among many others. If he manages to reach the 162-inning mark for the season while maintaining this level of productivity, the two-way phenom will certainly get Cy Young consideration. Oh, and in case you forgot, he has 24 homers and 11 stolen bases.
4. Kevin Gausman, Blue Jays
While voters no longer pay much attention to win-loss record, it's truly upsetting that a pitcher as good as Gausman's been is toiling with an 8-8 mark. That seems to start and end with the righty's troubling BABIP. Opposing batters are getting hits on 37% of balls put into play against Gausman, which ranks second among qualified starters, behind only Patrick Corbin and his 7.02 ERA. Gausman easily leads the majors by FIP with better strikeout numbers than Verlander and a better walk rate than Dylan Cease, and he limits homers better than everyone in the American League except Framber Valdez. Gausman's a "Create a Player" who's simply fallen victim to bad batted-ball luck and tricky shifting. Some voters who favor advanced metrics might still lean his way, but a marked decrease to his ERA would certainly help his case.
3. Shane McClanahan, Rays
McClanahan is perhaps the most gifted pitcher on this list and is quickly becoming the most dominant left-hander in the AL, with a league-leading 33.3% strikeout rate and 28.5% strikeout-minus-walk rate. The story with the Rays southpaw remains the same as it has all year - he gives up almost one homer per nine innings. To put that into perspective, he's the only pitcher in the top 10 by fWAR with that high of a homer rate, and guys like Carlos Rodon, Max Fried, Gausman, and Sandy Alcantara are posting HR/9 rates under 0.50. Because so many of them are solo bombs, McClanahan's ERA is a microscopic 2.24, so it isn't a problem. He also misses bats and suppresses walks better than pretty much everyone else, so if he can limit some hard contact down the stretch, he could easily win some hardware.
2. Dylan Cease, White Sox
The White Sox ace never ceases to flummox hitters with his incredibly elite strikeout prowess. Cease boasts an MLB-best 12.18 K/9, and while his erratic command gets him into some walk trouble, it doesn't even come close to impacting his ability to prevent runs. The right-hander is one of three qualified starters with a sub-2.00 ERA, and he's the only one of that trio with a FIP under 2.80. That mastery in both old-school and modern metrics is sure to win him the support of any generation of voters. Perhaps some will hold the fact that Cease pitches in an inferior division against him, but it's also worth mentioning that his double-digit strikeout games have come against the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, and Baltimore Orioles.
1. Justin Verlander, Astros
Verlander triggered a clause in his contract Thursday that enables him to exercise a $25-million option in his age-40 season. Somehow, that might end up being a bargain for the Astros. Seemingly for the 100th time, Verlander has rejuvenated his career and improved, this time coming off Tommy John surgery to lead all of baseball with an immaculate 1.73 ERA. That equates to a league- and park-adjusted ERA+ of 224. If Verlander can maintain that for the entire season, he'll be the third qualified starter to put up an ERA+ of 220 or higher since the new millennium (joining Zack Greinke in 2015 and Roger Clemens in 2005). What Verlander is accomplishing isn't just amazing for his age - it's historic for anyone.
5. Zack Wheeler, Phillies
While 2021 winner Corbin Burnes would've been a very worthy inclusion in this spot, last year's runner-up takes the edge ever so slightly. Wheeler is a better overall pitcher - particularly at limiting walks and homers. He's also limiting hard contact better than most pitchers, boasting an average exit velocity in the 90th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. That all winds up creating a FIP that ranks fourth in the National League.
4. Aaron Nola, Phillies
Nola's 2022 is a bit like McClanahan's. The Phillies righty's strikeout numbers aren't as elite, but he limits walks at such an impressive clip that the K/BB rate is somewhat comparable. Where Nola and McClanahan are closest, though, is their affinity for surrendering home runs. In fact, the former first-round pick is giving up all sorts of hard contact, ranking in the 36th percentile in barrel rate, according to Baseball Savant. That impacts Nola's ERA quite a bit more because he's allowing more baserunners, but his 0.95 WHIP is still remarkable. Nola has always been very good, and he might be very close to an even higher gear.
3. Max Fried, Braves
Then there's Fried. Where Nola's weakness is hard contact, the Braves lefty thrives on preventing barrels. Fried hasn't allowed a homer since June 9 - an incredibly impressive stretch of 10 games. He ranks in the 94th percentile in barrel rate, per Baseball Savant. It's curious that a pitcher so good at limiting hard contract wouldn't miss bats as much, but saying it works for him would be an understatement. While he doesn't get many whiffs - at least in comparison to other Cy Young contenders - he does have a remarkably good chase rate (92nd percentile). Instead of getting swings and misses on those pitches, Fried is intentionally nibbling just outside to generate poor contact. On pitches outside the zone, he's producing a 37.4% swing rate (fifth among qualified starters) and 64.9% contact rate.
2. Carlos Rodon, Giants
It's been quite a season for Rodon. The lefty opened the year looking like he had found a new way to be absolutely unhittable, striking out 53 batters over his first six games with his new club. He then hit a rough patch, allowing 16 earned runs over his next five games while only striking out 22. That run was short-lived, though, and Rodon quickly recaptured his groove to lead all pitchers by fWAR with a league-leading 2.27 FIP. He's been phenomenal and will have no shortage of suitors as a free agent this winter.
1. Sandy Alcantara, Marlins
The Cy Young Award is Alcantara's to lose as he stares down the home stretch coming off a third complete game of the season. There have been 12 complete games in MLB all year, meaning Alcantara is responsible for a quarter of them. His 1.88 ERA is the best in the NL, and he leads all of MLB in innings pitched. He's a true workhorse in a generation arguably defined by the Rays' method of deploying a "stable full of guys who throw 98 miles per hour." To put the gulf in workload into perspective, the Marlins righty has thrown as many innings as Rodon and David Price combined, or Wheeler and Liam Hendriks combined. He doesn't get it done by making sure he's racking up strikeouts or worrying too much about walks. But he definitely gets it done.
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