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Where does Blake Snell rank among left handed Cy Young winners?

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Blake Snell’s 2018 was a recordbook season

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Unless you’ve been completely unplugged for the past few days, you probably already know that Blake Snell is the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner. He’s the 25th southpaw to win the award since it began in 1956.

And while we know how dominant he was all year, just how dominant was he in the context of other southpaws? How does his ‘18 campaign stack up all time?

Spoiler alert: The answer is pretty darn good

Blake Snell’s run prevention was historic

It was undoubtedly Snell’s microscopic 1.89 ERA that won him the Cy Yong award. His 219 ERA+ (where 100 is the league average) is the highest mark by a left-handed starter since Dutch Leonard in 1914.

1914!

To fully appreciate how crazy this really is, let’s take a look at some of the best years from other lefty Cy Young Award winners:

  • Warren Spahn, 1953 - 2.10 ERA, 188 ERA+. Someone go back in time and give him a Blake Snell award, am I right?
  • Whitey Ford, 1958 - 2.01, 177 ERA+
  • Sandy Koufax, 1966 - 1.73 ERA, 190 ERA+. Even though Koufax had a better ERA, ERA+ levels the playing field and takes into account the run scoring environment of the season as well as the player’s home ballpark. Snell’s 1.89 ERA this year was still better than Koufax’s compared to the league average.

So far, that’s 3 hall of famers and zero years better than Snell’s ‘18. Let’s keep going.

  • Vida Blue, 1972 - 1.82 ERA, 183 ERA+. Again, Blue had a better ERA, but Snell was still better compared to league average.
  • Ron Guidry, 1978 - 1.74 ERA, 208 ERA+. Phew. That was a close one.

Now it gets fun.

  • Randy Johnson, 2002 - 2.32 ERA, 195 ERA+, both tops in the league that year. Remember, it’s all about the run scoring environment, and in 2002, it was high. Had Johnson posted a 1.89 ERA, maybe he gives Snell a run for his money.
  • Clayton Kershaw, 2013 - 1.83 ERA, 194 ERA+. Almost! But not quite.
  • Clayton Kershaw, 2014 - 1.77 ERA, 197 ERA+. A little closer! But no dice.
  • Blake Snell, 2018 - 1.89 ERA, 219 ERA+. Perfection.

Snell could be even better in 2019

A lot went into Snell’s ability to prevent runs this past year, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for growth. His FIP, for example, was a still-very-good-but-not-quite-elite 2.95. And while he led the American league in Baseball-Reference WAR (7.5) and RA-9 (WAR), he got dinged by FanGraphs WAR (4.6), because he still walked 3.2 batters per nine. A career best, but far from elite as well.

  • What we witnessed was not only the best season for a Rays pitcher, but one of the best in the history of baseball, especially for a left handed pitcher. And it’s scary to think that he could take a step forward next year, as Kyle Snyder discussed on the This Week in Rays Baseball podcast.

Here’s to an even better year in 2019.

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