Its time to talk about the monster in the room. With Tuesday night’s dominant performance over the Royals, Blake Snell joined very rare company.
Blake Snell of @RaysBaseball struck out 11 batters while giving up just one run against the Royals today.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) August 22, 2018
He is the second pitcher in the live-ball era (since 1920) with 160+ K and fewer than 35 runs allowed through 24 starts, joining Bob Gibson in 1968 (168 K, 31 R).#RaysUp
For Rays fans, Snell’s emergence as the staff ace comes as no surprise, but he is STILL NOT GETTING MENTIONED in the AL Cy Young Award race.
Blake Snell's name doesn't get mentioned enough.— David Pulliam (@STLCARDSMNVIKES) August 22, 2018
Some people are starting to notice, but it hasn’t picked up with the people that matter. (BBWA)
Updated odds to win the American League Cy Young Award (BetOnline):— OddsShark (@OddsShark) August 21, 2018
Chris Sale -250
Justin Verlander +400
Corey Kluber +450
Trevor Bauer +800
Luis Severino +1000
Blake Snell +1200
Gerrit Cole +1400
When talking about the AL Cy Young, there is one main starter that gets mentioned (Chris Sale), a few others that have been mentioned (Justin Verlander, the Cleveland Indians Rotation), and then there’s Blake Snell. For argument’s sake, we are going to compare Snell to Verlander, Sale and Kluber.
According to more traditional stats, Snell isn’t leading in any of them. He does come close in ERA, and he could potentially pass Sale if he keeps up his dominant streak and/or Sale has an extended DL stint.
What really hurts Snell is his walks compared to the other contenders, which is better than the second tier of Cy Young candidates beating Bauer (56), and Cole (52), but that total can’t hang with this group.
It’s difficult to plead Snell’s case with these stats, although pitching in the AL East against New York (5.19 Runs per game) AND Boston (5.39 Runs per game) is a feat in itself.
By the way, Boston is slashing .228/.299/.333 and New York .205/.318/.402 against Blake Snell this year.
Blake Snell, Beautiful 81mph Curveball (Release/Slow). pic.twitter.com/y8XUB41WyF— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 22, 2018
But lets look into more advanced stats.
CYA - Adv
|Pitcher||K/9||BB/9||BABIP||ERA+||RA9 - WAR|
|Pitcher||K/9||BB/9||BABIP||ERA+||RA9 - WAR|
Well now things are interesting.
Of course the BB/9 is going to be higher, but the K/9 is the middle of the pack. Snell’s ERA is 95% better than the rest of the league, bested by only Sale, who has spent more time on the DL than Snell.
Strikeouts, walks, and ERA are important to the Cy Young discussion, but let’s dive deeper.
What value does Snell bring? For that I turn to RA9-WAR — here is how Fangraphs describes it, for those unfamiliar:
RA9-Wins is just like the standard Wins Above Replacement for pitchers, except it uses runs allowed per nine innings (RA/9) as its basis rather than a modified version of FIP. This the most straightforward of the FDP stats, as it is basically a traditional pitching metric but translated into an expression of pitcher value.
Again, Snell is only bested by Chris Sale, who is currently on the DL for the second time this season, this time due to shoulder inflammation. Verlander and Kluber have slightly lesser RA9, but with more innings pitched. If Snell keeps this pace up, he should extend his lead over Verlander and Kluber easily.
But that brings us back to innings pitched. DL stints have limited star pitchers in this race, but should that matter? Is the difference between 180 and 200 IP that significant? Corey Kluber is probably going to hit 200 IP, but in four out of his last seven starts, he has given up three or more runs. In those 24.2 innings, that’s good for a 5.88 ERA. If Snell had tossed 20 more innings, it’s not hard to imagine him outperforming those figures.
No Cy Young award winner has pitched less than 200 innings. Snell is scheduled to make six more starts, and if he goes at least 6.0 innings, he will finish the year at least 162.0 IP. If Blake Snell doesn’t win the award, it will be either because he crashed and burned, or more likely, because he didn’t pitch enough innings. I don’t think his level of performance in these value-driven stats could possibly preclude him from the conversation.
All things considered, why not Blake Snell?
If this pace keeps up, especially with Sale on the DL, the ONLY fair limitation with Snell will be his innings pitched. If Sale is unable to return from injury mid-season, there’s a case to be made.
Voters love an underdog story, and Snell is that new, hot toy that voters love to talk about. The Gold Glove comes with an advanced stats book, perhaps the voters could use their advanced stat hat for Snell as well.
If we’re being honest, with Sale on the DL, the AL Cy Young front-runner probably shifts to Kluber, who has won the award twice already. Here is where I would remind voters Snell is at Kluber’s level or better in every category except walks and IP.
Snell has gotten better since coming off his brief DL stint, and with a strong finish pitching deep into games, I believe Snell should be holding the Cy Young Award at the end of 2018.