Houston Astros‘ ace Justin Verlander is in the thick of the race for the AL Cy Young Award.
The list of contenders for the 2018 AL Cy Young Award is long. Guys like Corey Kluber, Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Chris Sale, and Luis Severino will all garner some votes. However, I think the race will come down to two pitchers — Verlander and Blake Snell. In case you missed it, check out Eric Huysman’s recent interview with the Astros’ AL Cy Young contender.
Why These Two?
To me, the top four contenders are Verlander, Snell, Kluber and Sale. They can be grouped into pairs — the guys who threw a bunch of innings, and the guys who didn’t throw quite as many. Verlander and Kluber are in the former, while Snell and Sale are in the latter.
Verlander has the edge in the first grouping. While Kluber had the better record (20-7) and threw one more inning, Verlander leads him in ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Voters don’t care as much about win-loss records these days anyway.
The second group is interesting, but Snell is the leader there. Sale has the edge in strikeouts, WHIP and FIP, but he didn’t throw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Snell has the better ERA anyway and is in fact the league leader in that category.
This debate could, in part, come down to a debate about advanced versus old school numbers. Snell is the leader in the ERA and win-loss record stats; he went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA compared to Verlander’s 16-9 and 2.52 marks. If this were 10 or 15 years ago, Snell might be the runaway winner.
But Verlander has the edge in a number of other stats, most notably FIP. Despite Snell’s markedly superior ERA, he has the better FIP (2.78, compared to Snell’s 2.95). He also has the better WHIP (0.902 to 0.974) and K/BB ratio (7.84 to 3.45).
There’s also a question as to what extent the voters will value volume. Snell threw 180.2 innings in 2018, while Verlander went 214 frames. That adds up to 833 total batters faced, compared to 700 for Snell. Verlander only made three more starts than Snell, so he was also going deeper into games on average.
It looks like both pitchers will get their share of first-place votes, and I anticipate this being a close race. Some voters will find it hard to ignore 21 wins and a sub-2.00 ERA from Snell, while others will see Verlander as more dominant and deserving of a better record.
In my opinion, Snell will get a big boost from his low ERA. The question is if the voters consider Verlander’s WHIP, FIP and K/BB ratio to be important enough to overcome that. Either way, it’ll be an interesting decision.