Gonzales belongs in AL Cy Young debate

September 23rd, 2020

SEATTLE -- While there has been talk all season of Mariners center fielder Kyle Lewis as a leading candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, there's been no mention of teammate as part of the AL Cy Young Award conversation.

Until now.

Mariners manager Scott Servais mentioned that Gonzales should be included with the top AL pitchers this season following his No. 1 starter's fifth straight victory on Monday, when the 28-year-old southpaw twirled eight scoreless innings in Seattle's 6-1 victory over the Astros.

Servais reiterated that point later, noting that Gonzales' results have not been appreciated enough given his outstanding results over the past three seasons.

"I absolutely think he gets overlooked," Servais said. "If you look at the body of work, not just this year, but what he's been able to do the last couple years. He makes his starts, he logs innings, they're very productive innings. This year, he's just elevated his game, so the walks are down and the strikeouts are actually ticking up.

"He's doing everything you could ask for from a front-line starter, other than the fact it's not Gerrit Cole throwing 98 mph. At the end of the day, it's a do-good league. You do good, you should keep playing and you should get noticed. And there's not many in the [AL] that have done it better than him this year."

Indians right-hander Shane Bieber is the overwhelming favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award with his 8-1 record and 1.74 ERA through 11 starts. But Baseball Writers' Association of America voters will be asked to pick their top five AL pitchers after the regular season ends on Sunday, which is the day Gonzales is expected to make his 11th and final start of this abbreviated schedule in Oakland.

Gonzales is 7-2 with a 3.06 ERA in his first 10 starts, and a closer look indeed indicates he at least belongs in the conversation.

Though a pitcher's wins no longer carry as much cachet as the old days, Gonzales' seven wins are a good starting point. He's currently tied with Cole for second behind only Bieber's eight wins among AL pitchers, and it's noteworthy that Gonzales has posted that record on a team whose other pitchers are 17-28.

ERA is a statistic voters consider closely, and Gonzales entered Wednesday ranked ninth in the AL with his 3.06 mark, though he's only .22 from moving into sixth on that list, so much could change in the final week.

Once Cy Young voters dig deeper, they'll find other intriguing facts in Gonzales' favor. WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is a significant statistic, and Gonzales' 0.91 is third behind only Minnesota's Kenta Maeda (0.76) and Bieber (0.86).

While Gonzales is not a big strikeout pitcher -- ranking 17th in strikeouts per nine innings -- Gonzales gets things done his own way. He's walked just six batters in 64 2/3 innings, giving him by far the lowest walks per nine innings ratio in the AL at 0.84 and also the highest strikeout-per-walk ratio of 9.83. Zack Greinke of the Astros is No. 2 at 7.75, Maeda is third at 7.10 and Bieber fourth at 6.22.

For WAR lovers, Gonzales is tied for seventh in pitching fWAR at 1.7 and 12th in bWAR at 1.3. And for those who like advanced metrics, Gonzales is ninth in ERA+ at 138 and 10th in FIP at 3.20.

In other words, there are a lot of ways to cut the Cy Young voting after Bieber, depending on your preference. And just as with Gonzales, there are strong cases to be made for Cole, Maeda, Lance Lynn of the Rangers, Dylan Bundy of the Angels, Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Giolito of the White Sox, Hyun Jin Ryu of the Blue Jays and others.

But does Gonzales belong in the conversation? It surely would seem so, based on his outstanding performance to date, which means his final start this weekend will carry added impact in this shortened season if he's going to find his way on to some AL Cy Young ballots.

• The Seattle Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America named its annual Mariners award winners prior to Wednesday's home finale. Lewis was named team MVP, Gonzales was voted the Most Valuable Pitcher for the second year in a row and Dee Strange-Gordon took home the Unsung Hero Award for a second time (also 2018).

• Outfielder Jake Fraley strained his right quadriceps muscle on Tuesday in his first game after being recalled from the alternate training site and was placed on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday. Outfielder Braden Bishop was recalled from the alternate training site to take his place for the final five games of the season.

• The Mariners set their rotation for the final four-game road series in Oakland, with Yusei Kikuchi to start Friday's game, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn to pitch in Saturday's doubleheader, and Gonzales to close things out on Sunday.