The Rays didn't exactly put an emphasis on traditional starting pitching during the 2018 season, but the one starter that they maintained thoughout the year, left-hander Blake Snell, excelled by any standards in a breakout campaign that made him one of the finalists for the American League Cy Young Award.
The Rays didn't exactly put an emphasis on traditional starting pitching during the 2018 season, but the one starter that they maintained thoughout the year, left-hander Blake Snell, excelled by any standards in a breakout campaign that made him one of the finalists for the American League Cy Young Award. Joining him are two veterans with Cy Young Awards already under their belts: Corey Kluber of the Indians, who won 20 games for the first time in his career; and Houston's Justin Verlander, whose resurgence in Houston continued at age 35 with one of the best seasons of his career.
With the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner set to be revealed in Wednesday's 6 p.m. ET announcement on MLB Network, here's a look at the case for each of the finalists.
• NL Cy Young Award: A case for each finalist
Corey Kluber, Indians
This AL Cy Young debate has centered around volume versus value. It has been a discussion about traditional numbers and analytics. Indians ace Kluber checks boxes in just about every aspect of the conversation.
The leader of Cleveland's talented rotation did not take home his ultimate goal -- a World Series ring -- but he did back up his 2017 AL Cy Young campaign with another well-rounded showing. Even with a minor knee issue altering his midseason schedule, Kluber finished as the AL's leader in innings pitched, with 215.
Kluber also notched 20 wins for the first time in his career, joining Rays lefty Snell as the only pitchers to have at least that many victories in the Majors this past season.
"It's a cool accomplishment," Kluber said. "It's something to be proud of, but I think it just means that -- the way I look at it -- I gave us a chance to win a lot of times. I think that there's times where they probably picked me up when I didn't, and maybe I got credited with a win."
Kluber finished with a 2.89 ERA to go along with 222 strikeouts and 34 walks. The right-hander's rate of 1.4 walks per nine innings was the lowest in the AL -- helped by 46 1/3 consecutive walk-free frames between May and June. Along the way, Kluber became the first pitcher in Indians history to post at least 200 strikeouts and 200 innings in five straight years.
Kluber finished fourth in the AL with 5.9 WAR (per Baseball Reference) and was fifth in the AL with 5.6 WAR (per FanGraphs). He was the first Indians pitcher to lead the AL in innings since Carsten Sabathia achieved the feat in 2007, and the first Indians arm to win 20 games since Cliff Lee in 2008. During those seasons, Sabathia and Lee both won the AL Cy Young Award.
-- Jordan Bastian
Blake Snell, Rays
While Jacob deGrom was sparking debates over the importance of pitchers' wins over in the National League, Snell spent 2018 racking them up. The 21 wins Snell notched will serve as the bedrock of his candidacy, but they are far from the only indicator of the 25-year-old southpaw's breakout season. Snell also paced the AL with a 1.89 ERA and 5.6 hits allowed per nine innings while striking out 221 across 180 2/3 innings.
Snell was the Majors' first 20-game winner since 2016 and backed up his first career All-Star selection with a dominant second half, going 9-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch. Snell did it all in the ultra-competitive AL East, but seemed to elevate his game against better competition. He went 9-2 with a 2.00 ERA against the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, A's and Astros -- the AL's top scoring teams.
But if there is a case against Snell, it lives in his workload. Snell's 180 2/3 innings pitched are the lowest ever for a 20-game winner, and sit 33 1/3 innings behind the total for Verlander, the award's other top candidate. Snell is largely not at fault for this discrepancy, which stems from the lefty's two trips to the disabled list and the Rays' organizational preference to avoid keeping starters late in games.
"For me, innings is a personal goal," Snell told the Tampa Bay Times recently. "180 to 200, we're talking 20 innings, what's the difference?"
That's what the voters will reveal in short time.
-- Joe Trezza
Justin Verlander, Astros
Verlander had one of the best seasons of his career, going 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA and a career-high 290 strikeouts in 214 innings pitched in his first full season in Houston. At 35 years old, he led all Major League pitchers with a 0.90 WHIP, which is the fifth-lowest for an AL starter in the last 50 seasons (minimum 175 innings).
He also led all AL starters in WAR according to FanGraphs (6.8), strikeouts, opponents' on-base percentage (.242) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.84), and was second in innings pitched. He had a 2.14 ERA on the road, which was second among AL starters. He ranked second in the AL in strikeouts per nine innings (12.2) and fewest walks per nine innings (1.6), and also ranked third in ERA and opponents' batting average (.200) and fourth in opponents' OPS (.602).
In five starts in September, Verlander went 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 33 innings, posting at least 10 strikeouts in each of his final four starts to help the Astros win the AL West title.
His 290 strikeouts are the fourth-most in Astros history and he struck out at least 10 batters in a game 13 times, which led the AL. Verlander struck out 38.8 percent of the left-handed hitters he faced this year, which was the second-most in the Majors behind teammate Gerrit Cole (41.1 percent). He made the All-Star team this year, was the AL Pitcher of the Month for May (0.86 ERA in 41 2/3 innings) and was twice named AL Player of the Week.
-- Brian McTaggart