Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Snell's case for AL Cy Young is very strong

Rays' ace poised to join elite company with Gooden, Blue, McLain
September 19, 2018

Jacob deGrom has set a record by going 27 starts without giving up more than three runs, even though the Mets hardly ever earn enough runs for him to win. On top of that, deGrom has a 1.78 ERA and 251 strikeouts across 202 innings, and he ought to win

Jacob deGrom has set a record by going 27 starts without giving up more than three runs, even though the Mets hardly ever earn enough runs for him to win. On top of that, deGrom has a 1.78 ERA and 251 strikeouts across 202 innings, and he ought to win the National League Cy Young Award. That takes care of his league. In the American League, the award should go to Tampa Bay's Blake Snell, who might not just be the best pitcher in the AL, but the whole sport, this season. 
deGrom has a .095 WHIP and an 8.5 bWAR. Snell has a 0.97 WHIP and a 6.6 bWAR to go with a 1.97 ERA, a 20-5 record and 200 strikeouts in 169 innings. Snell also happens to pitch like that in the AL, and a meat-grinder division known as the AL East. Are you kidding? You know what it feels like when starting pitchers go from the AL to NL, even in a world of Interleague Play? It feels like Club Med.
Twelve of Snell's starts have come against the five highest-scoring teams in baseball: the Red Sox (four), Yankees (three), Indians (two), Astros (two) and A's (one). Snell's record in those starts is 9-2, with a 2.00 ERA. As the Rays' PR office pointed out on Wednesday, Snell has the chance to do something that only six pitchers have done since 1920: Win 20 games, have an ERA lower than 2.00 and do that at 25 years old or younger. The others? Dwight Gooden (1985), Vida Blue ('71), Denny McLain ('68), Dave McNally ('68), Dean Chance ('64) and Hal Newhouser ('45). 

Chris Sale might still win the AL Cy Young Award despite his two stints on the disabled list. Sale has absolutely been a force of nature when healthy. But Snell should absolutely win the honor. No one has pitched better than he has this season -- not deGrom, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw. Every one of those guys has more innings than Snell does, with the exception of Kershaw, who's also been hurt (lower back discomfort and left bicep tendinitis). It doesn't change what Snell has done for the Rays, and it certainly doesn't change the way he's pitched lately.
The Rays have been one of the hottest teams in baseball. And the kid Snell just keeps delivering, in a year in which all the other pitching news made by Tampa Bay involved the club using an "opener." The Rays aren't hiding in plain sight any longer and -- man, oh man -- neither is their ace. Even in the four no-decisions he's had, Snell has a 1.21 ERA. 
There are other teams allowed to think they have the best starter in baseball. The Rays think they have the best, and it's no easy thing to out-debate them on this. There has been so much love for what deGrom has done, and he sure has earned all of it. Snell deserves just as much. 

It's probably too late for the Rays to catch and pass the A's for the second AL Wild Card spot. So the A's are lucky that the regular season is going to end when it is. You know who else is lucky? The Yankees. Because barring a total collapse by Oakland over the next 11 days, they won't have to face Snell in the AL Wild Card Game. 
The Yankees still have four games left with the Rays next week in St. Petersburg. But nobody wants to play Tampa Bay right now, the way nobody wants to face Snell. Seven years after the Rays took him in the first round of the 2011 Draft, he has become everything they always thought he could and would be. 
Manager Kevin Cash asserted as much on Wednesday before the Rays played the Rangers, and after he'd taken Snell out after 92 pitches and five innings of one-hit ball against Texas the night before. 
"He's continued to get better throughout the year," Cash said. "He's really gotten hot after the break, and he's provided us a huge boost. The guy is dominating. The numbers speak for themselves. Blake's as big a reason as us being kind of unique with our pitching staff; allowing us to do some different things with the opener and the guys that come in and finish because of the length and consistency that he's provided. To go and get the wins that he has against some really, really strong teams and what he's done recently has to put himself in consideration [for the AL Cy Young Award]."

Erik Neander, the Rays' bright young general manager, reasserted just as much. 
"What we've seen since Spring Training is a combination of determination and preparation after what was, for him, a challenging 2017 [when he was sent down to Triple-A Durham after his first eight starts]," Neander said. "Now he's seeing the rewards of all that. This is someone who is incredibly talented and incredibly driven to succeed. Ideally, this is just the beginning of a wonderful career, one on which no one is putting any limits."
Here's some more good stuff about Snell's great stuff: The last two AL pitchers to win 20 games and have an ERA lower than 2.00 were Roger Clemens in 1990 and Ron Guidry in '78. 
In addition to everything else, Snell has won each of his past eight starts. It's ironic, then: In a season when we really have spent as much time as we have talking about Tampa Bay's openers, a starter like Snell turns out to be this kind of closer.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.