TORONTO -- Robbie Ray has been named a finalist for the BBWAA’s American League Cy Young Award after a 2021 season that saw the left-hander suddenly emerge as one of baseball's most dominant starters.
Ray built an impressive Cy Young resume, posting a 2.84 ERA over 193 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays while striking out an MLB-high 248 batters. The talent has always been there for Ray, now 30, but never before has he put it all together with such consistency. He will be up against Gerrit Cole of the Yankees and Lance Lynn of the White Sox when the winner is revealed on Wednesday, Nov. 17.
For Ray, this journey all started by finding the strike zone. Ray led baseball in walks in the shortened 2020 season, but the Blue Jays liked what they saw late in the season after acquiring him from the D-backs and made an early push to bring him back. After making some minor adjustments with pitching coach Pete Walker and trusting his fastball and slider to get strikes within the zone, it all came together quickly and confidently.
In a rotation that opened the season needing a clear No. 2 or No. 3 starter to step forward, Ray did more than that. By midseason, he looked like the Blue Jays’ ace. By September, there was no doubt. Without Ray, the 91-71 Blue Jays wouldn’t have gotten nearly as close to the postseason as they did.
Ray became Toronto’s ace not just because of the big strikeout total, but because of how reliable he was. With his past inconsistencies disappearing almost overnight, Ray was a steady source of seven innings for the Blue Jays, putting them in a position to win in the vast majority of his 32 starts. Ray seemed to get stronger as the games went on, too, his trademark grunt growing louder with each fastball.
Cole and Lynn are worthy finalists in their own rights, but Ray put together a strong case to be the Blue Jays’ first winner of this award in nearly two decades.
How Ray stacks up
Cole, who has finished in the top five of AL Cy Young voting each of the past three seasons, remains one of baseball’s best. The star right-hander had a couple of missteps down the stretch, though, pushing his ERA to 3.23. Ray has the slight edge in strikeouts, but thanks to some stronger peripheral metrics, his 5.3 fWAR is well clear of Ray’s 3.9.
In Lynn’s case, a few more starts would have made the argument even more compelling, but the big righty was very impressive over his 157 innings, putting up a 2.69 ERA with 176 strikeouts. He also holds the WAR edge over Ray at 4.2, and pitched in a rotation with Carlos Rodón, Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito, all of whom rank slightly ahead of Ray in fWAR.
Blue Jays’ Cy Young history
The great Roy Halladay owns the last Blue Jays Cy Young Award, going all the way back to 2003. Halladay pitched 266 innings with a 3.25 ERA, earning 22 wins along the way.
Prior to Halladay it was Roger Clemens, who came to Toronto for two seasons (1997-98) and won a Cy Young Award in each. In one of the most dominant two-year stretches of pitching seen in decades, Clemens posted a combined 2.33 ERA over 498 2/3 innings, striking out a total of 563 batters while reaching 20 wins in each.
Those awards made it three straight for the Blue Jays after Pat Hentgen won in 1996. Hentgen pitched to a 3.22 ERA over 265 2/3 innings, narrowly beating out New York’s Andy Pettitte for the honor.