TORONTO -- Robbie Ray has won the 2021 American League Cy Young Award, a fitting end to a career year that saw the left-hander skyrocket from depth starter to the Blue Jays’ ace.
Ray received 29 first-place votes (207 total points) from BBWAA voters, edging out the Yankees' Gerrit Cole, who finished second with 123 points, and Lance Lynn of the White Sox, who finished third with 48. Right-hander José Berríos, who has agreed to terms on a seven-year, $131 million extension with the Blue Jays, pending a physical, finished ninth in AL voting.
With a 2.84 ERA over 193 1/3 innings, including a league-high 248 strikeouts, Ray was one of baseball’s most dominant players in ’21. After dramatically cutting his walk rate (2.4 BB/9) from prior seasons, Ray attacked the zone with his fastball-slider combination, routinely overpowering hitters. To watch Ray was to understand how it looks when a pitcher works confidently on the mound.
As the Cy Young hype built through August and September, Ray was hesitant to discuss the individual award, but he’s allowed to exhale now that the votes have been tallied. In classic Ray fashion, though, he’s already thinking ahead to what’s next. “It feels great to talk about it now that I’ve won the actual award,” Ray said. “I’m super excited. I’m just looking to build on top of this, honestly, to keep getting better every single day and push forward to even greater things.”
This wasn’t the season anyone projected for Ray, though.
Ray originally joined the Blue Jays via trade in August 2020, and soon rejoined the Blue Jays in free agency last offseason on a one-year, $8 million deal. The Blue Jays liked what they saw from Ray down the stretch, but the left-hander was still coming off a season in which he’d led baseball in walks. For a team prioritizing strike throwing, it seemed a counterintuitive fit, but every inch of upside the Blue Jays envisioned paid off.
On the AL side, Ray won the Cy Young Award coming off a 6.62 ERA in 2020. In the NL, Corbin Burnes won after pitching to an 8.82 ERA back in ’19. Ray gives a great deal of credit to a change in his delivery to focus on his “coil” action, getting him back to his 2012-era mechanics, but that’s only half of the equation that helped him achieve such a sudden rise.
“It’s perseverance, being able to push through those adversities," Ray said. "Mentally, I’m as tough as anyone. I feel like I put almost too much pressure on myself to be excellent every time I go out there. As far as that, the mindset was always there, it was just about putting the physical stuff with the mindset.”
It’s difficult to overstate the value of Ray to the Blue Jays’ run in 2021, which saw Toronto (91-71) fall just short of the postseason on the final day of play. Ray, Steven Matz, Ross Stripling and Tanner Roark were projected to provide some steady depth innings behind ace Hyun Jin Ryu, but that didn’t go according to plan. While Matz pitched well, Roark was released in early May and Ryu’s numbers regressed, ending with a 4.37 ERA over 169 innings.
It was Ray who stepped up, pitching with a remarkable level of consistency -- especially for a starter whose incredible physical talent had been derailed by inconsistencies and control at points in his career. By the second half of the season, the 30-year-old Ray felt like a lock to give the Blue Jays six to seven innings with 10 strikeouts. Ray’s 193 1/3 innings topped the AL in ’21, just ahead of Berríos’ 192.
Ray’s honor comes in a busy awards season for the Blue Jays, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien both finalists for the AL MVP award alongside Shohei Ohtani, which will be announced Thursday night at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network. Guerrero won the AL Hank Aaron Award and a Silver Slugger Award, while Semien picked up a Gold Glove Award and Silver Slugger of his own. Teoscar Hernández also won a Silver Slugger Award, the second of his career.
The Blue Jays clearly didn't lack high-end talent, but they're now tasked with retaining two of their finest in Ray and Semien, both of whom are free agents. Ray was already one of the most attractive free agents on the market with his 2021 performance and upside, and this Cy Young honor adds another impressive line to his resume.
“Toronto is still in the conversation,” Ray said. “We’re still talking to Toronto on a daily basis. That’s just kind of where we’re at, but also we’re testing the free agent market. Like I said, this is a fun time. This is fun for me and my family to go through this process and we’re really enjoying it.”
This is the first Cy Young Award won by a Blue Jays pitcher since Roy Halladay back in 2003, when he posted a 3.25 ERA over 266 innings in his 22-win season. Roger Clemens won the award in each of his seasons with the Blue Jays (1997-98), and the year prior, Pat Hentgen (’96) won the first in the organization’s history.