Cole wins long-awaited first Cy Young while Snell snags second

November 16th, 2023

It was a night of important edits to some short lists. You can now remove Gerrit Cole from any account of greatest pitchers never to win a Cy Young. And you can now add Blake Snell to the relatively tiny tally of pitchers to win the Cy Young in both leagues.

Cole is off the Cy schneid -- as a unanimous selection no less -- and Snell is back in Cy standing after the results of the 2023 Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting for baseball’s biggest pitching prize were unveiled on MLB Network on Wednesday night.

For the Yankees ace Cole, a former No. 1 pick, it was a prophecy finally fulfilled after two previous second-place finishes.

“I’m extremely proud,” Cole said. “It validates a lot of the hard work that I’ve put in over the years, and a lot of the hard work that goes in behind the scenes of everyone in my corner, from my teammates to the people in my family who have supported me my whole life.”

For Snell, who earned the honor with the National League’s Padres five years after winning one with the American League’s Rays, becoming just the seventh pitcher to win in both leagues (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gaylord Perry, Roy Halladay and Max Scherzer) is a fine finishing touch to a free-agent profile.

“In 2018, I was a kid, I thought I was going to win 40 [Cy Youngs], I thought I was invincible,” Snell said. “Having the five years of battling every year to be the best version of myself and what that entails, this season I kind of learned what it takes to win a Cy Young now, understanding the rhythm and tempo you have throughout a season.”

Snell received 28 of the 30 first-place votes to finish well out in front of the Giants’ Logan Webb and the D-backs’ Zac Gallen.

Cole, meanwhile, became the 25th pitcher to win the Cy unanimously and the 11th in the AL (Justin Verlander did it last year). The Twins’ Sonny Gray finished second and the Blue Jays’ Kevin Gausman third.

The only active pitcher without a Cy Young who has more career bWAR than Cole (40.7) is Boston’s Chris Sale (47.3), whose litany of injuries the last five seasons has left him out of the running. Cole, meanwhile, has been durable and dependably one of the best pitchers in baseball dating back to 2018, his first season with the Astros. Add in his transcendent 2015 with the Pirates club that had drafted him first overall in 2011, and Cole has had seven seasons in which he has received Cy support, including the second-place finishes in 2019 (to then-teammate Verlander, who finished just 12 voting points ahead of him) and in 2021 (to Robbie Ray, then the ace of the Blue Jays).

This year, however, the 33-year-old Cole left no doubt about his Cy standing. He was the runaway favorite for the honor at year’s end after leading the AL in ERA (2.63), ERA+ (165), innings pitched (209) and opponents’ batting average (.206) while pacing the Majors in WHIP (0.98). Cole allowed just four earned runs over his final five starts, spanning 35 innings, capping his Cy case with a two-hit shutout in Toronto.

“The Blue Jays are dynamic, so I just wanted to make sure I finished strong," Cole said. "I had back-to-back starts against them, so it kind of played out to be pretty intense for the last two, even though we were out of it by that point.”

Cole became just the sixth Yankees pitcher to win the Cy Young and the first since Roger Clemens in 2001.

“We’ve had a lot of great pitchers over the years,” Cole said. “So I take a lot of pride in going out there and representing the Yankee organization and all the great players that have come before us. To be joining them is truly very special and is part of a greater dream that I had, I think, as a kid.”

Snell, 30, had also established himself as a safe bet for the Cy by the end of the 2023 campaign. Becoming a two-time winner of the honor is an awesome achievement for the lefty who was taken by Tampa Bay as a supplemental first-round selection, 51 picks after Cole came off the board in that 2011 Draft, and then traded to San Diego prior to 2021.

With an MLB-leading 2.25 ERA – including a 1.20 mark over his final 23 starts (only Bob Gibson in 1968 had a lower ERA in as many starts) – Snell was dominant.

“Once you get into a rhythm and a groove, you can take it as far as you want it,” Snell said. “It’s all about how you’re talking to yourself and learning from every start.”

Though he led the Majors in walks with 99 -- he's only the second pitcher to do so and also win a Cy Young, after Early Wynn in 1959 -- he also led in opponents’ batting average (.181), hits per nine innings (5.8) and ERA+ (182) in his 180 innings of work. His 234 strikeouts were second in the NL. In short, the extra traffic he created for himself did not lead to extra runs.

“Even though I walk guys, I know who I am,” said Snell, whose curveball held opponents to a ridiculous .079 average. “I know what I’m capable of. Knowing that and believing that has made me the pitcher I am right now.”

Snell is the fifth Padres pitcher so honored with the Cy. The previous one was Jake Peavy in 2007.

Now, Snell will attempt to do as Cole did prior to the 2020 season in leading the free-agent pitching market. These two aces have had very different careers – Snell with two blasts of Cy-worthy brilliance amid an otherwise volatile track record and unconventional innings volume; Cole with steady superiority that, for whatever reason, had not yet translated to a trophy.

But in 2023, they are listed together as Cy Young winners.