AL Cy Young Preview: Can Gerrit Cole Hang On?

After a slew of injuries to AL starting pitchers throughout the season, have the stars finally aligned for Gerrit Cole to win a Cy Young?

ST PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 20: Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees pitches in the first inning during the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on June 20, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Tyler Schank/Getty Images)

A few weeks ago, the American League Cy Young Award race was shaping up to be a fascinating debate down the stretch of the season, with Nathan Eovaldi, Shane McClanahan, Gerrit Cole, and Kevin Gausman all in contention for the award. However, Eovaldi and McClanahan have recently hit the IL, opening up a path for Cole to win his first Cy Young.

At the time of this writing, Cole is the heavy favorite to win the award, with -300 odds on most major sportsbooks. Cole ranks first among AL starters in bWAR with 5.1 and is second only to Eovaldi in ERA. He also leads the AL in base-out wins saved and base-out runs saved, as well as adjusted pitching wins.

Cole has thrown the most innings of any AL pitcher and is tied for the most starts in the league. With so many of his underlying numbers at the top of the American League leaderboards, it would take a dramatic turn of events for Cole to not take home the award.

The next favorite, Kevin Gausman, is the only other pitcher to have odds better than +1000, likely making him Cole’s only challenger. Gausman has also been fantastic this season, leading the AL with 187 strikeouts and an impressive 11.7 K/9.

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The Toronto ace also finds himself in the top 10 in BB/9, innings pitched, and ERA. Gausman is also besting Cole in FIP, trailing only Sonny Gray in all of Major League Baseball. If the Blue Jays are able to hold on to the final Wild Card spot in the American League, Gausman will likely play a major part in that success, which could also potentially sway voters, especially if Cole slows down as the season comes to a close.

One longshot worth mentioning here, too, is Félix Bautista, who currently has the best odds of any reliever to win the award. The Baltimore closer leads AL pitchers with 3.76 WPA (per FanGraphs), which is more than a full point higher than Cole.

Bautista has been as dominant of a reliever as there has been in recent memory, as The Mountain has struck out a whopping 47.8% of the batters he has faced this season and has already accumulated 32 saves and 108 strikeouts. His ERA is an other-worldly 1.57 ERA, while his 1.86 FIP is similarly impressive.

Like Gausman, Bautista could ride his team’s success, to which he has been a key contributor, to popular appeal with the voters. If Bautista’s dominance continues, he has a strong case to be the first reliever since 2003 to take home the Cy Young.

Another pitcher who has flown under the radar this season but has put together a Cy Young-caliber performance is Sonny Gray. While he may not post the gaudy strikeout numbers of Gausman, Cole, and Bautista, Gray has dominated in his own way this season.

He currently leads the sport in FIP and the American League in HR/9. He ranks third with a remarkable 3.09 ERA and 3.8 bWAR. Gray has also anchored what has proven to be a great rotation in Minnesota and has reliably taken the ball all season long for the AL Central-leading Twins. While Gray certainly is a long shot to win the award, there is still plenty of season left for him to climb into serious contention. 

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Other pitchers that find themselves in the top 10 in terms of odds to win the Cy Young are Framber Valdez, Luis Castillo, Shohei Ohtani, Eovaldi, and George Kirby. 

As the season winds down and the Cy Young race heats up, it will be interesting to see if Cole can hang on to the lead he has created for himself, or if another contender can make a push for the American League’s most prestigious pitching award.

Stats and rankings as of August 18.