MLB Cy Young watch: Dylan Cease making move in AL; Sandy Alcantara still frontrunner, but NL race tightening

We’ve got just about one month left in the 2022 MLB regular season and while the pennant races are the most important aspect of the sport to follow, it’s also fun to track individual awards. In particular, the Cy Young awards this season are providing quality theater and there have recently been some important movements. 

Let’s take a look at where each league stands as of Wednesday, Sept. 7. 

American League

The two frontrunners for a while were a future Hall of Famer, Astros ace Justin Verlander and a young star, Rays ace Shane McClanahan. Things are a bit more muddy now. 

Justin Verlander

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Shane McClanahan

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Verlander is currently on the injured list due to a calf injury. His return isn’t imminent and the Astros surely aren’t going to push him in order to help him win an individual award. After all, he’s 39 years old, this is his first season back from Tommy John surgery and they have aspirations to win the World Series. 

The Rays also have designs on a deep October run. McClanahan is also hurt. He has a shoulder injury, which is more worrisome than a calf injury. McClanahan has also already worked 147 1/3 innings this season after 129 between the regular season and playoffs last year. That was his professional career high. 

Verlander is 16-3 with a 1.84 ERA (207 ERA+), 0.86 WHIP and 154 strikeouts against 26 walks in 152 innings. He’s posted a 4.7 WAR on (henceforth “bWAR”) and 4.8 WAR on Fangraphs (henceforth “fWAR”). 

McClanahan is 11-5 with a 2.20 ERA (164 ERA+), 0.86 WHIP and 182 strikeouts against 29 unintentional walks in 147 1/3 innings. He’s posted 3.9 bWAR and 3.8 fWAR. 

It feels like Verlander would win the award with McClanahan in the mix for second place if the season ended right now. 

But that’s not the case, and with those two hurt, the door seems open for someone else to barge in. 

Hello, Dylan Cease

The White Sox strikeout artist and biggest All-Star snub this season flirted with a no-hitter over the weekend. Cease is now 13-6 with a 2.13 ERA (187 ERA+), 1.08 WHIP and 197 strikeouts against 62 unintentional walks. He leads the AL with 5.4 bWAR while sitting at 3.8 fWAR. The high walk total hurts his fWAR and WHIP. He is second to Gerrit Cole in strikeouts, and he’s second to Verlander in ERA. He’s also within striking range of the AL lead for innings pitched, and workload could well be what swings this thing with injuries to two of the top contenders. 

The Blue Jays have a pair of contenders in Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman. Manoah is fourth in ERA, fifth in WHIP and fourth in innings pitched while sitting top seven in both versions of WAR. That’s the case of someone who wouldn’t win it, but there’s time to go on a run. Gausman looks most impressive through the FIP lens, where his ability to strike hitters out while limiting walks and home runs has him leading fWAR by a good margin. He’s given up enough hits and runs to rank outside the top 10 in WHIP and ninth in ERA without being in the top 10 in innings. It’ll be interesting to see what the voting body collectively values in his case.  

The Guardians also have two who are more likely to figure down-ballot in 2020 winner Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie. Neither would garner first-place consideration at this point, but, as noted, there’s still a month left. 

Verlander’s teammate, Framber Valdez, could make inroads. He’s within striking distance. 

Finally, there’s Shohei Ohtani. One of the league’s best power hitters, Ohtani is also 11-8 on a terrible team. He’s pitched to a 2.58 ERA (156 ERA+) and 1.04 WHIP with 181 strikeouts against 33 walks in 136 innings. His workload trails most contenders, but he’s fifth in ERA, sixth in WHIP and first in strikeout rate. Isolating only his pitching numbers, he’s second to Cease in bWAR and third to Gausman and Verlander in fWAR. There could well be a case for him to win this thing. It bears watching. 

National League

It’s a bit less exciting over here at this juncture. Or is it? 

Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara has been the frontrunner for most of the season. He’s faltered a bit of late, but overall he has a big lead in innings pitched at 190 2/3 while also sitting second in ERA (2.36) and fifth in WHIP (0.99). He has a big lead in bWAR (6.6 with Max Fried sitting second at 5.3). He’s 12-7 on a pitiful team and has four complete games in a season where no one else has more than two and not too many pitchers even have one. 

Is he tired, though? Alcantara has a 4.08 ERA in his last seven starts. He’s gotten shelled in two of his last three starts — of course, wedged between that was a complete-game gem against the mighty Dodgers

If Alcantara does falter, there are worthy candidates waiting in the wings. 

Carlos Rodón is 12-7 with a 2.92 ERA (137 ERA+), 1.06 WHIP and 201 strikeouts in 157 1/3 innings. Like Gausman in the AL, Rodón is crushing FIP. It’s helped him to lead in fWAR by a decent margin. He’s also seventh in bWAR while leading in both strikeout rate and strikeouts. 

Julio Urías has the traditional numbers. He’s 15-7 with an NL-best 2.29 ERA. He also leads in ERA+ at 183. He’s struck out 139 in 145 2/3 innings. He’s second in WHIP at 0.95. He’s also 10th in bWAR and 13th in fWAR. On the opposite end of Gausman and Rodón, how the voters value which metrics is a question on Urías for sure. 

Max Fried is 13-5 with a 2.48 ERA (167 ERA+), 1.02 WHIP and 149 strikeouts against only 26 unintentional walks in 163 1/3 innings. He’s second in bWAR and third in fWAR. He’s eighth in innings while sitting fourth in ERA and eighth in WHIP. He’s got a real chance here with a strong finish. 

How about the run Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen is on? He hasn’t given up a run since Aug. 2! That’s 41 1/3 scoreless innings since then in six starts. Overall, he’s 11-2 with a 2.42 ERA (171 ERA+), 0.92 WHIP and 152 strikeouts against 40 walks in 152 2/3 innings. He’s third in ERA, first in WHIP, fourth in bWAR and allows the lowest hit rate in all of baseball. 

If Cease and Gallen win it, we’d have a pair of Cy Young winners who didn’t make the All-Star team. The last time that happened (excepting 2020, when there wasn’t an All-Star Game) was 1983, when John Denny of the Phillies and LaMarr Hoyt of the White Sox were the winners. 

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