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Tuesday, Dec 11, 2018
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Why Blake Snell should win the AL Cy Young award

ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell deserves to win the American League Cy Young award.

Really, it's as simple as that.

Look at what Snell did this season for the Rays, leading the AL with a 1.89 ERA, 21 wins (vs. five losses), .178 opponents average and .554 OPS, 7.4 WAR per baseball-reference.com.

How he did it, allowing two or fewer runs in 27 of his 31 starts (and one or none in 21), winning nine straight down the stretch with a 1.03 ERA in that span.

Who he did it against, posting a 9-2, 2.00 mark in 12 starts vs. the five AL playoff teams (eight allowing one or no runs), including four vs. the top -scoring Red Sox (3-0, 1.08).

And how much better he was by almost every measure in comparison to the other finalists, Houston's Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52 ERA, .602 OPS, 6.2 bWAR) and Cleveland's Corey Kluber (20-7, 2.89, .624, 5.9).

"There is no doubt Blake Snell should be the Cy Young award winner,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said, claiming objectivity over understandable bias. "He dominated more than anybody in his class this year. To take nothing away from Justin Verlander, who has had a Cy Young career, and Corey Kluber, who is building one.  But if you are picking an individual season, it's tough to argue with what Blake did.''

RELATED: How Blake Snell went from 5-7 to All-Star

But nothing is really that simple these days, and everything, sports and real world, if by some chance you haven't noticed, is argued about.

So for all that Snell, 25, did well, there are those, including some of the 30 members of the Baseball Writer' Association of America who cast their Cy ballots at the end of the regular season, who feel Snell didn't do enough.

Most specifically, throw enough.

Because of a two-week stint on the DL due to shoulder fatigue coming off his first All-Star Game appearance, plus the Rays' overall protective philosophy of handling young starters and aggressive bullpen usage, Snell's total innings for his 31 starts was only 180 2/3.

And that is the biggest reason he might not get the win on Wednesday night.

History tells us that of the 104 starters to win a Cy Young Award since its 1956 inception, none has done so with fewer innings than Clayton Kershaw's 2014 total of 198 1/3. (History also tells us that no pitcher has ever won with as few wins with the 10 NL favorite Jacob deGrom had for the Mets this year, but that's another story.)

With Verlander throwing 214 innings and Kluber 215, there has been a fair amount of chatter — even by some analysts who usually pitch the new-wave metrics and evaluatory tools — of the value of the old-school, strap it on and go throw approach.

That includes Verlander, who told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal in September innings remained "one of the most important numbers" in evaluating starters because that showed durability in helping the team, that 200 was still "kind of the number" to judge by and as a result he would be "upset" if he didn't win.

RELATED: How Blake Snell built his case for the Cy Young award

Verlander went as far as calling the balloting "a game-changing vote for the future of how pitchers are evaluated."

But that seems a bit dramatic given what is already happening on the field. A number of teams, not just the Rays, are shifting away from the emphasis on workhorse starters and being more aggressive going to their bullpens early. Consider that five years ago, there were 36 big-league pitchers who logged 200 or more innings; last season there were only 13.

Snell is among those, like Chris Archer, David Price and James Shields before him in the Rays succession of starters, who considered 200 innings a personal goal.

He blames himself for too many walks forcing his pitch count up early in games, but it's as much or more on Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who kept a tighter limit on his total pitches (only three games past 105) and pulled him in his first three starts off the DL after four, five (with a perfect game) and five innings.

But Snell also makes the pitch that his accomplishments should offset the difference.

"I look at the numbers I put (up) with 180-whatever innings I had and I feel like the innings part just gets cut out," Snell said. "If you're only talking about innings, it doesn't compare to the guy that led the league in a whole lot of things that really do matter more than just innings. What if a guy has a bunch of innings and another guy beats him in everything else. How do you weigh that?''

And there's this: If Snell threw the additional 33 1/3 innings to match Verlander's total, he could allow 21 more earned runs and still have a lower ERA.

Snell had a remarkable breakout season, especially when you consider he was 5-7, 4.04 in 2017 and was twice demoted to the minors, lauded by teammates, coaches and even opponents for his consistency and dominance. Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who has Price and Chris Sale on his team, called Snell "the best lefty in the big leagues.''

Snell has some history on his side, too. The only other two pitchers in the DH era to post 20 wins with sub-2.00 ERAs were unanimous Cy Young winners (New York's Ron Guidry in 1978, Boston's Pedro Martinez in 2000), and the last 10 pitchers to lead the AL in wins and ERA all won.

After taking a vow of Cy-lence during the season regarding the award, Snell said that since it's out of his control he has still tried to not ponder too much the possibility of matching Price in winning the most prominent individual honor of any Ray.

"I thought about it one time, and I got pretty pumped up,'' Snell admitted. "And then I said, just don't hype yourself up. I didn't want to get too high or too low on it. I want to kind of wait and see what happens and kind of react off what does.''

And whether he is judged to have done enough.

Cy high?

How the three finalists compare in some key stats:

Pitcher                           G   W-L   ERA   IP        K      BB  WHIP  WAR QS  ERA+  FIP

Corey Kluber, CLE      33  20-7  2.89  215    222    34   0.991   5.9    25   151     3.12

Blake Snell, TB            31  21-5    1.89  180.2 221    64  0.974    7.5   19   219     2.94

J. Verlander, HOU       34  16-9   2.52  214   290    37  0.902    6.2   26   159    2.78

(WHIP, walks and hits per inning; QS, quality starts; ERA+. adjusted to home park with 100 as the base; FIP, fielding indepenent pitching. All stats per baseball-reference.com)

Facing the best

Records of the Cy Young finalists vs. the five AL playoff teams:

Pitcher, team                     G    W-L   ERA

Blake Snell, TB                 12    9-2   2.00 (72 IP, 16 ER)

Justin Verlander, HOU   6     3-0   2.31 (39 IP, 10 ER)

Corey Kluber, CLE            5     2-1   2.91 (34 IP, 11 ER)

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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