Cy Young or not, Blake Snell is truly elite

Photo: AP/John Froschauer

Juan Toribio of The Athletic recently provided a brief look[1] at Blake Snell’s case for the AL Cy Young Award. The 25-year-old ace of the Tampa Bay Rays has a lot of the numbers that voters look for–a sparking 1.98 ERA, 20-plus wins, and over 200 strikeouts. However, a mid-season injury limited the southpaw to just 180.2 innings (voters love a mark at or above 200), and Snell’s team won’t be playing in October, failing to reach the postseason for the fifth consecutive campaign. Snell is more than deserving of the Cy Young Award, but it definitely wouldn’t be surprising if he finished behind Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, or Chris Sale. For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor[2] has Snell comfortably ahead of the aforementioned names. Regardless of whether he wins or not, though, Snell’s 2018 was masterful and deserves an endless amount of praise.

Fans around the league knew the Rays had something special in Snell even prior to 2016, when he was touted as one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Baseball Prospectus had him at #21[3], citing his exceptional minor league ERA and high strikeout rate. The lefty’s only downside at the time was his penchant for issuing walks; per BP, “you’d like to see him iron out his control issues before he debuts in the Trop.” Snell definitely struggled at times in his first two big league seasons due largely in part to his inadequate control. His 12.7% walk rate in 2016 was the second-highest mark among arms who tossed at least 80 frames, while the 10.8% figure he posted in 2017 put him at 110 out of  115 pitchers who threw at least 120 innings. The tantalizing potential was there, but the downsides persisted…until the 2018 season began.

Snell not only improved on almost every aspect of his game this past season, but he became one of the best pitchers in all of baseball while doing so. The 9.1% walk rate he turned in represented a decrease of close to two percent, and he paired that with a 31.6% strikeout rate, which was the highest mark of his career and fifth-highest in the league. Opposing batters managed to hit just .176 off of the left-hander, which placed Snell 11 percentage points ahead of future Hall-of-Famer Max Scherzer. While there are so many other numbers I could reference, Snell’s ERA- of 46 was just one point behind the likely NL Cy Young Award winner in Jacob deGrom, who had an historical season.

Playing in Tampa, it’s not uncommon for great performances to go unnoticed–the fan base is small and the team often doesn’t contend for much. However, what Blake Snell accomplished for his small market team in 2018 is incredible and should be talked about for a long time.

References

1. Toribio, J. (2018, September 30). Snell’s closing argument for Cy Young: No final victory, but… Retrieved September 30, 2018, from https://theathletic.com/557299/2018/09/30/snells-closing-argument-for-cy-young-no-final-victory-but-21-wins-1-89-era-make-a-strong-case-nonetheless/

2. MLB Cy Young Predictor – 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2018, from http://www.espn.com/mlb/features/cyyoung

3. Prospectus Feature: The Top 101 Prospects of 2016, With Write-Ups. (2016, April 01). Retrieved September 30, 2018, from https://www.baseballprospectus.com/prospects/article/28319/prospectus-feature-the-top-101-prospects-of-2016-with-write-ups/

 

 

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