Cy Young rankings: 1st month features tons of breakout aces
Welcome to the first edition of theScore's 2022 Cy Young rankings, where we pick the top pitchers from each league. Let's take a look at who's making a strong impression in the early part of the season.
5. Joe Ryan, Twins
The Twins continue to be validated for tabbing a rookie as their Opening Day starter. Coming over from the Tampa Bay Rays in the Nelson Cruz trade last year, Ryan has settled in extremely well in the majors without even showing what made him a top prospect. The righty struck out everyone in the minors, racking up 92 Ks in 66 innings (36.9%) at Triple-A in 2021. This year, he's striking out barely a batter per inning, but he's limiting walks and hard contact thanks to a deceptive fastball. If everything winds up clicking, the Twins may have a legitimate franchise ace.
4. Shane McClanahan, Rays
Almost no one in the majors can miss bats at the prolific pace of the Rays lefty, with his 39.3% K rate towering above his AL competition. The problem so far - and one the young ace will have to work on - is when he doesn't miss a bat, he can be prone to home runs, allowing at least one dinger in three of his five starts so far this year. McClanahan's strikeout rate is 96th percentile, but his average exit velocity against ranks 18th percentile, and his barrel rate sits 24th percentile. He'll have to work on his command to curb this issue, and if that means missing fewer bats in exchange for inducing weaker contact, that's an adjustment McClanahan will have to consider.
3. Logan Gilbert, Mariners
Gilbert has made it through five starts this year with a staggering sub-1.00 ERA, showcasing what made him a top-tier pitching prospect for the Mariners before last season. He's seemingly turned last year's adversity into the building blocks that could make him excellent. The thing is, he hasn't changed much. His strikeout and walk rates are both slightly worse than last year, and he seems to be benefitting a lot from the dead ball, allowing just two homers so far. Gilbert's strand rate of 99.2% is bound to regress, but if he can continue to limit the longball, he may be for real.
2. Dylan Cease, White Sox
Down the stretch last year, there was almost no better pitcher than Cease. And it turns out the midseason adjustments he made that earned him more strikeouts and slightly fewer walks are continuing to pay dividends this year. Like many pitchers, Cease is also benefitting from the deadened ball, dropping his HR/9 rate from 1.09 last year to 0.31 this season. He's unquestionably the ace of the White Sox staff now, and if he can keep this up, he'll undoubtedly stay in the Cy Young conversation all season long.
1. Kevin Gausman, Blue Jays
As great as the other four pitchers on this list have been, Gausman is currently leading the Cy Young race by a mile. His league-leading 0.49 FIP definitely helps to illustrate the dominance, but that's only the start of what the former All-Star has accomplished in his first month with the Blue Jays. He's struck out 41 batters over 31 2/3 innings, getting opposing hitters to swing at pitches outside the zone at a comically high 53.9% rate (second place is Braves lefty Max Fried at 43.5%). You'd think if Gausman is relying on fooling hitters with pitches outside the zone, he might be prone to walks. But he has yet to issue his first walk of the year. Oh, and he hasn't surrendered a homer yet, either. Pretty soon, Gausman might be looking for a higher league than MLB to get called up to.
5. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
A fourth Cy Young would look awfully good on the future Hall of Famer's mantle, and he's doing everything imaginable to make it a possibility. Amid what seemed like the beginning of his decline, Kershaw is leaning on his slider more than ever, and he's suddenly introduced a lethal changeup that he uses sparingly as well. That all adds up to an NL-leading 0.70 WHIP and a 35.3% strikeout rate that would be the best of his career. Even further, he's never posted a strikeout-minus-walk rate above 30% over a full season, and he's currently authoring a 32.9% mark. Arguably the greatest pitcher ever posting career-best numbers? Kershaw is amazing, and now he's even the all-time strikeout leader for the Dodgers.
4. Joe Musgrove, Padres
Roughly 13 months after throwing the first no-hitter in Padres history, Musgrove is showing similar early-season dominance. Nothing really leaps off the page, but he's doing everything well, posting a perfect 4-0 record so far over five starts. If you take a closer look, while his strikeout rate pales in comparison to others on this list, his ability to limit baserunners by issuing only two walks is astounding. Despite posting merely good strikeout numbers, that makes his strikeout-to-walk ratio an eye-popping 16.5. Can he keep it up for the entire season this time?
3. Pablo Lopez, Marlins
Lopez deservedly won Pitcher of the Month after allowing one run over four starts in April. However, Lopez plummeted back down to Earth on Monday, allowing four runs against a pretty hapless Arizona Diamondbacks lineup. That start alone inflated his ERA from an incredible 0.39 to a still-respectable 1.61. The advanced metrics are merely fine, which may indicate some regression moving forward. His 2.68 expected ERA ranks 77th percentile, per Baseball Savant, which is exceptionally good, but not the numbers you expect from a Cy Young candidate. What Lopez is doing exceptionally well, though, is getting opposing hitters to chase. The righty is getting opponents to swing at 37.7% of pitches outside the zone, ranking second in the NL, and hitters are only making contact on 59.8% of those pitches. If he can keep tricking hitters into swinging at bad pitches, that ERA might actually be sustainable.
2. Kyle Wright, Braves
Wright is the early breakout ace of 2022. The right-hander ran into some trouble on Tuesday, but you can't penalize him too much for what wound up being a quality start against the New York Mets - one of the hottest teams around. The former fifth overall pick had really struggled to find any consistency at the major-league level, entering this season with a 6.65 ERA over 70 innings. This year, though, he's made serious adjustments, throwing his curveball and changeup way more while almost entirely ditching his slider, which had been the culprit for five of the nine homers he'd surrendered over the past two years. It's all coming together wonderfully for Wright, as he's posting career-best strikeout numbers, minimizing walks pretty well, and hadn't allowed a single homer until Pete Alonso's solo blast on Tuesday.
1. Carlos Rodon, Giants
It's somewhat staggering that injury concerns paved the way for the Giants to snap up Rodon on a two-year, $44-million contract following the lefty's breakout last year. Now, after looking like an AL Cy Young frontrunner for three-quarters of the season, he's somehow gotten even better. Despite coming off Tuesday's ho-hum quality start with merely three punchouts against the Dodgers, the former All-Star still possesses an NL-best 36.9% strikeout rate. Rodon's still walking a lot of guys, but it's not causing much trouble since he hasn't allowed a single homer so far this year and has only surrendered two barrels. There's nothing he isn't doing perfectly right now, really, and the only thing that can hold him back is workload, as he's only thrown more than 140 innings in a campaign just once.