Cy Young Rankings: Front-runners emerge in NL; AL boasts deep field
Welcome to the second edition of theScore's 2023 Cy Young rankings, where we look at the top five pitchers in each league. Let's run through some of the best performances during the season's first two months as the competitive fields become clearer. Odds courtesy theScore Bet and Barstool Sportsbook.
5. Framber Valdez, Astros
Valdez has been indispensable to the Astros and beats out the Seattle Mariners' Luis Castillo, Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani, Minnesota Twins' Joe Ryan, Detroit Tigers' Eduardo Rodriguez, and New York Yankees' Gerrit Cole for a spot in our top five. The left-hander is anchoring a beleaguered Houston rotation that's without Luis Garcia, Lance McCullers Jr., and Jose Urquidy. Valdez is perhaps the most underappreciated starter in the majors for his contributions and is often overlooked because he just doesn't have flashy strikeout stuff. He doesn't surrender free passes, though, with an elite 5.1% walk rate. For this reason, he's been able to work at least six innings in 10 of 12 starts this year. Saving your bullpen like that is an achievement few pitchers in the league can boast.
4. Nathan Eovaldi, Rangers
Eovaldi is making the Rangers' front-office personnel look like geniuses for handing a two-year, $34-million deal to someone coming off a decidedly mediocre and injury-plagued season. The right-hander boasts an incredible 2.24 ERA and 2.45 FIP. Eovaldi has never been a high strikeout guy despite elite stuff, and in the past few seasons, he's refined his command to limit walks. What's really interesting about this version of Eovaldi, though, is that he simply refuses to give up the long ball - he has a 0.34 HR/9. His new home park plays well for keeping the ball in the yard, but he's also posting a very strong 84th-percentile barrel rate.
3. Kevin Gausman, Blue Jays
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Blue Jays ace is how heavily Toronto leans on him. There are only two pitchers in the majors to have thrown at least 115 pitches in a game this season, and Gausman has done it twice. He's not just a workhorse, either, boasting an AL-best 2.38 FIP thanks to a 27% strikeout-minus-walk rate, which ranks second in MLB to only Spencer Strider. In fact, that's an identical FIP to the one he posted last year, when he was too frequently overlooked as a genuine ace. This time around, he's getting greater help from his defense with a much more manageable .333 BABIP as opposed to 2022's .363 mark. It's time to give Gausman his due as a legitimate Cy Young contender.
2. Sonny Gray, Twins
It took Gray until Saturday to finally surrender his first homer of the year, and that swelled his ERA to 2.15 - still third best in the Junior Circuit. While he doesn't do any one thing at an elite level, the addition of a cutter and decreased reliance on his fastball is paying huge dividends and making him a more complete pitcher. Among 33 qualified AL starters, he ranks 15th in strikeout rate and 27th in walk rate, so this might not last. But so long as he's keeping the ball in the yard, Gray will be in the mix.
1. Shane McClanahan, Rays
McClanahan is giving up quite a few more walks compared to last year, but it's undoubtedly working for him. The trade-off of lifting his walk rate by 3.7 percentage points (an increase of over 62%) is that he's giving up fewer homers and managing his hard contact better. And it makes sense, really. As pitchers increasingly lean on the strikeout, missing badly in the zone and surrendering a dinger is much worse than missing badly and giving up the occasional walk, especially with runners on base. McClanahan's FIP has regressed, but he flaunts an AL-best 2.07 ERA. If he can manage this for 170 or more innings, it's his Cy Young to lose.
5. Bryce Elder, Braves
It's extremely difficult to omit Justin Steele, but Elder boasts similar strikeout and walk numbers while also leading MLB with an astounding 1.92 ERA. According to FIP, he's due for some regression, but the sophomore has managed to make this work over 11 starts already. One thing is clear either way: The Braves know how to develop pitchers.
4. Mitch Keller, Pirates
Keller has been outstanding for the surprisingly competitive Pirates, posting a 24.8% strikeout-minus-walk rate, which is good for third in MLB. His 3.25 ERA doesn't indicate dominance, but the 27-year-old is controlling as much as he can with a 2.86 FIP that ranks fifth in the Senior Circuit. Cy Young contender or not, he's clearly Pittsburgh's MVP thus far.
3. Logan Webb, Giants
Webb has found a new skill: getting opponents to offer at pitches outside the zone. He ranks in the 88th percentile, and it's helping him dominate hitters with a 4.9% walk rate. As the righty learns to live near and in the zone more often, he's also giving up more hard contact. He's already surrendered nine homers, and his barrel rate ranks in the 41st percentile. It's all part of a more concerted effort to rely less on his slider and lean more on his fastball and changeup - pitches he commands much better and offers up 78% of the time.
2. Spencer Strider, Braves
What Strider is doing is basically unfathomable. When's the last time a pitcher broke into the majors and looked this dominant by his sophomore season? He's making opposing hitters look like minor leaguers at times, with an MLB-best 31.3% strikeout-to-walk rate. That's miles ahead of Keller's 24.8% rate, which ranks second in the NL. He's also holding opponents to an NL-best .177 batting average. He's relentless in his pursuit of limiting any and all baserunners. The one thing keeping him behind the top name on the list is that he's already equaled his 2022 total by giving up seven homers in 62 fewer innings.
1. Zac Gallen, D-Backs
You can't go wrong with either of the top two starters in this NL list. But Gallen gets the edge because of his MLB-best 2.23 FIP. The right-hander is doing everything at an elite level. While his strikeout rate isn't as good as Strider's, it's still an incredibly impressive 27.9%. He's also making up for the gap with a sterling 5.4% walk rate and NL-best 0.34 HR/9 clip. If things continue this way, it's going to be an intense two-horse race all season.
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