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MLB Cy Young rankings: Lots to decide in home stretch

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Welcome to the fourth 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 through the season's first four months as the home stretch begins.

American League

5. Nathan Eovaldi, Rangers

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123.2 2.69 3.24 111 1.01

A couple pitchers could've slid into this fifth spot, including Minnesota Twins righty Sonny Gray, who continues to have a tremendous year despite recent snags, and Tampa Bay Rays ace Shane McClanahan, who is currently shelved with a rather ominous-sounding forearm injury. Eovaldi is also sidelined, but the team seems confident that the righty will only miss the minimum amount of games after being placed on the 15-day injured list with a forearm strain. It's a good thing because he's arguably the most valuable player on the Rangers' roster, and he's been a workhorse with an MLB-leading two complete games.

4. Felix Bautista, Orioles

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51.2 0.85 1.44 102 0.85

Closers don't frequently win the Cy Young, and Bautista would have to remain on fire for the remainder of the campaign if he hopes to be the first in the AL since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 to do so. Bautista's resume is nearly flawless, with an AL-leading 30 saves and an almost unfathomable 49.75% strikeout rate. Also working in his favor is the fact that the Orioles would almost certainly not be leading the ultra-competitive AL East without his contributions.

3. Gerrit Cole, Yankees

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143.1 2.64 3.26 157 1.04

It's been an interesting season for Cole, but the Yankees ace might finally add a Cy Young to his mantle. First off, it can't be overstated how destitute the Bronx Bombers would be without him. While the 32-year-old has 10 wins to his name, New York has won in 16 of his 23 starts. And while he had some trouble navigating through May, he's since put up a 2.33 ERA and 2.84 FIP through 11 games with 78 strikeouts to 12 walks. If he can keep that up, he won't have to settle for being a finalist.

2. Framber Valdez, Astros

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135 3.07 3.11 141 1.07

A no-hitter will certainly boost your profile, and a 93-pitch clinic where you make the Cleveland Guardians look like a farm team will propel you even further. Valdez is a bit of a throwback. He gets strikeouts but certainly not at the elite rate that's come to be expected of aces this era. It isn't always flashy, but the southpaw is always working deep into games (leading MLB with two shutouts) and has worked at least six innings in 16 of his 21 games while giving his team a chance to win. If that isn't the rubric to what makes a good pitcher, we need to reset our goalposts.

1. Kevin Gausman, Blue Jays

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132 3.20 2.78 177 1.17

Gausman continues to elevate his game beyond any of his AL peers, leading the Junior Circuit with 177 strikeouts, a 32.8% strikeout rate, and 26.5% strikeout-minus-walk rate. That all winds up equating to an MLB-leading 2.78 FIP. Some may scoff at his 8-6 record or his 3.20 ERA. But to them we say: grow up. No one has cared about wins since Rick Porcello inexplicably won the Cy Young in 2016 (with a 3.15 ERA, by the way). And, by ERA-minus, Gausman is still 24 percentage points better than the league average, firmly in the top 10 in MLB among qualified starters and fifth in the AL.

National League

5. Justin Steele, Cubs

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121 2.75 3.21 113 1.17

Steele has been a revelation, posting the second-best ERA in the NL and leading MLB with 13 wins. In some ways, it's mystifying how he's accomplishing it without elite strikeout stuff. But a closer look at the numbers shows that the Cubs lefty induces weak contact with the best of them, with an 81st-percentile barrel rate and 78th-percentile hard-hit rate. He'll allow baserunners, sure, but they don't come around to score and rarely get extra bases off the bat, and that's been crucial to his success.

4. Blake Snell, Padres

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124 2.61 3.67 164 1.30

Snell is a fascinating study in how to turn your season around. Since allowing six runs on five hits and two walks over four innings against the Boston Red Sox on May 19 (and owning a 5.40 ERA and 5.53 FIP), the Padres southpaw has been nothing short of spectacular, boasting a 1.03 ERA and 2.61 FIP over 14 starts. Even further, Snell has allowed one or fewer runs in 12 of those 14 games. It's been an astounding run, and while he issues a lot of free passes, he's also avoided trouble by maintaining an elite strikeout rate. Can he become only the seventh pitcher in MLB history to win a Cy Young in both leagues?

3. Zack Wheeler, Phillies

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131 3.71 2.94 149 1.11

It's been a puzzling season for Wheeler, who leads the majors by FanGraphs WAR thanks to a very strong 2.94 FIP (second among qualified NL starters) over 131 innings (ninth in NL). That being said, many will simply write him off upon seeing his 3.71 ERA. He's undoubtedly dealing with bad luck with a .309 BABIP against, as well as a 70.5% strand rate (the mean among qualified starters is .292 BABIP and 74.1% strand rate). So, if his luck can change down the stretch, the righty can easily turn his tough-luck runner-up finish in 2021 to Corbin Burnes into a mantlepiece this time around.

2. Spencer Strider, Braves

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129.2 3.61 2.91 208 1.09

It's tough to handicap Strider's Cy Young odds. On one hand, he's the fastest pitcher ever to 200 strikeouts in a single season. Strikeouts have never been more prevalent, and Strider somehow has a 31-punchout head start on second-place Gausman. As a result, his 2.91 FIP leads the NL. On the other hand, his 3.61 ERA and recent trouble controlling the longball certainly hurts his chances. Since May 17, he's allowed 16 homers over 14 starts, coughing up at least two dingers in five of those outings. Because of this, he also doesn't work deep into games very often. He's a reliever who can carry a starter's workload, and that's astounding. But it also comes with some pitfalls.

1. Zac Gallen, Diamondbacks

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149.2 3.37 3.15 157 1.08

While the other four on this list could quickly upend these rankings, Gallen is currently the guy in the Senior Circuit. He's a workhorse, leading the majors in innings while sitting sixth among qualified NL starters in ERA and fourth by FIP. The rigors of a full 162-game season might be getting to him, which seems to be a continued issue for the D-Backs ace, who started 2022 cold before turning his season around to be the best pitcher in baseball in the second half. Now, though, it seems reversed, as his first-half 2.75 FIP looks substantially better than his 4.67 FIP since the All-Star break. Sunday's outing looked as dominant as ever, and he'll need to keep it that way to hold off the other contenders on this list.

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