Cy Young-Less: Cy Young Candidates for the Teams Without One

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The regular season is just getting underway, and everyone wants to know what potential records could be broken in 2017. History could be made if a pitcher on one of the four teams featured in this article win a Cy Young award, as no player on any of them has ever won the coveted honor. Indeed, the Rockies, Marlins, Rangers, and Reds are all Cy Young-less. So, which pitcher from each one of these organizations has the best chance to bring home a Cy Young? To answer this question, I compiled data from the last five AL and NL Cy Young winners and sorted them by age and career resumes. The reason for picking the last five years is that I consider this period the Fireball Era when starting pitchers commonly throw 95 MPH or higher.

Colorado Rockies

Will Colorado ever have a Cy Young winner? It is nearly impossible to put up good numbers as a pitcher, as the ball just flies out of Coors Field. Colorado has had a total of 12 pitchers with a season of greater than 4.0 WAR. There is a total of 2,386 other pitchers that have had a WAR of greater than 4.0 for a single season, and this means each franchise has had about 82 pitches in the span that Colorado has had 12. With the ballpark as a factor as well, it would be in the pitcher’s best interest to have a low HR/9 rate.

So, let’s take a look at Jon Gray. In 2016, the 25-year-old had 185 strikeouts, an xFIP- of 87, and HR/9 of 0.96. Looking at the graph below, his numbers are right in line with the last five Cy Young winners at age 25.

Riley Pint is the other Rockies player who could see a Cy Young in his trophy case by the end of his career. He was the fourth overall pick right out of high school, so he’s still young and developing. Although his FIP – a 5.45 in 37 total innings – was not great during rookie ball, MLB.com says he has a 70* fastball with two other plus pitches. This year in rookie ball he had a HR/9 of only 0.49, which would prove beneficial upon reaching the majors.

Prediction: Riley Pint

Jon Gray would need to keep developing, and need maybe a lucky year as aces like Kershaw, Scherzer, Syndergaard, etc. are still out there competing every year, whereas Riley Pint is only 19 and will catch some of those pitchers at the tail end of their career when he breaks into the Major League. This highly skilled competition that Gray has to pitch against, plus the fact that he makes half his start at Coors, leads me to think Jon Gray will not win a Cy Young during his tenure with the Rockies. Therefore, Riley Pint is the pitcher that Mile High fans will look to end their Cy Young drought. However, a lot needs to go right for him to develop without injury and be an ace in the major leagues. After all, he was drafted just this past June. His motion looks very susceptible to injury, which does not help his cause. Still, Pint does seem to have better odds over Jon Gray to win the CyYoung in his career.

 

Miami Marlins

It is hard to look at pitchers within the Marlins organization without remembering Jose Fernandez. His death struck fear and sadness within the baseball world. He was one of the best pitchers in the National League and would have been in contention for the NL Cy Young every year for the foreseeable future, and he will be dearly missed by every baseball fan. With no stud or potential stud pitchers at the major league level, we have to journey into the minors.

Braxton Garrett was the 7th-overall pick of the 2016 draft and was slotted as the franchise’s top prospect once he was signed. Scouts say that he has a good curveball and fastball, but his changeup needs to be developed some for it to be a good third pitch. He did not pitch last year due to fear of overwork.

Tyler Kolek is the number two prospect in the Marlins system, yet he did not throw a pitch this year due to Tommy John. Scouts give his fastball a 70*, although he had a subpar 2015 year in A-ball.

Prediction: Braxton Garrett

Tyler Kolek has too many red flags around him, as his fastball will more than likely decrease in velocity after Tommy John. The 20-year-old will most likely take a year or so to get back to where he was before the surgery, and the Marlins will be very cautious of his workload. Braxton Garrett is listed at the number one prospect, ahead of Kolek, and the Marlins will do everything possible to avoid any path that leads him to Tommy John. Obviously, as was said before with Riley Pint, there are so many things that have to go right in order for him to be a major league ace. All that notwithstanding, Braxton Garrett is my pick to be the first Marlins player to win the Cy Young.

 

Texas Rangers

At first glance, it seems like Nolan Ryan has to have a Cy Young award, right? He finished his career with seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts – which is first all time. In 1989 he had a 7.0 WAR, but Bret Saberhagen outperformed him – putting up a 7.5 WAR – and claiming the title. The Rangers probably have the pitcher who is closest to winning a Cy Young out of these four teams, with some talent starting for them at the major league level. The problem is that if in that time frame they do not win a Cy Young, their minor leaguers show no indication of picking up the slack. Their only long shot in the minors is Yohander Mendez, but I am not including a write up on him as his ceiling was described as merely a number three starter.

The clear-cut favorite to potentially win the Cy Young on this Rangers squad is Yu Darvish. The average age of Cy Young winners in the past five years is 30.6 years old, and Darvish just turned 30 this past August. Everyone knows that Darvish has nasty stuff—take a look below to see him throw five different pitches from practically the exact same arm angle. The concerning thing is that Darvish had Tommy John surgery in 2015, and his production has declined every year since his debut. However, he did post a career best 11.84 K/9 last year, which was second in the majors and first in the AL.

darvish gif

(Credit: reddit /u/DShep)

I feel as if I should include a second player for every team, but this Rangers team is by far the toughest to pick a second pitcher for, simply because they do not have a good second option to win the Cy Young. Their number two pitcher is Cole Hamels, and he is probably also the second-best Cy choice. He has always been a solid starter throughout his career, and he is a very savvy veteran. His peak value output came in 2011 when he posted a 4.9 WAR. He will be 33 years old next year, and maybe he will shock everyone within the next few years and put up insane numbers. However, this is extremely unlikely and everyone, including Cole Hamels, would probably be shocked if this did happen.

Prediction: Yu Darvish

This is an easy prediction, simply based on the fact that Darvish is a clear-cut ace. He posted a 2.7 WAR through only 100 innings this past year, which resulted in a career-high WAR/inning rate. He has dealt with some injuries over the past few years, but it seems as he is finally healthy to start 2017 off. This bodes well for him; it’s now all about whether he can put together a full, DL-free year. I do believe he will be top five in Cy Young voting at least once from next year until the end of his career.

 

Cincinnati Reds

The last time the Reds had a pitcher who had above 4.0 WAR was in 2014, and that was Johnny Cueto, who is no longer with the team. The Reds have never had a dominant pitcher unless you go way back to Noodles Hahn, who retired in 1906 (if you think about it, even the Big Red Machine was carried predominantly by their lineup). This probably explains why they have yet to win a Cy Young — but maybe the following pitchers can help with that. The Reds are in rebuilding mode, and we should see all the young pitching talent they have in the rotation next year.

Their top pitching prospect is Amir Garrett, a 22nd-round draft pick who has come along nicely as a starter. He cruised through Double-AA ball this year, striking out 25% of batters and posting a 2.50 FIP in 77 innings. Unfortunately, things did not go as smoothly in his 67.2 innings in Triple-AAA — but this shouldn’t worry anyone as it is all part of the developmental process. Many people are predicting him to be in the rotation next year, and MLB.com predicts him as a number one or number two starter if he continues to progress.

Robert Stephenson is a lot like Amir Garrett, in that he is still a prospect and is supposed to be in the Reds rotation soon. He has yet to post a truly dominant year in the minors, but scouts are still very high on him. Scouts gave him a 70* fastball – which only top tier pitches get – and two other above average pitches to go along with that. It sounds like he will start this year as a low-leverage reliever, and the Reds hope to slowly push him into the rotation by season’s end.

Prediction: Amir Garrett

This is very much a judgment pick, and I believe that the Reds have gotten lucky in turning a 22nd round pick into a ceiling front-end starter. One case for Garrett: Rick Porcello won the Cy Young for Boston this year, and he wasn’t even the best pitcher on his staff in terms of skill level. I believe Garrett will have a breakout three-year span where he is top 5 in Cy Young voting during those years. His FIP has always been low in the minors, excluding last year. He will be a pitcher who sneaks out a Cy Young while other top National League hurlers struggle. The reason I picked against Robert Stephenson is that he has been labeled as having mediocre numbers, and all of the Reds media are putting pressure on him to develop into this ace. This will either get to Stephenson’s head or the front office people, and I believe Stephenson won’t be with the team when he hits his prime. With this shaky confidence in Stephenson, I think that Amir Garrett is most likely to get the Cincinnati Reds their first Cy Young award.

 

*  Scouts rate prospects on a scale of 20 to 80 scale, with 50 being average. Each 10 point increment represents a standard deviation for worse or better. Listed below is an explanatory chart from Fangraphs.com.

Grade  

Hitter

 

Starting Pitcher

 

Relief Pitcher

 

WAR

80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter 7.0
75 Top 2-3 #1 6.0
70 Top 5 #1/2 5.0
65 All-Star #2/3 4.0
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3.0
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2.0
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1.0
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0.0
30 Organizational Organizational Organizational -1.0

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