Wednesday, August 17, 2016
A Relief Pitcher Is The Favorite For The AL Cy Young Award
It's been a weird season for starting pitchers in the American League. Chris Sale has been good not great. Felix Hernandez has been hurt and ineffective. David Price hasn't been himself. Neither Sonny Gray nor Chris Archer has taken that leap into the elite pitching category. If anything they have both taken a major step backwards. Danny Salazar and Jose Quintana have been good, but nobody has been better in the American League than Orioles Closer Zach Britton. Two events must occur for a relief pitcher to win the Cy Young award. He must be having a borderline historic season AND there must be no dominant starters to choose from. Britton's 2016 season fits this criteria.
Let's look at that first criteria. Is Britton having a historic year? In short, yes. Currently he is leading all MLB relievers in ERA (0.54), opponents batting average (.154), and WAR (2.9). That 0.54 ERA would be the lowest single season ERA of all time, breaking Fernando Rodney's 0.60 record set in 2012. Britton is also on pace to break the record, which he currently holds, for the highest ground ball percentage in a single season. When the ball is hit on the ground it cannot leave the park and rarely goes for extra bases, which is why teams aggressively target pitchers with ground ball tendencies. His sinker is so good that on plate appearances ending with one thrown he has a strikeout rate of 31%. No other pitcher has a rate above 18%. Lastly he is a perfect 37 for 37 in save opportunities, and hasn't given up a run since April 30th. April 30th! That's a major league record for consecutive appearances (41) without giving a run.
Now the second piece of criteria, which is a lack of dominant starters to choose from. All you need to know about the AL Cy Young race this year is that Rick Porcello is going to be considered and get votes. Among the top 12 MLB leaders in ERA right now just two are from the American League. But neither of them, Michael Fulmer or Danny Duffy, have had enough of a dominant campaign to be considered anything close to a favorite for the award. A reliever hasn't won the Cy Young since Eric Gagne in 2003. Many voters are under the impression that closers should never win the award. But if there ever was a season for it to happen it would be Britton this year.