- The AL Cy Young race appears to be down to two contenders
- Yankees ace and preseason favorite Gerrit Cole remains the chalk
- But Toronto’s Robbie Ray is charging hard in the final weeks
The American League Cy Young race has been in a constant state of flux during the second half of the season. Preseason favorite Gerrit Cole was the -126 favorite at the All-Star break. He faded as far as +350 before surging back to -278 just a week ago.
But with Robbie Ray spearheading the Toronto Blue Jays’ unlikely march towards the playoffs, the Cy Young race has tightened considerably over the past seven days.
2021 AL Cy Young Odds
|Gerrit Cole (NYY)||-140|
|Robbie Ray (TOR)||+160|
|Lance Lynn (CHW)||+350|
|Carlos Rodon (CHW)||+1800|
|Shohei Ohtani (LAA)||+5000|
|Dylan Cease (CHW)||+10000|
|Frankie Montas (OAK)||+10000|
|Hyun-Jin Ryu (TOR)||+10000|
|John Means (BAL)||+10000|
|Sean Manaea (OAK)||+10000|
|Shane Bieber (CLE)||+10000|
|Zack Greinke (HOU)||+10000|
|Yusei Kikuchi (SEA)||+10000|
|Lance McCullers Jr (HOU)||+10000|
|Chris Bassitt (OAK)||+10000|
|Jose Berrios (TOR)||+10000|
|Liam Hendricks (CHW)||+10000|
|Nathan Eovaldi (BOS)||+10000|
|Lucas Giolito (CHW)||+10000|
|Aaron Civale (CLE)||+15000|
Odds as of Sep 14, 2021, at DraftKings.
Cole vs Ray Statistically
The head-to-head statistical comparison between the two yields the same outcome as the odds: it’s a close race, but one that Cole appears to be leading. He has a better WHIP, xFIP, xERA, K/9, and a considerably higher WAR at FanGraphs.
Ray has a slight edge in actual ERA and has pitched about 12 more innings. Curiously, Baseball Reference gives him an edge in WAR over Cole (6.2 vs 5.7).
Gerrit Cole vs Robbie Ray
If the season ended today, it’s likely that Cole would win a close vote. In addition to having slightly better numbers, he should also garner a little bit of a sympathy vote. He finished runner-up to then-teammate Justin Verlander in 2019, a year many thought he should have won. In total, he has finished among the top-five in Cy Young voting on four separate occasions.
This season for Ray is an anomaly. He’s only garnered Cy Young votes once in his six previous seasons (finishing seventh in NL voting back in 2017). He is posting career-bests in nearly all meaningful categories and he leads the AL in innings.
He’s always had nasty stuff, but struggled mightily with control until this year. He averaged a preposterous 7.8 walks per nine innings in 2020, splitting time between Arizona and Toronto. His career average is 3.9 BB/9, which is well above league average.
This season, however, he’s managed to lower that number to 2.3 BB/9. That’s still more than Cole (1.9 BB/9), but a very respectable number nonetheless.
Who Is Going to Finish Stronger?
Cole has a history of finishing strong. His career splits show an ERA of 2.94 in the months of September and October, a little lower than his 3.15 career ERA, overall.
Ray, on the other hand, has a 4.38 career ERA in September and October. Not only is that considerably higher than his 4.00 overall career ERA, it’s his worst monthly split, period.
The fact that he has already pitched 170.1 innings, just four innings short of his career-high, only adds to the concern about how he will perform in his final four starts.
Looking at how the schedule lines up, he’s going to make two more starts against the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays, one against the Minnesota Twins, and one against the MLB-worst Baltimore Orioles.
Cole’s next two starts are against Baltimore and Cleveland. His final two will be against Boston and Toronto, in all likelihood. Both pitchers have two home and two road starts remaining, barring rotational changes/injuries.
To be worth a bet at +160 odds, Ray needs a 39% chance to win the AL Cy Young. Based on the fact that he’s likely a little behind, coupled with the difference between his and Cole’s September splits, 39% looks a little optimistic. History suggests he’s going to fade a little. Of course, history also suggests he’s going to walk people at an alarming rate.
So it’s entirely possible the new version of Robbie Ray will continue bucking his career trends. That’s just not something I’m prepared to put my hard-earned money on.