Tag Archives: Cy Young

Dark horse Cy Young candidates for 2019

Welcome to the 2019 edition of my dark horse Cy Young candidates.

I’ve been putting together a list of dark horse Cy Young candidates since 2015 when I was writing for a different site. The topic was assigned to me by my editor, and ever since then, it’s been a little pet project of mine. I had major success in my debut season, with two of my dark horses winning the prestigious award. Aside from 2015, I haven’t had a place to publish my candidates save for Twitter and Google Docs, so I decided to issue it on The First Out At Third, an — other than this yearly article — exclusively Milwaukee Brewers website.

I only have three requirements when picking my candidates:

  • They haven’t won the Cy Young award in the past
  • They haven’t received a single Cy Young vote in the past three years

You can find my past picks here, and once the 2019 season begins, I’ll post a link on Twitter that allows you to follow along with my candidates.

Let’s see who I think will take a huge leap forward this season and fight for some Cy Young votes.

1. RHP Collin McHugh – Houston Astros

McHugh is set to return to the starting rotation after spending all of the 2018 campaign in Houston’s bullpen, a place in which he was light-out dominant. In 72.1 innings, the 31-year-old struck out over 33 percent of batters he faced, while hitters batted just .175 against him, good enough for the 10th-lowest mark among qualified relievers. In the end, his season numbers were more than impressive, as McHugh finished with a 1.99 ERA and 2.72 FIP. Only five relievers had a lower ERA.

McHugh wasn’t sent to the bullpen because he was struggling as a starter. Far from it actually. The Astros were just so deep with starting arms that McHugh — along with Brad Peacock — were the odd-men out. McHugh has actually performed very well as a starter in his career. In 645.2 innings, he owns a 4.00 ERA and 3.73 FIP. His time in the bullpen allowed him to work on a few things, one being his slider. McHugh’s slider was a nightmare for right-handed hitters last season, as they hit just .135 against it. McHugh also increased his fastball velocity by nearly two ticks.

The veteran hurler and podcaster is obviously not the best pitcher in Houston’s incredible rotation, and he’s definitely not the most noteworthy, but if he’s as dominant as I think he will be in 2019, fans all across Major League Baseball will begin to know his name.

2. RHP Jameson Taillon – Pittsburgh Pirates

In his third season in the big leagues, Taillon tallied his best year in 2018. The 27-year-old posted career lows in ERA (3.20), FIP (3.46), strikeout rate (22.8%) and WAR (3.7) across 191 innings. It’s fair to say he broke out, though I believe an even greater breakout is on the horizon.

Taillon — a former top 100 prospect — has been able to increase his strikeout rate every year, while never struggling with control. With a power sinker at 95 mph and solid spin (75th percentile) on his curveball, I see no reason why his strikeout trend shouldn’t continue this upcoming season. In fact, a considerable leap in strikeout rate wouldn’t surprise me. Take a look at his StatCast ranks from 2018, and you’ll see he’s above average in numerous key categories.

In order to pitch like a Cy Young, though, Taillon will have to work on keeping the ball in the yard. While 20 home runs allowed isn’t necessarily a terrible number, his 11.7% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio was the 30th-highest mark in all of baseball. Again, not terrible, but in an extreme pitcher-friendly stadium like PNC Park, that’s just too high, and it needs to come down.

The Pirates won’t be good in 2019, and they won’t be very much fun to watch, but Taillon could change that when he’s on the mound. A Blake Snell-like breakout could very well be on its way.

3. RHP German Marquez – Colorado Rockies

If you were to guess who the top five qualified starters in strikeout rate during the second half of last season were, you’d probably come up with four of the five. It’s likely, however, that you’d miss Marquez. That’s right. Only Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and and Jacob deGrom struck out batters at a higher rate than Marquez in the second half, a half in which he was making everyone swing and miss. The 24-year-old (oh my god, he’s only 24) struck out hitters at a 33.9 percent clip on his way to a 2.61 ERA and 2.25 FIP after the All-Star break. On the season as a whole, Marquez finished with a 3.77 ERA and 3.40 FIP.

Marquez’s ability to generate whiffs is why I love him in 2019. He finished in the top-15 in swinging-strike rate, and 186 of his 230 punch outs (80 percent) came on a swing and a miss — eighth-most in MLB.

Because of his absurd finish to the year and the fact that he likely hasn’t even reached his best yet, you might see Marquez on many lists like mine. However, pitching in homer-happy Coors Field doesn’t help him. It really doesn’t help him. The Colorado Rockies are one of four teams that have never had a pitcher win the Cy Young award. By that fact alone, Marquez is a dark horse.

4. RHP Jose Berrios – Minnesota Twins

Berrios started 25 games in 2017 and 32 games in 2018, and he somehow managed to put up nearly identical stats in both.

ERA FIP BB% WAR
2017 3.89 3.84 7.8% 2.9
2018 3.84 3.90 7.7% 3.3

As the table clearly shows, Berrios essentially duplicated his 2017 season last year. However, there is one stat I knowingly left off the table. A stat that shows he actually improved in 2018 more than we may think. And that’s strikeout rate.

Berrios increased his strikeout rate by nearly three percent from 22.6 percent to 25.4 percent. Only 17 other starters can say they had a higher strikeout rate than him. Not too shabby for a 24-year-old kid, eh? What’s even more impressive about that is Berrios is doing it without over-the-top impressive StatCast numbers. His fastball velocity is barely above average (58th percentile), and his curveball that he throws 30 percent of the time is well below average, sitting in the 37th percentile range. Despite that, though, Berrios started getting more whiffs via his curveball in 2018, and that greatly aided his overall strikeout numbers. Berrios also does a good job of limiting hard contact. The average ball hit off him was hit at a speed of 86.1 mph, while his hard-hit rate was above league-average, as well.

Berrios is set to lead the Twins’ rotation, and could very well be on his way to a memorable season. Like Taillon, though, he’ll need to do a better job of limiting home runs if he expects to pitch with the big guns.

5. RHP Nick Pivetta – Philadelphia Phillies

Who needs Dallas Keuchel when you have Nick Pivetta is a sentence that has never been written or said until now. But I believe it to be true.

Pivetta recorded a 4.77 ERA in 2018, which isn’t good, so you might be wondering how and why he’s one of my candidates. Well, as you know, ERA rarely tells the entire story, and Pivetta’s peripherals are far more encouraging. Pivetta was the owner of the second-largest gap between his ERA (4.77) and FIP (3.80) last year. His ERA minus FIP was 0.97, trailing only Jon Gray‘s total of 1.03, meaning Pivetta was the victim of some rotten luck. A lot of Pivetta’s struggles can and should be blamed on Philadelphia’s record-breaking terrible defense, which should be much-improved this season. Add another reason to be encouraged by Pivetta.

Even Pivetta’s expected stats — which are based on launch angle and how hard a ball is hit — say he had bad luck. He allowed a .339 wOBA, while his xwOBA (expected wOBA) was .311. His expected batting average was .237, yet he allowed a .255 average. Long story short, Pivetta pitched much better than a 4.77 ERA.

And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. Pivetta — who just turned 26 — was a top-15 pitcher in strikeout rate. He struck out 27.1 percent of batters he faced, while walking only 7.4 percent. His K-BB% — which is a good indicator of future success — was the 12th-highest mark among his peers. Guys, Pivetta is a damn good pitcher. With more luck and a better defense behind him, his standard numbers should begin to reflect that. Watch out for him in 2019.

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Dark horse Cy Young candidates for 2018

I’ve been putting together a list of dark horse Cy Young candidates since 2015 when I was writing for a different site. The topic was assigned to me by my editor and, since then, it’s been a little pet project of mine, and when I say dark horses, I mean dark. I had major success in my debut season, as two of my dark horses actually won the prestigious award. Aside from 2015, I haven’t had a place to publish my candidates save for Twitter and Google Docs, so I decided to issue it on The First Out At Third, an — up until now — exclusively Milwaukee Brewers website. This post, along with one at the end of the season reviewing the candidates, will be the only two non-Brewers pieces you’ll find here.

I only have three requirements when picking my candidates:

  • They haven’t won the Cy Young award in the past
  • They haven’t received a single Cy Young vote in the past three years

You can find my past dark horses here, along with how they finished. You can also follow along with my current candidates here.

Now, without further ado, here are my 2018 dark horse Cy Young candidates.

1. RHP Zack Godley – Arizona Diamondbacks

Godley is coming off his first full season as a starter, and the 27 year old performed like a No. 1 pitcher in Arizona’s rotation. His 3.37 ERA was backed up by his 3.41 FIP and 3.32 xFIP, while his strikeout rate increased by nearly nine percent from 2016 (when he was mainly used as a reliever). The main thing that intrigues me about Godley is his ability to generate whiffs. Among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings last year, Godley ranked ninth in swinging-strike rate (13.3 percent). That’s a higher percentage than Jacob DeGrom, Stephen Strasburg and teammate Zack Greinke.

The Diamondbacks are set to install a humidor in Chase Field in which they’ll store their baseballs and, as a result, the baseballs will become heavier due to the water they’ll absorb. And that means there will be fewer home runs hit in Chase Field. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan has more on the issue, but we can reasonably expect Chase Field to see a rather large reduction in home runs. Now, Godley isn’t a fly-ball pitcher, but his 14.7& home-run-to-fly ball ratio — which was the 26th highest mark in all of baseball (minimum 150 IP) — suggests the humidor will absolutely help Godley keep the ball in the park. And that along with his strikeouts should aid him in taking the next step to “ace” this season.

The Diamondbacks have quietly put together a strong rotation, and I’m betting Godley is the best one in that group in 2018.

2. RHP Luis Castillo – Cincinnati Reds

Castillo has just 89.1 major league innings under his belt, all of which came in 2018. But he was spectacular in those 89.1 innings, and I’m all in on this youngster.

The right-hander skipped over Triple-A after putting together a 2.58 ERA and 2.50 FIP for Cincinnati’s Double-A affiliate, and when he got to The Show he didn’t skip a beat. Castillo struck out over 27 percent of batters faced, while posting a 3.12 ERA and 3.74 FIP. His FIP screams that Castillo may be in for some negative regression in 2018, but I’m not buying that narrative. Sixty percent of his allowed batted balls were grounders, and his four-seam fastball and sinker averaged over 97 mph. He has one heck of an arm, and though he probably relies on his four-seam a bit too much, it has the capability to be a devastating pitch.

Castillo’s chances of winning the Cy Young award are miniscule, but that’s why they call it a dark horse, right? Look out for him 2018.

3. RHP Kenta Maeda – Los Angeles Dodgers

Maeda accumulated an ERA over 4 in 2017 and, as a 29-year-old pitcher, his prime should soon be winding down, yet here he is on my list.

Assuming he begins the season in the rotation, Maeda should have no trouble shutting down hitters, and while he took a step back numbers-wise from his rookie season, he made big strides in a few noteworthy categories by upping his K/9, lowering his BB/9, and raising his swinging-strike rate. The results didn’t reflect those improvements, mainly due to his trouble keeping the ball inside the stadium, as he gave up 22 home runs in just 134.1 innings.

If Maeda can keep the ball from flying out and continue to raise his strikeout game, he should see some positive regression in 2018. He allowed a .306 wOBA last season while his xwOBA was .281; that’s not a terribly big difference, but it does mean that Maeda pitched better than his final stats indicated.

4. RHP Jeff Samardzija – San Francisco Giants

Of every pitcher who threw a pitch last year, Samardzija may have been the unluckiest. He posted a 4.42 ERA, yet I would argue that he was dominant. He’s on my list in 2018 because I think he’ll be dominant again, except this time with the stats to back it up.

Samardzija posted baseball’s 13th-highest K-BB% last season, with a 20.4 percent mark. He struck out 24.2 percent of hitters — his highest rate since 2012 — and walked just 3.8 percent — the lowest of his career. Furthermore, his ERA-FIP was the second-largest gap among qualified pitchers, which highlights just how much better Samardzija was than what the naked eye sees. Samardzija will be very good in 2018, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he finished with a sub-3 ERA.

The former Notre Dame star is getting up there in age, so this could be his last shot for a true chance at the Cy Young.  I think he has the best chance of all my dark horses.

5. LHP Andrew Heaney – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The darkest of the dark of my candidates, I believe Heaney — if he can finally stay healthy — can be an ace-like starter for the Angels.

Heaney has pitched just 27.2 innings over the last two years due to a plethora of injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2016. The 26-year-old lefty has made 23 starts in his career and has a 4.48 ERA to go along with a 4.81 FIP, but during his time in the minors and his brief stint in the majors last season, there’s a lot to like. In 21.2 innings, he struck out 26.7 percent (11.22 K/9)  of batters, and while I know that’s an incredibly small sample size, it ranked among the top 25 in that category among starting pitchers. However, Heaney was terrible in 2018, finishing with a 7.06 ERA and 9.11 FIP. That was mostly due to a 40 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, which is just nuts and unsustainable.

Heaney has always had success in the minors, and health has been his biggest hurdle. His only healthy season in the majors came in 2015 when he posted a 3.49 ERA in 105 innings. If Heaney can prove he can continue to pile up the strikeouts with a low-90s fastball and sinker while maintaining a clean bill of health, he has the chance to finally reach his potential.