As the 2019 Major League Baseball season unfolds, it is easy to fathom what caliber of extraordinary pitching will emerge this year. Last season saw a lot of tremendous performances on the mound, including three no-hitters and the revolutionary ‘Opener’ put to use. The state of pitching in the American League has never been better, with a long list of possible Cy Young award candidates.
The trophy wound up in Blake Snell’s hands last season. He finished 2018 going 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 180.2 innings pitched. No pitcher has won consecutive American League Cy Young awards since Pedro Martinez in 1999-2000, and while Snell has the ability to do so, he will have to compete with the following pitchers for the award:
Justin Verlander, HOU
Age appears to have no effect on Verlander, who had one of his best seasons last year at age 35. He led the league with 290 strikeouts and a 0.902 WHIP while anchoring an Astros’ rotation that won over 100 games for the second consecutive season.
He looks primed for the Hall of Fame once he retires although the one thing that could enhance his resume would be a second Cy Young award. Verlander won the award during his MVP season in 2011 with the Tigers, and he has finished top five in three straight seasons, including runner-up twice. He has shown no reason to not anticipate him being in the running for the award when the season ends.
James Paxton, NYY
The newest starting pitcher to don the pinstripes will look to make a lasting mark in his first year with the Yankees. Paxton has shown flashes of Cy Young potential although his health has been his main issue. Through six seasons, Paxton has never made 30 starts or qualified for an ERA title (162 inning minimum).
That being said, if Paxton can stay healthy, he can put it all together and win the award. He has a great pitching arsenal that led to a no hitter against the Blue Jays last season. His K/9 has risen each season, topping out at 11.7 last year. Meanwhile, his WHIP has fallen each season, reaching 1.098 last year. Paxton’s candidacy will also benefit from pitching in more high pressure games in New York than he did in Seattle.
Blake Treinen, OAK
A relief pitcher has not won the American League Cy Young award since Dennis Eckersly in 1992, but Treinen has the ability to break that streak. He finished tied for sixth in the voting last year after a dominant season coming out of the A’s bullpen.
He posted an ERA of 0.78 and a WHIP of 0.834 in 80.1 innings. Additionally, he struck out 100 batters while saving 38 games. A season that spectacular will be hard to replicate, but Treinen is already off to a great start, pitching two perfect innings against the Mariners in Japan to begin 2019.
Chris Sale, BOS
One of the best pitchers in baseball during the 2010s has no Cy Young awards to show for it. He usually starts the year very strong as evident by his three consecutive All Star Game starts, but he tends to end each year on a sour note. From March-July, he has doesn’t have a career ERA higher than 2.82 in any given month, but those number jump up to 3.16 in August and 3.78 in September/October.
Sale endured shoulder issues towards the end of last season while he seemed to be in the midst of running away with the award. While that still culminated in World Series ring and a lucrative extension for him, a Cy Young award would cement his legacy as one of the best pitchers of this era. His chances to finally win it will all depend on his ability to consistently pitch to the high quality he is capable of for an entire season.
Corey Kluber, CLE
One of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the last five years showed no signs of slowing down in 2018. Over those five seasons, Kluber has been a Cy Young award finalist four times, winning the award twice.
In that span, he has amassed at least 200 innings pitched and 220 strikeouts in every season, won 18+ games four times, had a sub 2.90 ERA three times, and led the league in complete games and shutouts three times. Kluber has emerged as the unquestionable ace of a team that has won three consecutive division titles. His consistency shows that he should have another Cy Young caliber season in 2019 despite entering his age 33 season.
Jose Berrios, MIN
The Twins added a lot of offensive pieces as they look to make a run at the playoffs this year, but they will still look to Berrios to anchor their rotation. Last year, Berrios showed durability (192.1 innings) and command of his stuff (202 strikeouts), but if he can improve his run prevention (3.84 ERA) then he can emerge as a legitimate Cy Young candidate.
Gerrit Cole, HOU
Cole had an exceptional first season as an Astro, leading the league in K/9 (12.4) and finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting. He appears to have molded into the pitcher he showed flashes of during his early days in Pittsburgh, but he will have to outshine Verlander to even get recognition as the best pitcher on his own team let alone the American League.
Luis Severino, NYY
Severino finished third for the award in 2017, and he looked primed to win it before struggling in the second half of last season. Severino will be sidelined until at least the start of May with a shoulder injury, but he has the ability to be one of the best pitchers in baseball when healthy.
Trevor Bauer, CLE
Bauer appeared to finally be putting everything together before a leg injury cost him a portion of the year in 2018. Regardless, he posted a 2.21 ERA in 175.1 innings and finished tied for sixth in the award voting
The American League is loaded with a plethora of star pitchers, all of whom could win the Cy Young award if healthy. One can only imagine the caliber of dominance that any of these men can reach as the 2019 season unfolds.