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Gerrit Cole may finally be in line for his first Cy Young Award

Cole is dominating per usual, but this could at last be the year he takes home pitching’s highest honor.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Gerrit Cole is the best pitcher in baseball, and has been in the conversation of several years. And yet, the former No. 1 overall pick doesn’t have a Cy Young to his résumé. In fact, before this season, he hadn’t even started an All-Star Game. Sure, he’s finished in the top five of voting on five separate occasions and was runner-up in 2019 and 2021, but the stars just have never aligned to see him take home the highest honor in pitching.

We could sit here and wax poetic about the significance of Cole winning that particular award, but there really is no need. We can just acknowledge the simple fact that he is the best pitcher in the sport, and has had a multi-year run of excellence that few, if any, can touch over that span. He’s been especially great lately, and he’ll get the ball again tonight in Chicago.

When looking at the names that have secured Cy Youngs in recent years, it’s common to see an outlier factor or two, that hints at unsustainable results. Justin Verlander was insane last season, and he’s certainly no slouch, but his home run suppression was unsustainable. Go back to 2020, and the small-sample COVID season, and we can see that Shane Bieber was a bit of a one-off deal. Hell, even in 2019, when Verlander was completely dominant and a deserving choice, Cole actually had superior ERA, FIP, and strikeout figures.

All of this is to say that, at least for me, Cole winning the Cy Young is more an ode to justice than anything else. It sets the record straight on the fact that he’s been That Guy for so long. It won’t change how any of us view Cole.

Funnily enough, Cole actually boasts a slightly higher WHIP than he did last season (1.040 to 1.017), and is also on pace for his lowest strikeout rates since he left Pittsburgh (27.5 percent K rate9.9 K/9). With that being said, he does lead the AL in IP (143.1), ERA (2.64), and ERA+ (160), in part thanks to a significant improvement in home run suppression, as his HR/9 sits at 0.9, his lowest number since 2018.

The long ball was Cole’s bugaboo in 2022, as he surrendered a league-leading 33 homers in 200.2 innings. This year, he’s at 14 allowed — a marked improvement that has propelled his Cy case.

The consistency has been there for several years, and barring outstanding circumstances, the Yankees’ ace should end the season as the front-runner for the award, particularly with the injury woes of another elite candidate. Shane McClanahan of the Rays is currently sidelined with forearm tightness, and a return date is a little murky. Even if he were able to remain healthy for the whole season, with higher current ERA and WHIP figures, McClanahan would need a massive finish to overtake Cole. He would need to go on a run like 2021 Corbin Burnes, whose peripherals beat out Zack Wheeler for the honor despite a much larger chunk of innings for the Phillies ace.

Looking beyond McClanahan, the list of starters in the American League even in decent position to challenge Cole is short. Remember when the Jays started Alek Manoah over Kevin Gausman on Opening Day? Boy oh boy, how much can change in half a season of baseball. Gausman currently leads the American League in FIP (2.78) and FanGraphs WAR , while also holding a significant 20-K advantage over Cole in the strikeouts department (177). However, Cole has a better WHIP and ERA, and also has the edge in the Baseball-Reference version of WAR at 4.9.*

*Since BBWAA voters’ preferences in WAR tend to vary, it’s important to acknowledge both.

Nathan Eovaldi had an outstanding first half, but has struggled with velocity as of late, and has never been able to maintain an elite performance over 200+ innings. Like McClanahan, he’s now on the injured list himself — also with ominous forearm troubles.

So beyond Gausman, the two likeliest names to compete in this race in terms of production already on the table and the ability to sustain it would be Luis Castillo and Framber Valdez. The latter just made history by spinning a no-hitter against Cleveland and is on pace for the lowest WHIP of his career (1.074), and sits behind only Gausman in fWAR in the American League (3.6). Castillo has simply been the model of consistency, pitching to the tune of a 3.21 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

Presently, it’d still be a bit of a guessing game to come here and claim Cole will, for certain, win the award. There’s also enough talent in this group to that the possibility exists that one of these names goes on a hot run in the final couple months, setting themselves ahead of the pack (think of a 2015 Jake Arrieta run).

But this is by far the best shot Cole has had at this award since he became a Yankee, and there’s really no one more deserving of adding that accolade to its résumé. If Cole continues to bear down and carry this staff, it’ll be his award to lose.