On Aug. 9, we took a look at the AL Cy Young race to see where Oakland A's ace Sonny Gray factored in. At the time, he seemed like the leading contender, alongside Houston's Dallas Keuchel in a neck-and-neck race. How have things developed over the subsequent month?
Let's start with the basics. Here are Sonny and Keuchel's stats from that Aug. 9 post, followed by their performances since then, and finally their current numbers entering Monday.
When we last checked
Sonny, Aug. 9: 23 starts, 12-4, 2.06 ERA, 161⅔ innings, 136 Ks, 40 BB, 9 HR
Keuchel, Aug. 9: 23 starts, 13-6, 2.08 ERA, 164⅔ innings, 143 Ks, 39 BB, 9 HR
Sonny, Aug. 9: 6.4 bWAR, 4.0 fWAR, 130.2 CyP
Keuchel, Aug. 9: 5.2 bWAR, 4.4 fWAR, 139.4 CyP
Since then ...
|#||Sonny since 8/9||Keuchel since 8/9|
|1||@ Bal: 5.2 ip, 1 er, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR (L)||vs. Det: 7 ip, 1 er, 8 Ks, 1 BB, 0 HR (W)|
|2||vs. TB: 8 ip, 3 er, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 3 HR (ND)||vs. TB: 7 ip, 2 er, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 0 HR (ND)|
|3||@ Ari: 6.1 ip, 2 er, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR (L)||@ NYY: 7 ip, 0 er, 9 Ks, 0 BB, 0 HR (W)|
|4||vs. LAA: 5 ip, 6 er, 2 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR (L)||vs. Sea: 7 ip, 1 er, 8 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR (W)|
|5||vs. Hou: 7 ip, 0 er, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR (W)||vs. Min: 8 ip, 3 er, 12 Ks, 2 BB, 3 HR (W)|
|6||Monday 5:05 p.m. @ CHW||@ LAA: 6 ip, 0 er, 7 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR (L)|
It was not a good month for Sonny. His defense let him down a couple times, specifically Eric Sogard against the Orioles (2-out error extended inning for 3-run HR) and Stephen Vogt against the D'Backs (2 passed balls in one inning, one on strike 3 to put eventual tying run on base). Those episodes shortened his outings and took away his chances to earn wins for the team or for himself. His bullpen let him down against Tampa Bay, as he left them a lead after eight innings and then Pat Venditte and Drew Pomeranz blew it in the 9th. He got knocked around by the Angels, but I assure you it was not as bad as it looks -- they somehow scored four runs in the 1st entirely on the strength of five singles, two of them infield hits. Hey, at least he shut down the Astros in the only meaningful game he pitched over the last month (that is, against a playoff team). Since Aug. 9: 3.38 ERA
Meanwhile, Keuchel was a machine, programmed to go seven innings at a time, strike out lots of batters, and earn wins. Even in his one loss he didn't give up an earned run, but rather was screwed over by ... himself on defense? He made an error on the potential third out, then also threw a wild pitch to make matters worse. I've always wondered if pitchers should instead get earned runs when they make the errors themselves, since they have no one to blame but themselves (they EARNED the runs, right?), but I can never decide it that makes sense or if we should just remember to consider defense when judging a pitcher's value. Either way, can this episode at least give Sonny an edge in the Gold Glove race that he's also running against the incumbent Keuchel? Since Aug. 9: 1.50 ERA
The race today
Here is where they stand right now:
Keuchel has pretty clearly taken a lead here. He's got the edge in every single traditional stat, he's got a big lead in the fancy stats thanks to his higher strikeout rate and his tougher home park, and he's got the bonus of being on an almost-certain playoff team. It's still terribly close, but at this point it seems like Keuchel controls his own destiny. If he can avoid any big blowups and keeps going 7 innings, 1 run, 8 Ks every time out, it's hard to see how Sonny could do enough to pass him at this point. But if Keuchel gets flukishly tagged for 6 runs like Sonny did against the Angels, there will be an opening.
It won't be enough for Sonny just to catch Keuchel, either. I think he'll need to take a noticeable lead to overcome Keuchel's playoff bonus. In a recent Twitter conversation I had with Susan Slusser, she made it clear that the normal biases we're used to (East Coast, and/or big market) don't historically factor in to Cy voting, but she did note that "all things being equal, the strength of the team a definite tiebreaker for most voters." And indeed, recent examples like Corey Kluber, Zack Greinke, and R.A. Dickey, who won the Cy on also-ran teams, didn't have any playoff-bound pitchers giving them competition for the award; Felix Hernandez did when he won, but he so thoroughly blew them all away statistically that the playoff tiebreaker wasn't enough to tip the scales.
Having said all that, I would argue that a new candidate has emerged:
In my mind, Price is solidly in third place, but between his rapidly sinking ERA (2.28 since joining Toronto) and his move to a first-place team he's still got a chance to sneak into the runner-up spot. Heck, if the season ended today, would it be that hard to argue for him over Sonny if you weren't an A's fan? As far as I'm aware, Rick Sutcliffe in 1984 is the only pitcher to win the Cy after being traded midseason, but I don't have any reason to believe that switching teams carries any kind of penalty -- last year, Jon Lester finished fourth in the voting despite being dealt to Oakland, which is right around where he belonged.
The remaining schedules for each pitcher:
It's difficult to know yet whether Keuchel or Price will make those final starts (the questionable ones in italics). They may be held back if either team needs them for a Wild Card play-in game, or moved around while playoff rotations are set. But that's how the schedules are laid out right now.
Current standing: Keuchel in front
If the season ended today, I would rank the race in the following order with great confidence:
That order can still change in any number of ways, but time is running out. Sonny is firmly in the passenger's seat right now, and to win this award he's likely going to need Keuchel to step aside and let him drive. The vague consolation is that Sonny's recent problems have largely been due to his team failing around him rather than his own pitching -- he's good enough to win the Cy, but it's not his yet.
Note: Fangraphs loves Chris Sale, Chris Archer, and Corey Kluber because of their gaudy strikeout numbers, but their ERAs (while good) don't match up to these other contenders and they're all on also-ran teams that will get no extra playoff bonus. On the bWAR scale, which I think is more reflective of what Cy voters are interested in than the fWAR scale, it goes Keuchel (7.1), Sonny (6.6), Price (5.7), and then Archer (4.4). This isn't a 3-man race because of those bWAR totals, but rather those bWAR totals show why this is a 3-man race based on the stats that are used to calculate them, stats in which these 3 pitchers are dominating.