Do you want a bold take?
Robbie Ray will definitely win the American Cy Young award. In fact, despite this being a two-horse race between Robbie Ray and the New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, the stats tell us that Cole shouldn’t even come close.
Robbie Ray had a fantastic season. In 193.1 innings pitched, he had an ERA of 2.84 and a FIP of 3.69, nice. He also had a K/9 of 11.54 and a K% of 32.1%, meaning he struck out nearly a third of the batters he faced. Robbie Ray has always had the potential to be a Cy Young winning pitcher (look at 2017), but what has held him back until this season was his astronomical BB/9.
Ray had a great K/9 of 11.1 up until this season, but his 4.3 BB/9 really hindered his ability from solidifying himself in the Cy Young race, minus his All-Star season in 2017. In 2020, he finished with a BB/9 of 7.84 and before arriving to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline, that BB/9 was an astronomical 9.0 with Arizona.
This changed in 2021 as he posted a BB/9 of 2.47, by far the lowest in his career.
So what about the other horse in this race, Gerrit Cole? Well the Yankees’ pitcher had an ERA of 3.23 and a FIP of 2.92. While he trailed Robbie Ray in ERA by nearly .40, his FIP was actually better by 0.77 points. He also had a higher K/9 of 12.06 (33.5 K%), a lower BB/9 of 2.03 and a better fWAR of 5.3 (compared to Ray’s 3.9.) With that being said, why am I making this bold claim as to why it’s already Robbie Ray’s award.
Spidertack, Spidertack, does whatever a pitcher wants:
It is well known to the public that Gerrit Cole was a user of Spidertack. While I can give you the drop in his spin rate, all you need to do is watch this video of him reacting to a question about Spidertack to know that the pitcher is guilty.
The ban of pitchers using sticky stuff to doctor balls came into effect on June 21st. Let’s look at Gerrit Cole’s pre-ban and post-ban numbers and then let’s look at Robbie Ray’s.
Gerrit Cole pre-ban numbers:
ERA of 2.31
FIP of 2.44
K/9 of 11.74
BB/9 of 1.20
89.2 innings pitched
Gerrit Cole post-ban numbers:
ERA of 4.12
FIP of 3.39
K/9 of 12.37
BB/9 of 2.85
91.2 innings pitched
Yikes. That is ugly no matter how you slice it. Let’s see Robbie Ray’s pre-ban and post-ban numbers.
Robbie Ray pre-ban numbers:
ERA of 3.50
FIP of 4.37
K/9 of 11.69
BB/9 of 2.41
74.2 innings pitched.
Note, before we look at Robbie Ray’s post-ban numbers, I would like to point out that while Ray’s FIP was painfully high, his xFIP was only 3.14. This was largely in part because of the amount of the 17 home runs he gave up in this span. It’s important to look at because xFIP factors in HR/FB%, which is the percentage of fly balls that go out for a home run.
During this span, Robbie Ray’s HR/FB% was an astronomical 23.3%, which means that the 3.14 xFIP was expecting for that particular stat to normalize (which it did).
Robbie Ray’s post-ban numbers:
ERA of 2.43
FIP of 3.26 (xFIP of 3.50, his HR/FB was 11.9%)
K/9 of 11.45
BB/9 of 2.50
118.2 innings pitched.
So yeah, while Gerrit Cole regressed post-ban, more than likely due to the use of Spidertack, Robbie Ray improved significantly. You can also see that Robbie Ray’s xFIP of 3.14 pre-ban was correct, as his HR/FB% normalized after the ban.
In their last games, they were both lit up:
I’m going to do something that you may or may not like, as I’ll be removing both of their last games where they were lit up against the other team. Yes, it’s making the sample size smaller, but it’s important to prove my point.
If you were to remove Ray’s last game (against the Yankees), his ERA plummets to 2.14 (from 2.43), FIP drops to 2.80 (from 3.26) and his BB/9 also drops to 2.38 (down from 2.50) while his K/9 increases to 11.67 (up from 11.45). His post-ban numbers are what you’d expect from a Cy Young winner, with or without the final game removed. The same cannot be said for the Yankee pitcher.
Now, let’s remove Gerrit Cole’s last game. He, like Ray, was lit up in the same series. Cole’s ERA drops to 3.89 (down from 4.12), his FIP drops to 3.24 (down from 3.39) and his K/9 increases to 12.61 (from 12.37). Oddly enough, hjs BB/9 also rises if you remove the last game.
The point I’m trying to make here is that while one bad game increased Robbie Ray’s ERA, FIP and BB/9, he still had solid numbers overall after the ban. If we look at post-ban numbers as an important metric, which in my belief it is, Robbie Ray has Cy Young numbers. Even if you don’t remove his last game. Gerrit Cole on the other hand, does not.
Who had more value:
If you’re a Jays fan reading this, let’s just have one more laugh at the expense of the Yankees. While this won’t determine the winner of the AL Cy Young, let’s look at the contract and what it took to bring in these two pitchers.
Robbie Ray, the eventual Cy Young winner, made a total of 8 million this season on a one year deal. Furthermore, in the trade that brought him to the Jays, Toronto only traded prospect Travis Bergen (who was later re-acquired for cash considerations.)
Gerrit Cole, who is 31, made 36 million and will continue to do so until 2028. That means that by the time his 36 million dollar contract ends, Gerrit Cole will be making 36 million as a 37 year old. This is already worrisome as we saw that he relied heavily on Spidertack, but it gets worse.
Even though Cole was acquired by the means of free agency, the cost to sign Cole was a second rounder. That means that the Yankees could very well be saddled with another awful contract.
Robbie Ray may never put up another season like this, it’s even possible he won’t even be pitching for the Jays. If that’s the case, the Jays will acquire a second-rounder for the services of a Cy Young winner. Even if the CBA changes and they don’t receive a pick for giving Ray a qualifying offer, at least the Jays won’t be saddled with a long contract to a pitcher that showed signs of regression.
To conclude, Gerrit Cole had a fantastic start to the season until the Spider tack ban, after which he was still a good pitcher, but not Cy Young worthy. Our beloved Blue Jay, Robbie Ray, on the other hand, actually improved after the ban as he continued to post Cy Young numbers.
Will Ray be re-signed? I sure hope so, but that’s currently up in the air. All I know is that cheating helped Cole while it didn’t impact Ray, and for me that points to Ray being the clear American League Cy Young winner.
As always, follow me @Brennan_L_D. This article was written based on a particular tweet. I wasn’t planning on writing a comparison article, but here we are. There are still plenty of articles in the works, so stay tuned.