Astros’ Justin Verlander Finishes Strong, Deserves AL Cy Young Award

With the regular season in the books, it’s time for postseason fun on the field, and player and team award season in this space. I’ve been tracking the major award races in both leagues all season, and now I’ll give my take on who should win the hardware. Later this month, I’ll also post my team true-talent rankings. All of this is based on my batted-ball based metrics – I’ve still got some league context tweaks to make to the runs above average totals, but the ordering of players will not change. Today, the AL Cy Young race.

The mainstream baseball media has been in Justin Verlander’s corner all season, and in the end they were right. The Rays’ Shane McClanahan led in my metric for most of the season, and with he and Verlander on the shelf at one point, it was the White Sox’ Dylan Cease’s to lose. Well, he faded a bit at the end, and Verlander came back guns a blazin’. Shohei Ohtani also finished strong and was in the mix.

A quick refresher on the method utilized. I take all batted balls allowed by qualifying starting pitchers and apply league average production rates for each exit speed/launch angle bucket. Then I add back the Ks and BBs to determine each pitcher’s “Tru” ERA-, my proxy for ERA-/FIP-. Then that figure is spread across each pitcher’s innings bulk, and the hurlers are ranked by “Tru” Pitching Runs Above Average (TPRAA).

Here we go……the Top Five plus four Honorable Mentions:


The Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah (17.0 TPRAA) ran hot early, hit a fallow period in late summer before picking up the pace again in September. Only Dylan Cease posted a better Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score than Manoah’s 70, and no AL ERA qualifier had a lower average liner exit speed allowed than his 90.0 MPH. Many ERA estimators thought more highly of Manoah’s teammate, Kevin Gausman (15.9 TPRAA), this season. The big righty’s K/BB profile was without peer in the AL, but his tendency to allow squared-up contact (his 24.6% liner rate allowed was the highest among AL qualifiers) is a limiting factor.

The Astros’ Framber Valdez (13.9 TPRAA) is fairly unique, to say the least. How does a negative 3.9 degree launch angle grab you? He did fade a bit down the stretch, finishing 5th in the AL with an 88 Adjusted Contact Score after leading for most of the season. While he induces scads of grounders, he allows quite authoritative contact across all batted ball types. The Guardians’ Triston McKenzie (13.2 TPRAA) is a name to write down for the future. The long, lean righty posted the 2nd highest pop up rate among AL qualifiers (6.8%) behind only Verlander. Of course, he also allowed the highest fly ball rate (42.1%), so there is risk and reward in the profile. Max Scherzer’s profile wasn’t all that different in his younger days, and he turned out OK.


#5 – RHP Gerrit Cole (Yankees) – 76 “Tru” ERA-, 20.8 “Tru” Pitching Runs Above Average (TPRAA)

Cole faded a bit down the stretch, but gets points for his extreme durability and superior K/BB profile. His big problem – allowing hard contact in the air. His 138 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score was the highest among AL qualifiers, just above Valdez’ 136. That’s a bigger deal than it seems, as Valdez allowed 81 fly balls ALL SEASON, just over half of Cole’s total of 153. He’s never been a particularly good contact manager – his 2022 overall Adjusted Contact Score of 108 is right at home on his career record.

#4 – LHP Shane McClanahan (Rays) – 70 “Tru” ERA-, 21.5 TPRAA

A pretty big fade down the stretch for the young Rays’ lefty, due both to injury and ineffectiveness. He was my AL Cy leader for almost the entire season, but winds up 4th. Qualititatively, he’s right there in the mix with anyone, but he wound up barely qualifying for the ERA title with 166 1/3 innings. His actual numbers were measurably better than they “should have” been, as hitters batted only .534 AVG-.659 SLG on line drives (68 Unadjusted Liner Contact Score), but projected to bat .649 AVG-.800 SLG (100 Adjusted) based on exit speed data. His ceiling is quite high moving forward.

#3 – RHP Shohei Ohtani (Angels) – 67 “Tru” ERA-, 23.6 TPRAA

He almost pulled this off. But take a step back and consider that this guy, with an everyday workload shared by exactly zero other major leaguers, got STRONGER as the season wore on and actually racked up the requisite innings to qualify for the ERA title for the first time. That’s worth some sort of special award by itself. Qualitatively, he was almost Verlander’s equal. Ohtani now has no weaknesses as a pitcher – he doesn’t just blow hitters away, he manages contact at a slightly above average level across all batted ball types. He actually seems capable of getting even better, if that’s possible.

#2 – RHP Dylan Cease (White Sox) – 69 “Tru” ERA-, 24.6 TPRAA

A handful of so-so starts at the end places Cease in the runner-up position. He’ll have to settle for the 2022 AL Contact Manager of the Year Award – his 79 Adjusted Contact Score led the pack. His upside is virtually limitless – he misses tons of bats, and no AL qualifier managed fly ball contact better than Cease (66 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score). His only weakness is a glaring one – control. His 10.4% walk rate was by far the highest among AL qualifiers – even an average mark and he’d be in line for the Cy.

#1 – RHP Justin Verlander (Astros) – 66 “Tru” ERA-, 25.7 TPRAA

I haven’t worked it out to that level of detail, but Verlander likely put himself over the top with his five no-hit innings against the Phillies in his last start of the season earlier this week. Verlander will likely win this award in a rout – but he probably shouldn’t. He had extremely good fortune on both fly balls (52 Unadjusted vs. 89 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score) and liners (69 vs. 102). Exactly how on earth could any pitcher allow doubles on only 3.4% of his liners allowed, like Verlander did this season (MLB average was 14.6%)? No matter – he’s a freak of nature who has always had great stuff, and now pairs it with impeccable command and a healthy dose of veteran moxie. He actually finished 2nd behind Cease in the Contact Manager of the Year race with an 86 Adjusted Contact Score.

Next week, among other things, we’ll check in on the NL Cy Young race. There’s a senior circuit hurler who had a better season than any starter in either league – and has a losing record to show for it.