With the MLB regular season over and the playoffs now underway, the baseball world is fast approaching the most contentious time of the year: award season. As the talking heads duke it out over who deserves which award, Chicago White Sox left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodón’s bid for the American League Cy Young award is unfortunately getting overlooked.
After a lackluster second half of the regular season by New York Yankees right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole culminated in a poor outing against the Boston Red Sox in the AL Wild Card game, Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Robbie Ray emerged as the favorite to win the AL Cy Young. However, Ray’s candidacy rests primarily on accumulating counting stats gained with over 60 more innings pitched than Rodón during the regular season. Given that this disparity is primarily the result of Rodón’s tumultuous injury history rearing its ugly head down the stretch, the south side southpaw can hardly be blamed.
Put simply, on a per-inning basis, Rodón is statistically better than Ray. Since most statistical leaderboards exclude Rodón due his lack of innings pitched and the general emphasis that most leaderboards place on counting stats, the difference is a bit hard to find. But with a little digging, it’s not difficult to see just how much better a season Rodón had than Ray.
For starters, Rodón’s ERA is almost half a run better than Ray’s at 2.37 and 2.84, respectively. Delving deeper into the runs against stats, when it comes to fielding independent pitching (FIP), a statistic that compares a pitcher’s ERA based only on plays like home runs and strikeouts in which the ball is not fielded to the league average, Rodón bests Ray by just over one run at 2.65 and 3.69, respectively while also beating out the official AL leader in FIP, Boston Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, by 0.14.
Similarly, in an age that emphasizes home runs and strikeouts, Rodón is among the best at preventing the former and maximizing the latter. His 0.9 home runs allowed per nine innings sits third in the American League behind Houston Astros right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. and Eovaldi, while his 12.6 strikeouts per nine ousts Chicago White Sox righty Dylan Cease’s league-leading figure of 12.3.
While most strikeout artists focus on swing-and-miss stuff and consequently give up frequent walks, Rodón is again among the best in the business when it comes to strikeouts per walk. In this category, Rodón again takes third place, this time behind Cole and Eovaldi. Rodón’s 0.957 walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) would push Ray out of the AL lead in that category if Rodón met the requirement for innings pitched.
Despite all these statistics supporting Rodón’s AL Cy Young bid, critics attribute a lack of competition in the AL Central to a large part of Rodón’s success. However, his ERA+ suggests otherwise. Like FIP, ERA+ adjusts a pitcher’s ERA to the run-scoring environment, such as Fenway Park’s Green Monster or the Coors effect, and compares it to the league average. Once again, Rodón comes out on top in this regard, as his ERA+ of 183 not only indicates that his ERA is an eye-popping 83% better than the league average but also blows Ray’s league-leading ERA+ of 154 out of the proverbial water.
In a prime example of recency bias, Rodón’s success and Ray’s mediocre performances in the first half of the season are being unfairly overlooked compared to Ray’s late-season resurgence and Rodón’s injury struggles. The MLB Pack Pro threw a no-hitter in April, and could have thrown a perfect game if Cleveland catcher Roberto Pérez had not let a back-foot slider clip his toe so that Rodón ended up with a “toe-hitter.” Although Ray’s second half ERA of 2.53 is indeed impressive, Rodón’s second-half figure of 2.51 during that time still bests Ray’s better half of the season.
The ultimate prize for major league pitchers is the Cy Young award. For an award that recognizes the best pitcher in the American League, Rodón’s superior numbers on a per-inning basis significantly bolsters his bid to win his first career Cy Young.
Alas, in all likelihood, Rodón’s lack of traditionally valued counting stats will most likely force him to settle for American League Comeback Player of the Year, if that can even be called settling. The southpaw overcame multiple major injuries to his pitching arm to put up his best season yet by far; he was finally able to live up to his expectations as the third overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft.
For a 28-year-old left-hander with a significant history of arm injuries, Comeback Player of the Year isn’t too shabby.