With less than two weeks remaining in the 2016 Major League Baseball regular season, who is the favorite to win the American League Cy Young award?
He’s probably named Rick Porcello, and if he had an edge prior to his Monday night start against the Baltimore Orioles, then he’s got himself a far more significant advantage Tuesday morning.
Monday night, on the road, facing one of the scariest offenses in the majors, and the second place team in his own division, Rick Porcello went out and did his best Greg Maddux circa 1995 imitation.
It probably won’t shock anyone to learn that Maddux was the 1995 NL Cy Young winner. Porcello’s 2016 is not nearly as impressive as Maddux’s 1995 campaign. Monday night was about as close as Porcello will ever come to Maddux.
Porcello pitched all nine innings, 2 earned runs, 4 hits, 0 walks and 7 strikeouts and all of it in a neat-and-tidy 89 pitches.
That pitch total is the most Maddux-like number of the entire stat line.
Complete games are not nearly as common as they used to be. Chris Sale leads the majors with six, Steven Wright is tied for third with four complete games, and after Monday, Porcello is now tied with two former Cy Young winners, Corey Kluber and Clayton Kershaw for fourth in the majors with three complete games.
Complete games that are finished with under 90 pitches don’t happen very often. It takes a combination of control and the guts to pitch to contact that most pitchers simply don’t have. Greg Maddux threw three complete games of 90 pitches or less during his Cy Young winning 1995 season.
Everyone loves the strikeout but no matter how good a pitcher is, he’s got to throw a minimum three pitches to get a batter out via the K. Why not just let the batter make weak contact and retire him on less than three pitches?
A starting pitcher needs to have real confidence to want major league hitters to make contact but know that they’re likely to make weak contact that will result in an out.
That’s the type of starting pitcher Rick Porcello was Monday night.
It is worth noting that Porcello’s complete game of less than 90 pitches was the first of the season, and had not been accomplished since September 21, 2015 when Jeff Samardzija needed only 88 pitches to shut out the Detroit Tigers 2-0.
Porcello is not Greg Maddux, but he’s certainly in the midst of what may very well end up as a Cy Young winning season.
His 3.08 ERA is third best in the league. Normally an ERA over 3.00 would not be good enough to win the Cy Young award. This season’s current ERA leader is Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees and his 2.97 ERA is only marginally better than Porcello’s.
Porcello has a 21-4 record, the 21 wins lead all of major league baseball. With two starts left in the season, Porcello has a shot at finishing 23-4. That would be the most in the majors since Justin Verlander won 24 back in 2011. It would be the most for a Red Sox starter since Pedro Martinez finished the 1999 season with a record of 23-4.
Porcello leads the AL in whip ratio at 0.98, that mark is largely a product of the fact that Porcello has only issued 29 free passes all season, which comes out to less than one per start. Porcello is not a prolific strikeout pitcher. His 174 K’s place him 9th in the AL and he’s 49 K’s behind league leader Justin Verlander and his 223 K’s. It is worth noting that Porcello’s exceptional command of the strike zone means he leads the AL in strikeouts-to-walks ratio, striking out six batters for every one walk issued.
Finally there’s the issue of momentum, and finishing strong. Porcello is on a streak of 11 straight starts in which he’s pitched at least seven innings and given up no more than three earned runs. That streak dates back to July 24th against the Twins.
Following Monday night’s masterpiece, Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe tweeted out that a streak of that magnitude had not been accomplished by a Red Sox starter since Pedro back in 2000.
There are a lot of reasons why leading the league in wins should not dictate the outcome of the Cy Young race, there’s also a lot of evidence that wining over 20 games helps a pitcher out when the votes are tallied and winning 23 games seems to make a Cy Young award a near-lock for a starter.
If Rick Porcello is anywhere near as good as he was Monday over his final two starts it will be very tough for voters to deny him the AL Cy Young award, but not quite as tough as it was for the Orioles to get their offense going against him Monday night.