Gerrit Cole’s Path to the AL Cy Young (A Realistic Hypothetical):
The Yankees control the fate of the AL Cy Young. With Gerrit Cole set to go on the mound tonight and his main competitor (Robbie Ray) set to go tomorrow, the Yankees are in a great position to help one of their players win a major award for the first time since Alex Rodriguez in 2007 (and first pitcher since Roger Clemens in 2001).
This is what Cole and the Yankees are going to need to do tonight and tomorrow to bring back the hardware.
Looking at the Stats:
Gerrit Cole’s biggest competitor for the AL Cy Young is a breakout (or, depending how you see it, fluke year) star, Robbie Ray who pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays. As luck would have it, they both are going to pitch against the opposing pitchers’ teams over tonight (Cole vs. Blue Jays) and tomorrow (Ray vs. Yankees), of which is also likely be each player’s final games of the regular season. Before that, let’s quickly compare the two pitchers 2021 seasons to each other: (Bold stats are AL Leading for Pitchers, Bold & Italic stats are MLB Leading for Pitchers)
Gerrit Cole (NYY): 29 Games Started, 16-8 Record, 3.08 ERA (139 ERA+, 2.82 FIP), 175.1 IP, 237 Strikeouts (12.2 K/9), 1.044 WHIP, 5.7 bWAR, 5.3 fWAR (Tied with Nathan Eovaldi)
Robbie Ray (TOR): 31 Games Started, 13-6 Record, 2.68 ERA (163 ERA+, 3.41 FIP), 188.0 IP, 244 Strikeouts (11.7 K/9), 1.037 WHIP, 6.9 bWAR, 4.4 fWAR
Across these stats, it would appear that Robbie Ray has a clear edge on Gerrit Cole as he has many more standard metrics leading all American League pitchers. However, it is much closer than it would otherwise appear. Ray has much more volatility in his numbers as can be seen by the difference in bWAR (6.9) and fWAR (4.4), as well as his massive difference in ERA (2.68) and xERA (3.41), meanwhile Cole is more consistent with very similar bWAR/fWAR figures (5.7 and 5.3, respectively) and a much better ERA (3.08) to xERA (3.05).
What also supports the notion that these two are closer than they may seem is how they each fare in the Cy Young Predictor, or “CYP” (a metric created by Bill James and Rob Neyer). It is calculated using the following formula:
CYP = ((5*IP/9)-ER) + (SO/12) + (SV*2.5) + Shutouts + ((W*6)-(L*2)) + VB
We can then map this out for each player to get their score.
CYP(Cole) = ((5 * (175.3/9)) – 60) + (237/12) + (0 * 2.5) + 1 + ((16*6) – (8*2)) + 0 = 138.2
CYP(Ray) = ((5 * (188.0/9)) – 56) + (244/12) + (0 * 2.5) + 0 + ((13*6) – (6*2)) + 0 = 134.8
Note: VB stands for Victory Bonus, which is a 12 point addition if on a team that led their respective division. Neither Cole nor Ray have these 12 points added to their CYP score.
What Gerrit Cole Can Do:
The numbers that are most unfavorable towards Gerrit Cole in his competition against Robbie Ray are his ERA, Strikeouts, and WHIP. Luckily, the gap for each can be shrunk (or beaten) over the next two days to take away some of those AL-leading metrics from Ray.
While it will be practically impossible for Cole to reach an ERA below 2.75 (unless he pitched a 20-inning shutout), Gerrit Cole does have a realistic chance of getting his ERA below 3. At the minimum, Gerrit Cole will need to pitch 5.1 scoreless innings tonight (bringing his ERA to 2.99; both 4.2 and 5 innings bring him to an ERA rounded to 3.00). With a 9-inning complete game shutout, Cole could bring his ERA down to 2.93. Realistically, Cole should be able to get his ERA between those two figures, so let’s say he pitches 7.2 scoreless tonight to end the regular season with a 2.95 ERA.
Next, we can help Cole take over the American League lead for strikeouts. Currently, he is 7 behind Ray which will be a hard number to overcome (though, not impossible). Given Cole’s K/9 of 12.2, if he pitched those 7.2 scoreless innings at the same rate we can postulate that Cole will also throw 10 strikeouts, giving him 247 to end the season. Could he pitch to 13 strikeouts and end the season with 250 (and a K/9 of 12.3)? Yes.
Why do I say this? Well, Gerrit Cole pitched a very similar game to the one that I am highlighting when he pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays (8 IP, 0 R, 12 K) earlier this season on May 12th. In our hypothetical game tonight, Cole’s current pitching line would look like: 7.2 IP, 0 R, 13 K.
Finally, we need to get Cole to the top pitcher in the American League in WHIP. With 142 hits allowed and 41 walks this season (in 175.1 innings), Cole has a WHIP of 1.044. Can we get Cole to a WHIP under 1.000 given the standards above? No. Even with a perfect 7.2 innings of work, Cole would end the season with a WHIP of 1.001. Though, with a much more realistic combined 4 hits and walks allowed over 7.2 innings of work (he had 4 H, 0 BB in that May 12th game), Cole would finish the year with a WHIP of 1.028. Final pitching line tonight: 7.2 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 0 BB, 13 K’s.
A great game to finish his season on. (We’re also going to assume the Yankees won the game, cementing Cole’s AL-leading pitcher wins at 17.)
But how much (at a minimum) damage would the Yankees bats need to do to Robbie Ray to keep him away from Cole?
The Yankees Offense:
In trying to make this a possible scenario, I’m not going to say that the Yankees offense hits Robbie Ray for 8 runs before he can record an out and he leaves the game in the 1st. Instead- as I did with Cole- I’m going to try and find a game the Ray pitched from earlier this year and use that as a template. Luckily, we have the perfect game to use: May 27th.
On May 27th, Robbie Ray pitched to a pitching line of: 4.2 IP, 5 R (4 ER), 5 H, 2 BB, 5 K’s while getting the loss.
With an exact replication of this game, Robbie Ray would see his numbers change as follows:
Robbie Ray (Current): 2.68 ERA, 244 Strikeouts, 1.037 WHIP
Robbie Ray (If Replicating 5/27): 2.80 ERA, 249 Strikeouts, 1.048 WHIP
If Cole can pitch a very similar game like he pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Yankees offense can light-up Robbie Ray exactly as they did back in May, this would- in my opinion- cement Gerrit Cole’s winning his first ever Cy Young award.
Going back to the statistics we looked at before, let’s see how these two hypothetical games changes the picture (not counting advanced metrics and assuming no other AL pitcher takes the lead in a stat held by either Cole or Ray):
Gerrit Cole (NYY): 30 Games Started, 17-8 Record, 2.95 ERA, 183.0 IP, 250 Strikeouts, 1.028 WHIP
Robbie Ray (TOR): 32 Games Started, 13-8 Record, 2.80 ERA, 192.2 IP, 249 Strikeouts, 1.048 WHIP
It looks a lot better for Cole when it looks like this.
Just for Fun (Some Math):
This is how that game (7.2 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 13 K) would affect Gerrit Cole’s CYP:
CYP(Cole) = ((5 * (183/9)) – 60) + (250/12) + (0 * 2.5) + 1 + ((17*6) – (8*2)) + 0 = 149.5
This is how that game (4.2 IP, 5 R (4 ER), 5 H, 2 BB, 5 K) would affect Robbie Ray’s CYP:
CYP(Ray) = ((5 * (192.6/9)) – 60) + (249/12) + (0 * 2.5) + 1 + ((13*6) – (7*2)) + 0 = 132.8