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Can Any White Sox Win The AL Cy Young?

by Adam Kaplan

I know this is probably painful to hear to many White Sox fans, but New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole is the favorite to win the AL Cy Young this year. Sure, playing for the New York Yankees most likely helps his chances in the eyes of voters and has contributed to his hype train, but it is not as if the award isn’t well deserved.

As of this writing, among qualified pitchers, Cole currently leads the AL in fWAR (5.4), K/9 (12.32), and K/BB (6.05), and is second to Toronto Blue Jay Robbie Ray in total strikeouts (224). Cole’s FIP (2.63) leads the American League which pairs nicely with his low 2.75 ERA, good for second overall. Quite frankly, Gerrit Cole is in the midst of an excellent 2021 campaign.

With all of that being said, some White Sox pitchers had some excellent 2021 campaigns in their own right. I am going to explore some of those campaigns and see if maybe, just maybe, they can actually be good enough to knock off Cole as the favorite:

Lucas Giolito

Likelihood of Winning the AL Cy Young: Unfortunately, not very high

Did you know that Lucas Giolito was the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018? Well, I just reminded you and it was me alone. Nothing else. Since 2018, Gio has been quite good, ultimately earning Cy Young votes in 2019 and 2020. He seemed to be turning a corner into a bona fide ace coming into the 2021 season, with many oddsmakers giving him around the third-best odds in the AL to win the Cy Young. While Giolito has still been very good overall this year, I’m doubtful he’s going to get any votes. Among qualified starters, Gio is 7th in fWAR (3.3), 8th in ERA (3.69), 11th in FIP (3.95), 4th in K/9 (10.42), and 8th in K/BB (3.84). He’s been better in the second half of the season posting a 2.82 ERA with a 3.64 FIP and 55 strikeouts in 54.1 IP (before his 10-day IL stint), but still not good enough to get Cy Young votes.

Dylan Cease

Likelihood of Winning the AL Cy Young: Gonna get some votes

During the 108Fest held in January of this year, the From The 108 guys had a plethora of stars from White Sox Twitter, including our own Editor-In-Chief Jordan Lazowski, to talk about the upcoming season. When asked what his bold prediction for the season was, Laz stated that Dylan Cease was going to get Cy Young votes (though this prediction was stolen earlier on in the podcast by Matt Zawaski as well). This was said during the same show where Rick Giolito, The Most Interesting Man in the World and father of Sox stud Lucas, stated that Lucas told him that Dylan Cease had the best stuff that Lucas had ever seen. Well, as the 2021 season comes to a close, I feel pretty confident that Laz’s bold prediction will come true and that Dylan Cease will earn Cy Young votes. Among qualified pitchers in the AL, Cease is 5th in fWAR (3.5), 2nd in K/9 (12.01), 3rd in total strikeouts (202), and 7th in FIP (3.66).

Now obviously Dylan Cease is not going to win the AL Cy Young. His ERA is 13th among qualified pitchers at 4.22 and has the second-worst BB/9 among qualified pitchers at 3.81. Dylan Cease is good and has proven to be worthy of the Sox 4th starter come playoff time, but he’s not winning the AL Cy Young this year. However, he is probably going to get some votes, and that’s a good start.

Liam Hendriks

Likelihood of Winning the AL Cy Young: So… you’re telling me there’s a chance?

Liam Hendriks has arguably been the best reliever in the American League this year. Hendriks leads the AL among qualified relievers in saves (34), total strikeouts (98), and K/BB (14.00), and is 4th in K/9 (14.00) and t-3rd in fWAR (2.0). There is a good chance you’re going to get Cy Young votes being the best closer in the league. In 2020, Hendriks (who again was the best reliever in the AL) received a 4th and a 5th place vote.

Listen, I know Liam Hendriks isn’t going to win the AL Cy Young because relief pitchers almost never win them. The last one to win a Cy Young was Eric Gagne for the Dodgers in 2003 – and he did so with 55 saves, 137 strikeouts, and a 1.20 ERA. But I do think the Aussie is going to get some votes, and that’s why I mention him. If 2021 was a year where there was not a favorite, then MAYBE Hendriks could sneak in. But Gerrit Cole is the clear-cut favorite this year and as great of a season as Hendriks has had, it’s not Cy Young worthy (and frankly that’s quite all right).

Dallas Keuchel

Likelihood of Winning the AL Cy Young:

Sorry, I can’t do this. Even as a joke. Dallas Keuchel has been awful this year. Though he might win a Gold Glove, so yay?

Carlos Rodón

Likelihood of Winning AL Cy Young: High – there’s been a lack of respect for a deserving frontrunner

Now we get to the meat and potatoes section of this article, the guys who do have a legitimate chance to win the AL Cy Young.

Let’s do a player comparison:

Player A: 2.38 ERA / 2.69 xERA / 2.68 FIP / 12.63 K/9 / .037 fWAR/IP
Player B: 2.75 ERA / 2.89 xERA / 2.63 FIP / 12.32 K/9 / .033 fWAR/IP

In this comparison, Player A is Carlos Rodón and Player B is Gerrit Cole. When you frame the argument like this, Rodón certainly seems like he has a legitimate shot to win the Cy Young, doesn’t he?

The Sox southpaw has been nothing short of incredible this season. He defied expectations, while finally living up to his reputation. Among pitchers in the AL with at least 100 IP, Rodón has the very best ERA (2.38) and K/9 (12.63) and has the 3rd best fWAR (4.6). I actually do think that if you look at who has been the best pitcher when on the mound, Carlos Rodón is better than Gerrit Cole. Yes, I’m obviously biased, but look at the fWAR per innings pitched above. When Rodón is on the bump, he’s been the (slightly) better pitcher.

However, Rodón’s biggest impediment to winning the AL Cy Young is that he often is not on the bump, especially compared to guys like Gerrit Cole and Robbie Ray. Rodón has 124 2/3 innings pitched, which is not enough to be considered a Qualified Pitcher. Yes, he’s missed some time, but he has also consistently only pitched 5 innings or less this year. Out of Rodón’s 22 starts, he’s pitched 5 innings or less in 11 of them. I get that a lot of that has to do with keeping him healthy for the playoffs- Rodón’s last four starts were all exactly 5 innings- but if the stats between Rodón and Cole (and even Ray) are already close as is, then innings pitched matters.

At the end of the day, actually pitching well and pitching deep into games is all that counts. If I were a voter, I would give my first-place vote to Rodón (though I’m also a massive homer), but I think the innings pitched will matter to voters who I think are more likely to give their votes to Gerrit Cole and Robbie Ray than to Carlos Rodón.

Lance Lynn

Likelihood of Winning AL Cy Young: Guaranteed finalist

I think Carlos Rodón has been the better pitcher this year for the White Sox, but I’m giving Lynn the slightest edge to realistically win the AL Cy Young just because he’s a respected and proven veteran, and I think that matters a lot in the mind of voters. Not that Lynn doesn’t deserve votes and respect in his own right based on merit, but I think if a long-time Baseball Person™ is going to give only one pitcher on the Sox respect, it’s going to be Lynn. According to a recent Baseball America article, a handful of Managers, Scouts, and Executives (basically Baseball People™) were asked to give their thoughts on the Best ____  in the league, and they voted Lance Lynn as the Best Pitcher in the AL – above both Cole and Ray.

However, Lance Lynn has a lot of the same issues that Carlos Rodón does- he has very good numbers, but still not quite as good as Cole, he also doesn’t have enough innings pitched to be considered a Qualified Pitcher, and unfortunately, I think Lynn and Rodón are going to cannibalize votes away from each other even if a voter did want to award a Sox pitcher over Cole. Further, Lynn’s past few starts have put in a dent in what was basically the argument that Rodón has now. Lynn’s ERA is still excellent; it’s 2.50 which is the best in the AL with the exception of his lefty teammate among pitchers with at least 100 innings, but he was first for the longest time. Additionally, Lynn doesn’t have terribly good rate stats on his side; he’s 13th in K/9 (10.30) and 15th in K/BB (3.83) among AL pitchers with at least 100 innings.

The White Sox arguably have the best rotation in the American League, led by Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodón, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease. Per Fangraphs, the Pale Hose lead the AL in WAR among pitchers (22.7) and K/9 (10.24). The team has plenty of pitchers that will earn some well-deserved Cy Young votes. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone has or will get to the point where they overtake Gerrit Cole as the Cy Young favorite.

If I had to guess right now how the Top 3 in voting will shake out, I would say Gerrit Cole wins it, Robbie Ray is the first runner up, and Lance Lynn gets the third most votes.  I guess the White Sox pitchers will just have to settle for 2021 World Series champions instead.

Thoughts on the Cy Young race? Drop your comments below!

Featured Photo: Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) / Twitter

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