Dark Horse Cy Young Candidates

Updated: April 12, 2015
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Each year, you hear about players that will dominate opposing hitters and be front-runners for the Cy Young Award. Players such as Adam Wainwright, Felix Hernandez, and Clayton Kershaw always seem to lead these discussions before the season even starts. However, last year, we saw Corey Kluber take home the AL Cy Young Award as a dark horse candidate who wasn’t on anyone’s radar during Spring Training.

Kluber worked stealthily through the entire 2014 season and started pulling ahead of the competition toward the end of the year, when we saw numerous double-digit strikeout performances — including three complete games and one complete-game shutout where he only needed 85 pitches to get through the entire game. His dominance reminded us that you don’t necessarily need to be an “ace” at the beginning of the season, to be one when the season’s all over with.

To have a little fun with the 2015 season, I’ve decided to compile a list of “dark horse” Cy Young candidates, from both the National League and American League, that could definitely find themselves in contention by the end of the year.

  1. Jake Odorizzi – Odorizzi is a player that has interested me since last season. I’ve been watching this kid closely and although he hasn’t looked absolutely dominant every start out, the potential is certainly there. Odorizzi uses a three-pitch arsenal to control and confuse batters. He has a low 90s fastball, a slider that he throws around 84-87 mph and a pitch that he calls “The Thing,” which is intended to “clean up messes.” Odorizzi is on record as saying it’s supposed to act as a changeup, but could be classified as a splitter, which is what makes the pitch so unique. It’s essentially a changeup with the grip that you’d use to throw a splitter and is specifically used to garner strikes. All Odorizzi has to do is perfect “The Thing” and he could definitely work his way up the ranks this year to impress and surprise a lot of people.
  2. Carlos Carrasco – A fastball that peaks at 98 mph, a changeup that’s thrown around 87 mph on average and a slider that can be thrown in the high 80s and low 90s, makes a deadly combination, especially when combined with a pitcher that knows how to command the strike zone. In 2013, Carrasco posted a 6.75 ERA through seven official starts for the Cleveland Indians, which brought him back to a relief role in 2014, momentarily. One thing he’s always had? Potential. His potential finally shone through in 2014, where he posted an impressive 2.55 ERA, while posting a 9.4 K/9 ratio through 40 games. Already off to an impressive start to 2015, Carrasco needs to put together more outings like his last one if he hopes to replicate a “Kluber-esque” type of year.
  3. Tyson Ross – Everyone’s ranting and raving over the arrival of James Shields in San Diego, saying they finally received the ace they truly needed. I honestly think people have been overlooking Ross in a major way. In three of the last four years, Ross has posted an ERA of 2.75, 3.17 and 2.81. Why he’s been overlooked? He practically puts all his faith into two pitches; his fastball, which he threw 55 percent of the time in 2014, and his slider, which was thrown 41 percent of the time. Ross found success from throwing two different pitches last season 96 percent of the time. That’s just unheard of. Let’s get down to brass tax. In 2014, two pitchers met the following thresholds: 195 innings pitched, 8.9 K/9, had a 50 percent ground-ball rate, a 12 percent swinging-strike rate and allowed less than 0.6 HR/9. Those pitchers were Ross and Kershaw. It may be a pretty specific sample, but it’s an impressive one. In fact, Ross’ 57 percent ground-ball rate was the second best in the league to only Dallas Kuechel. Also, according to fangraphs.com, there have been only three pitchers since 2013 to post a greater swinging strike rate than Ross at 11.9 percent. Only Francisco Liriano (13.4 percent), Kershaw (12.6 percent) and Cole Hamels (12 percent) have surpassed it. It may be “bold” to choose someone like Ross as a dark horse candidate when you have Kershaw, Wainwright and Johnny Cueto pitching in the National League, but I believe Ross is headed in the right direction.
  4. Matt Harvey – Can Harvey really be classified as a “dark horse” for 2015? He’s practically a household name with baseball fans, right? Harvey ended up missing the entire season in 2014 after being diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow that required Tommy John surgery. The New York Mets are also looking to limit his innings to 180-190 this year, which doesn’t really scream “award-winning year.” In 37 career starts, Harvey boasts a 2.33 ERA and a 10.0 K/9 through 243.2 innings; his first start of 2015 was just as impressive. He ended up shutting out the Washington Nationals through six innings, while also striking out nine on the evening, including Bryce Harper three consecutive times. Harvey relied heavily on his fastball, which he threw consistently at 96 mph and ended up touching 99 mph twice. In fact, when Harper was interviewed Monday after the performance, he was asked what he had expected from Harvey. Harper simply replied, “Cy Young. That guy is one of the best guys in the league.”
  5. Julio Teheran – Teheran isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill strikeout pitcher; he’s not going to blow a fastball by you or touch 90 mph with his slider. However, what he will do, is frustrate you. He throws his fastball, which is usually thrown around 91 mph on average, 60-65 percent of the time. Teheran’s second pitch would most likely be his slider. From 91 mph to 79 mph real quick, Teheran keeps opposing batters on their toes. Personally, I think batters are more prepared to face a guy that throws harder, because it seems like a rising trend in baseball. We’re seeing a lot of hard throwers coming up from the minors, such as Harvey and Aroldis Chapman, that look to blow fastballs or 90 mph off-speed pitches by opponents, which makes it even harder to face Teheran. The combination of movement and control this kid displays every time he pitches is what makes him truly dominant. If the Braves’ lineup can provide enough run support to make him, and themselves, relevant in the National League, he may be able to throw his hat into the ring.

In order to have a little more fun with this list, I decided to include a few “dark horse” picks from my fellow colleagues:

Dedrick Hendrix: Sonny Gray – During the offseason, eyebrows were raised at the moves Billy Beane decided to make. These moves essentially sold off the team’s best hitting assets for a bunch of mid-level guys and prospects. Partially, in hopes to rebuild the farm after giving away Addison Russell and Billy McKinney for a playoff push in ’14. This is what Dedrick had to say about his dark horse pick. “The A’s lineup will be better than people think. Zobrist, Butler, and Davis were great additions. It gives Gray run support to go with the dominance he showed last season.” He has a point; Although the strikeout rate saw a drop, while outs by ground-balls saw a rise, Gray shows great command on the mound and has the ability to pitch late into games. It’s this same dominance that allowed Gray to pitch two complete game shutouts last season, while also logging at least 7 IP in 17 of his 33 starts.

Jeremiah Martinez: Scott Kazmir – When asking about Jeremiah’s choice, a few names were thrown around. Dallas Keuchel and Andrew Cashner are two of those names. While they’ve both got the potential to make a run at the prestigious award, I decided to keep the trend going and input the Oakland starter. Kazmir’s making a good first impression, too. So far this season, he’s helped the Athletics move into first place with a 4-4 record. To start the season, Kazmir’s racked up wins against the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, two divisional opponents. He’s started out 2-0, with 18 strikeouts, and a 0.69 ERA, which is arguably the most impressive stat line of the season so far. It’s hard to think, “Cy Young” when you’re two games into a season. But, we’re going to do it anyway.

Emily Gruver: Aaron Harang – Yes, you heard correctly. What started off as an innocent joke, turned into an actual representation of a “dark horse” pick, even if it’s so dark, we officially can’t see where we’re going.

But, to shed some light on Harang this season, let’s take a look at what he’s done so far: 1-1, with a 9:3 K:BB ratio, and a 0.73 ERA. Well, we can officially say he has more wins, to this point, than Cole Hamels. That’s something, right? In all seriousness, Harang may have had the worst year of his career in Seattle, finishing with a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts. However, it apparently looks like he may have found his stride after spending a year in Atlanta, where he astounded everyone with his 12-12 record and 3.57 ERA across 204 IP; the first time he’s finished with 200+ IP since 2007. Let’s not forget that 2007 had Harang finishing 4th in Cy Young voting, meaning, he has been in contention before. While he may be the darkest horse on this list, he was definitely the most fun to write about.

Here’s to a fun season in 2015! Let’s shock the world.


Photo Credit: (Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America)

Alex Cole

Alex is a 23-year-old MLB writer from Phoenix, Arizona. He’s a fan of the Phoenix Suns in the NBA and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL. You can contact Alex via email at ACole331133@yahoo.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @AlexColeMLBMiLB.

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