When the 2021 MLB season began, New York Yankees right-hander Gerrit Cole, the highest-paid pitcher in MLB history, was the betting favorite to win his first Cy Young Award. Cole had a good season but not good enough for the hardware, but he’s a +475 favorite to win the 2022 AL Cy Young.
Cole went 16-8 with two complete games and a 3.23 ERA (181.1IP, 151H, 69R/65ER, 41BB, 243K, 24HR) in 30 starts during the 2021 regular season. He ranked third in the Majors in strikeouts (243, second in AL), K/9.0IP (12.06, second in AL) and K/BB (5.93, first in AL), tied for third in wins (16, first in AL) and sixth in WAR among pitchers (5.3 – FanGraphs, second in AL). He was second in the AL in WHIP (1.06) third in ERA (3.23) and fifth in BB/9.0IP (2.03). He finished second to Toronto’s Robbie Ray for the AL Cy Young.
The Yankees gave Cole the start in the Wild-Card game vs. Boston. It was his fifth career “winner-take-all” start, matching Roger Clemens (five) for the most in Major League history. Alas, Cole was a but as he recorded only six outs, giving up three runs as the Yankees were eliminated. Cole’s stuff and velocity mostly looked fine, but his command was off. He hung a changeup to Xander Bogaerts in the first inning with a runner on and watched the shortstop put it over the center field wall.
Then, to lead off the third inning, Kyle Schwarber guessed fastball and tomahawked one up in his eyes over the bullpen in right field. Enrique Hernandez followed with an infield single and then Cole walked Rafael Devers and that was the end of his night. It was just the third time in Cole’s career and the first time since 2016 that he’s lasted only two innings in a start.
Cole is in wait-and-see mode about just how much he’ll be built up by April 7 — though he made it clear his intent is to be on the mound on Opening Day also against the Red Sox. Over the course of his career, Cole has a 2.63 ERA and holds opponents to an OPS of .587 in March and April — both the best numbers of any month(s) of the season.
“That’s what I have in mind,’’ Cole. “My focal point is to pitch the opener.”
Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, the 2020 AL Cy Young winner, is the +750 second favorite. The 26-year-old finished the 2021 campaign going 7-4 in 16 games/starts. He was on the injured list from June 14 until being activated on Sept. 24 with a right shoulder sub scapularis strain. After being activated on Sept. 24, the right-hander made 2 starts/appearances, going 0-0 with a 1.50 ERA (1ER/6.0IP) and a .182 average against (4-for-22).
Despite the injury, Bieber still logged the 2nd-most strikeouts (134 SO) and 5th-most innings pitched for Cleveland in 2021 (96.2IP) and made the 6th-most starts (16). He boasted lowest opponent batting average among Tribe starters (.229) and the 2nd-lowest starter ERA on the club behind Cal Quantrill. In just his 77th career game/75th start, Bieber eclipsed the 600 career strikeout mark, becoming the 3rd-quickest pitcher to hit that mark in MLB history since 1901 and the quickest in franchise history.
The White Sox’s Lucas Giolito is +800 with Rays +950 to repeat – he’s with Seattle now. Last year, Giolito established a career high with 178.2 IP and struck out 200-plus for the second time in three full seasons. His 10.13 strikeouts per 9.0 IP were the sixth-highest in team history. He became the sixth Sox pitcher to record multiple 200-plus strikeout seasons. Giolito went 4-3 with a 2.65 ERA (22 ER/74.2 IP), 76 strikeouts and .205 (56-273) in 13 starts following the All-Star Break. His 2.65 ERA was the fourth-lowest among AL starters with at least 10 starts in the second half. Overall, he finished 11-9 with a 3.53 ERA.
Ray parlayed his best season with the Blue Jays into a big free-agent contract with Seattle. The lefty got five years and $115 million. Ray, who turned 30 on Oct. 1, earned 29 of the 30 first-place votes for the Cy Young last season with the Blue Jays, making 32 starts while leading the AL in ERA (2.84), ERA+ (154), innings (193 1/3), starts, WHIP (1.045) and leading the Majors with 248 strikeouts while walking just 52. Ray’s career-best 6.7 percent walk rate last season was a significant dropoff from his career 11 percent walk rate through ’20.
- Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. wins the AL Cy Young. He’s +1800.