Blake Snell was the breakout of the 2018 season this summer but had a trip to the DL interrupt what was an excellent season. After his last start on July 12, before his stint, the 25-year-old had thrown 119 innings, posting a 2.27 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 3.42 FIP, and struck out 134 batters, which was aided by an elite 28.3 K%. Opponents were hitting .188/.271/.329 and limited to just a .264 wOBA, and he had an impressive 1.2 groundball to flyball ratio. The one negative was an awful 9.9 BB%. But for a young hard-throwing pitcher, that was expected because consistent control and command are usually the last things to come.
Snell was on his way to establishing himself as one of the best arms in the game and a potential Cy Young candidate. In fact, at the time, he was one of the three or four best pitchers in the American League. Then left shoulder fatigue hit him, so the Tampa Bay Rays had to sideline him, and Snell didn’t make his next start until August 4.
Since coming off the disabled list, however, the southpaw has made six starts, and during them has been even better than he previously was. He’s thrown 32.2 innings en route to posting a 1.10 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 1.95 FIP, and 43 strikeouts while limiting batters to a .171/.220/.282 line and a .221 wOBA. But, perhaps even more impressive is the increase of his strikeout rate to an absurd 36.4% and the simultaneous improvement of his control to an excellent 5.9% during this stretch.
Issuing walks have always been the biggest weakness of a young hard-thrower. It takes them a while to harness their stuff in because of how they were developed. They were groomed more to focus more on their stuff first and be more of a “thrower,” rather than a “pitcher,” and Snell was no exception. But, it appears that he may be focusing on bringing things in, which will help him take that next step into the top-tier. Teammate Matt Duffy was one of the first to point it out:
“I feel like Blake is honing in on that command a little bit,” Duffy said. “When you get that guy who has the stuff and figures out the command it’s a scary thing for a lot of hitters. And I think he’s moving in that direction here right before our eyes. It’s been fun to watch.”
On the season as a whole, the young left-hander has thrown 151.2 innings, posting a 2.02 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, and 177 strikeouts (29.9% strikeout rate), with an absurd 201 ERA+. He is back into the conversation for the 2018 American Cy Young award and should be considered one of the favorites. His production has been stellar, and the others in the race aren’t helping themselves too much either.
Houston Astros teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have slowed down. Verlander, in particular, has been walloped tremendously in his last seven starts where he has a 5.06 ERA. Cole has not been as dominant as he was early in the season, with a 3.89 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his last seven starts. Those aren’t terrible, but they won’t help Cole’s Cy Young resume. Both are going through rough stretches that have inflated their overall numbers, especially ERA. Verlander’s has shot up to 2.78 while Cole’s is up to 2.86.
All they legitimately have over Snell is innings pitched and strikeouts (although Verlander has a better WHIP). But, if Snell can get to 180-190 innings by the end of the season, and the gap in all the other numbers remain similar, while he continues striking out batters at an elite rate, he would have an excellent case over them. And reaching that threshold is possible, as he will probably have five to six more starts left this season.
His two other biggest competitors, Trevor Bauer and Chris Sale, are currently on the disabled list and have not made a start since August 11 and August 12, respectively. Sale is expected back soon, but has been on the DL twice this season, so who knows how he will hold up down the home stretch. Plus, September has historically been his worst month of the regular season. And there has been no news on Trevor Bauer.
Snell is second in the American League in bWAR, ERA, batting average against, and, for the old-school people, wins with 17. He is 4th in WHIP and the best at stranding runners.
Snell has a 2.27 ERA vs. AL this season. And you may think that his season is awe-inspiring because he is putting up these numbers in the AL East, but, only two of the five squads in the division are in the top half of baseball in scoring. The AL East isn’t an offensive nightmare this season, as its reputation would make you believe. Three of the teams are subpar-to-bad when it comes to scoring runs.
However, there is something else impressive about his numbers. Against the junior circuit’s top-6 teams, record-wise (Red Sox, Yankees, Athletics, Indians, Mariners, and Astros), Blake Snell has a 1.87 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 91 strikeouts, a .550 OPS against, and just six home runs allowed in 77 innings. That means over half his innings have come against the best in the league. And five of these six teams are the five-best scoring offenses of all 30 teams in the sport.
That alone is otherworldly. It’s hard to put into words just how far he has come over the last three seasons. Snell is starting to realize his potential, and it’s Cy Young-caliber. All he needs to do at this point is stay consistent yearly to join the top-flight of pitchers undisputedly. And that may start with a Cy Young award in 2018.