‘Historic’ is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, particularly in sports, and it can be easy to use the word in vain. But what Rays lefty Blake Snell accomplished in 2018 couldn’t be described in any other way.
The 25 year-old phenom out of Tampa Bay joined elite company by winning the 2018 American League Cy Young Award – an award that recognizes the best pitcher in their respective league. He joins David Price, who won in 2012, as the only Rays pitcher to earn the honor. He also becomes the first pitcher since all-time great Pedro Martinez to win the Cy Young with an ERA under 2.00.
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Born in Seattle and drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round of the 2011 draft (52nd overall), he would dominate in the Rays’ system and quickly emerge as one of their top prospects. Blake Snell was named Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year in 2015 during his time at AAA Durham, and made his long-anticipated debut with Tampa on April 23rd, 2016. It would take Snell a moment to adjust to big-league hitting, but in 2018 he broke out in a big way.
Blake was unrecognizable in 2018 after his sub-par season in 2017, where he seemed to be hit-or-miss. He posted a 5-7 record with a 4.04 ERA, and a rather average ERA+ of 104. He knew he was better than this, however, and would work with pitching coach Kyle Snyder and then teammate Chris Archer to work on his command that would help accentuate his already electric ‘stuff’.
And boy did it pay off, he would finish the 2018 season with a 21-5 record, a minuscule 1.89 ERA, 221 strikeouts and an unreal 7.5 WAR (according to Baseball Reference). He was the league leader in wins, ERA, Opp. BA, Pitching WAR and ERA+ (219). Leading the Rays to a surprising 90 win season and emerging as one of baseball’s top-tier arms in the process.
Snell had no choice other than to be as excellent as he was since he was fighting an uphill battle due to his 180.2 innings pitched. Those 180.2 innings on the mound are now the fewest innings pitched of any Cy Young winner in any full season in MLB history.
And while his second half was far superior to his first, Blake was still right up there with the league’s best. Yet, he was not named an initial member of the AL All-Star team. A move that surprised many around the league and left the entire Rays fan-base scratching their heads. A.J. Hinch would later add Snell to the squad as an injury replacement, even though he clearly deserved better.
I writer expected the same lack of exposure to hurt Zilla’s chance at winning the award, but luckily he managed to defeat Verlander in what would be a very close race.
Snell picked up 17 of the 30 first place votes, beating Verlander’s 13, and defeating the elite right-hander by a final voting score of 169-154.
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The entire Tampa Bay Rays community is sure to be overjoyed with this news which should only heighten the excitement fans like me have for the 2019 season, especially with a rotation officially headlined by ‘Snell Zilla’, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and best pitcher in the league.