Entering the 2022 season, there was a lot of buzz about the potential step forward that Shane McClanahan could make as the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff. Without Tyler Glasnow for the season and Shane Baz beginning the season on the IL, there was a lot of pressure on McClanahan to carry the rotation. So far, he has exceeded expectations.
In 7 starts so far this year, McClanahan's record is 2-2 with an ERA of 2.52 in 39.1 innings of work. His FIP currently sits around 2.66, showing that his current pace of pitching is not an outlier performance. After finishing 7th in AL Rookie of the Year voting last season, what has caused McClanahan to jump into the early season conversation for American League Cy Young?
In 2022, McClanahan's fastball velocity ranks in the 94th percentile in baseball, and his whiff rate and strikeout rate both sit in the 97th percentile according to Baseball Savant. The current MLB leader in strikeouts (58), McClanahan's swing and miss stuff has made him one of the most difficult pitchers in the league to face at age 25. In today's game, missing bats at a high level is needed to be dominate, and McClanahan has mastered this while also finding ways to keep runners off of base.
Outside of these dominate numbers, part of being one of the best pitchers in the game means begin reliable on a game to game basis. So far this season, McClanahan has pitched into at least the 5th inning of every start and has given up no more than 3 runs in an outing. Even when he has not had his best stuff in a game, McClanahan has still put his club in positions to compete each game.
His best start of the year so far came on May 11th against the Los Angeles Angels. Matched up against Shohei Ohtani and coming off two brutal losses in the series, McClanahan outdueled the Angels star and dialed up 7 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts while only allowing 3 hits and 1 walk to an elite Angels offense. On the biggest stage of the season so far, and the team needing something from him, McClanahan did what the best pitchers do and brought his best stuff.
One of the things that tends to get in the way of Rays' starters gaining national attention is the lack of innings that Kevin Cash will allow his starters to throw. Although he has not stretched him out much so far this year, it should be encouraging to McClanahan and Rays fans that he allowed his ace to pitch 7 innings and throw 100 pitches in this contest. More games like this will be needed to have a legit shot at Cy Young later in the year.
Every knew that McClanahan had the stuff to be an ace, but the leaps he has already taken from Year 1 to Year 2 as a starter in the majors is incredible to see. McClanahan has seen his ERA already drop by almost a full run (3.43 to 2.52), strikeouts per 9 rise by 3 (10.3 to 13.3) and WHIP drop considerably (1.27 to 0.92), which is now 3rd in the AL.
The Rays have hoped for this kind of trajectory for their ace, and so far he has been everything they could have wanted and more.