Robbie Ray was named the winner of the 2021 American League Cy Young this afternoon. Unlike Ray’s pants, the vote wasn’t particularly tight, with the Blue Jays ace receiving 29 of 30 first place votes. Gerrit Cole of the Yankees came second and received the lone dissenting vote, while Chicago’s Lance Lynn rounded out the podium.
Ray led the league in innings pitched with 193.1, edging out teammate Jose Berrios (192), ERA (2.84, way ahead of Lance McCullers Jr.’s 3.16), strikeouts (248 to Cole’s 243), and WHIP (1.05 to Cole’s 1.06). His 11.5 Ks/9 innings didn’t quite lead the league, but they did bump his career number ahead of Chris Sale for the all time MLB lead (minimum 1,000 career IP).
On a park adjusted basis, Ray was way out in front, with an ERA- of 63 (league average is 100, with adjustments for home park) to Cole and McCullers’ 75, although the fact that the Jays spent most of the season playing out of minor league parks in Dunedin and Buffalo makes park factors a little wonky. By Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, which is based on runs allowed (earned and unearned) adjusted for park and defense, Ray was clearly the best pitcher in the league, with his 6.7 wins coming in a full win ahead of Cole in second place.
Advanced stats are a little cooler on Ray, with his FIP and Fangraphs WAR (which is based in FIP) both clocking in 7th in the league. The discrepancy is due to a high rate of home runs allowed (1.54/9 innings, second among qualifiers) but an extremely low batting average on balls put in play against him (.268, also second) and a league leading 90.1% of opposing base runners stranded. Baseball Prospectus’s WARP splits the difference, placing him second but solidly behind Cole.
Ray also officially declined the Jays’ qualifying offer this afternoon, meaning he’ll take his newfound hardware with him into the free agent market. After settling for a one year deal last winter on the heels of mediocre 2018 and 2019 campaigns and a disastrous pandemic season performance, Ray is arguably the top pitcher in a thin market this winter. His chief competition comes from the Cooperstown bound but aging Max Scherzer and from former Jay Marcus Stroman, who’s coming off back to back excellent years but whose low K, high ground ball style teams don’t seem to reward as highly on the market. Ben Clemens of Fangraphs estimates that Ray will receive a 4 year deal this winter worth $112 million. Whether the Blue Jays are willing to bid at that level after shelling out $131 million to extend Berrios remains to be seen.