Major League Baseball has been blessed with tons of talented and young starting pitchers in today’s game. It can be hard for newcomers to get themselves in that elite group, but it can be done. Dominant pitchers like Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and more have constantly been one of the game’s very best. However, we also saw hurlers like Patrick Corbin, Gerrit Cole (again), and Aaron Nola shove their way into the conversation last year.
Who has a shot at potentially coming out of nowhere to be in the midst of a Cy Young race down the stretch in 2019? If things fall into place for the following six starting pitchers, they could do just that. Right now you can wager on the 2019 Cy Young winners at Betlucky and make other baseball bets as well.
German Marquez, Colorado Rockies
While Kyle Freeland stood out for the Rockies, German Marquez’s incredible second-half performance helped propel Colorado back to the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
The right-hander’s 33.9% strikeout rate after the midsummer classic was the fourth-highest mark in baseball (second in National League). The same could be said about his 16.0% swinging-strike rate and 2.57 SIERA. Although his debut performance in 2016 lasted just 20.2 innings, the three-year trend Marquez has put together is looking more and more impressive.
Here’s a look at how he’s grown in select statistics.
I don’t think there’s a pitching coach that wouldn’t take this year-over-year improvement. He did allow hard contact at a career-worst 37.3% clip, but also managed to produce his lowest BABIP against (.311).
Pitching at Coors Field is going to give any pitcher a disadvantage, regardless of how good they are. However, Marquez has shown he has a shot at bucking the trend and contending for a Cy Young award — something a Rockies pitcher has never won.
Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins
Following a solid first full year in the big leagues during the 2017 season, Jose Berrios made an appearance on this list prior to 2018 getting underway. While he did take a step forward and surpassed the 190-innings-pitched mark, the positive movement was only slight when looking at his statistics.
The young right-hander’s fWAR increased a little (2.9 to 3.3), his ERA went down a little (3.89 to 3.84), and his strikeout rate went up slightly (22.6% to 25.4%). What did continue changing significantly was his SIERA — after posting a 5.36 mark during an abbreviated rookie season, it went down to 4.29 in ’17 before settling in at 3.80 this past year.
Berrios’ four-seam fastball has also been on a nice three-year trajectory. After that pitch produced a 188 wRC+ and 17.2% strikeout rate in 2016, those numbers improved to 115 and 23.3% in ’17 before improving again to 93 and 29.2%, respectively, in ’18.
He can fly under the radar because while he’s established himself as a viable rotation contributor the past two years, he’s hardly at the forefront of any Cy Young conversations. Berrios did earn his first All-Star selection this past year, so elbowing his way into this particular awards race is a possibility in 2019.
Zack Wheeler, New York Mets
Jacob deGrom got all the attention (and rightfully so) for his Cy Young-winning performance in 2018, but did you know that Zack Wheeler actually had a better second-half ERA (1.68) than his teammate (1.73)? Well, now you do.
A two-year layoff because of Tommy John surgery and the ensuing setbacks didn’t help Wheeler ease back into major-league competition smoothly in 2017 (5.21 ERA in 86.1 innings). However, he turned it on in a big way from the start of June to the end of the regular season. Not only did his cumulative 4.1 fWAR rank among the 20 best qualified starting pitchers, but he also finished with the third-best soft-hit rate (23.4%) and best hard-hit rate allowed (24.8%).
Expectations for Wheeler are high as he enters his final year of team control. He’s a crucial cog to the New York Mets’ rotation, but he qualifies as a dark horse because he’s likely viewed as the team’s third-best starting pitcher. DeGrom obviously takes the top spot in that conversation, followed by Noah Syndergaard.
Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays
Although he’s certainly a work in progress on a number of fronts, 25-year-old Tyler Glasnow took some significant strides after the Tampa Bay Rays acquired him at the trade deadline. It’s like comparing apples and oranges since he spent the first half of his year pitching out of the bullpen before returning to the rotation, but the young righty maintained his strikeout rate (29.6% to 28.4%) while drastically cutting his walk rate (14.0% to 8.4%).
If that walk rate with Tampa Bay was sustained over a full season, it would’ve been the first time Glasnow had it finish under 10.0% since reaching the majors. He did allow 1.62 home runs per nine innings with a 40.3% hard-hit rate, but let’s not forget about the adjustments he had to make — not only from the NL to the AL, but also from the bullpen back to the rotation.
Glasnow turned into mostly a two-pitch hurler because of his time as a reliever, but it also revealed some big steps forward in his curveball. After that offering posted a 9.2% walk rate, 38.2% strikeout rate, and 104 wRC+ in ’17, those numbers improved to 5.0%, 50.7%, and 51, respectively, this past year.
His lack of proven production aside, it’ll be easy for him to sneak up on the competition if he enjoys a breakout campaign. After all, that’s similar to what teammate Blake Snell did last year en route to winning the award himself.
Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers
Remember what we said about Wheeler and how his second-half ERA was better than deGrom’s? Walker Buehler didn’t best either of those hurlers but came immediately after them. His 2.03 ERA following the midsummer classic ranked fourth in baseball.
It was easy to overlook exactly how good he was as a rookie because of what Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. were doing, but the young righty had a terrific year. He was a ground-ball machine (50.0% clip) while posting a terrific 21.1% strikeout-to-walk rate. Buehler was solid everywhere, but he especially enjoyed pitching at home. He posted a microscopic 1.93 ERA and .228 opponent wOBA in 74.2 innings (3.45 ERA and .268 wOBA in 62.2 innings).
The 24-year-old is certainly on his way to being a household name, and what he does this year could help propel him there. That’ll be impressive in a division that also includes Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke.
Marco Gonzales, Seattle Mariners
There are a couple of long shots on this list, but none may be more of a long shot than Gonzales. He’s not a huge strikeout guy (career-high 21.1% mark in ’18), but controls the strike zone well (4.7% walk rate last year), and made a significant leap this past year. Through his first three seasons (77.1 innings), the southpaw owned a 5.47 ERA and was worth exactly 0.0 fWAR. In his most recent 166.2 frames, he posted a 4.00 ERA to go along with a 3.6 fWAR.
The 26-year-old was on his way to an even better year heading into the All-Star Break (3.41 ERA in 113.1 innings), but lost steam down the stretch (5.23 ERA in 53.1 innings). One would assume it was partially due to workload, as his previous MLB high in innings pitched during a single season was 40.
An intriguing development last year for Gonzales was instituting a cutter, which he had never thrown before and ended up tossing it at a 22.2% clip. It was his only offering that produced a strikeout rate above 30.0%, a swinging-strike rate above 10.0%, and a wRC+ allowed below 100.