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Let’s Throw a Logan Gilbert-For-Cy Young Prediction at the Wall and See if It Sticks

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Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

I went to high school in a state with an extremely late calendar, and I took a lot of AP classes. Which meant that from about the second week of May until the end of the school year in late June, most of my class schedule was pretty pointless. It’s hard to get a bunch of overworked, checked-out teens to focus in class with nothing on the line, especially when said teens have just seen the sun for the first time in six months. Full credit to the teachers who were able to thread that needle, but in general we watched a lot of movies and played a lot of rummy while the clock ran out.

And that’s sort of where we are in spring training. With most rosters all but set and the Dodgers and Padres already playing meaningful games in Korea, the only thing left to do is find a live rooster — was it a live rooster? — to take the curse off Jake Cronenworth’s glove. And that’s not gonna take all week.

So let’s make a prediction.

Specifically, a dark horse prediction. A plausible, but low percentage prediction, the kind of prognostication that you can dine out on all year if you’re right but nobody (except the most embittered, partisan shut-ins on social media, and to hell with them anyway) will remember if you’re wrong.

Here’s mine. Logan Gilbert will win the AL Cy Young this year.

I’m not saying you should read this and go plonk down your next mortgage payment on some sketchy online sportsbook, but I think he’s a slightly under-the-radar candidate with a clear path to having a huge season.

Let’s start with this: Gilbert is really good already. Since the start of the 2022 season, he has an ERA- of 89 in 376 1/3 innings, which is the 11th-largest workload in baseball over that time. Before the Mariners traded Robbie Ray, there were persistent rumors that Seattle was looking to draw on its surfeit of starting pitchers to improve its roster elsewhere, and that Gilbert was the most likely to go.

And while I understand the logic insofar as Gilbert being valuable. If Aaron Nola is worth $172 million over seven seasons, having Gilbert for the next four on a much lower cost would be quite attractive. Gilbert is due to make $4.05 million in 2024, and while his salary will most likely go up quite a bit before he hits free agency, he won’t make his market rate until 2028.

But even though Seattle has Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Bryan Woo, and Bryce Miller, I didn’t think it made sense to trade Gilbert because, as much as he’d be valuable to a trade partner, he’s also valuable to the Mariners. Pitchers who can reliably throw 180 innings a year don’t grow on trees anymore. Less so 6-foot-6 physical monsters with multiple plus secondary pitches.

Last season, Gilbert threw four pitches regularly: a four-seamer, a slider, a split-change, and a knuckle-curve. (Gilbert’s repertoire hits all the aesthetically beautiful “cellar door”-type hybrid pitch names. “Knuckle-curve” is baseball’s “cumulonimbus.”)

Here’s a great interview from a couple weeks ago with Rob Friedman, who runs the Pitching Ninja account.

An incredulous Friedman’s first question was, “How big are your hands?” which is absolutely the most important issue here. Gilbert’s hands are enormous. He holds a baseball the way a normal person holds a key lime. He could palm a 5-year-old’s head like a basketball. He could play a chord across both fretboards of a double-neck guitar with one hand. He’s got mitts like a baby lynx.

Where was I?

So here’s how each of Gilbert’s pitches played last season.

Logan Gilbert’s Repertoire, 2023

PitchUsage%Run ValueBAwOBAWhiff%
Fastball41.90.280.35817.7
Slider29.715.211.27332.2
Splitter14.83.174.22135.0
Knuckle-Curve13.4-2.214.27430.6

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Gilbert’s two best pitches are his slider — a beautiful falling-down-the-elevator-shaft vertical gyro breaking ball — and his splitter. In the above video, he compared the latter to Kodai Senga’s ghost fork; last June, I mentioned both Gilbert and Senga as comps for Braves prospect Hurston Waldrep’s grotesque low-spin splitter. I wouldn’t change a thing about either pitch.

The knuckle-curve got banged around a little, but Gilbert told Friedman he’s tweaking it, trying to throw it a little harder and with more horizontal movement this year. That’s good; as much as Gilbert could throw the kitchen sink at opponents, none of his pitches come with a ton of horizontal movement.

The real potential area for improvement is his fastball. That pitch averaged 95.7 mph, which is great for a starting pitcher, even a righty. Then, you factor in that because Gilbert is proportioned like a Santiago Calatrava building, he gets wicked extension that puts the ball on the hitter even quicker.

Last season, 276 pitchers threw at least 1,000 fastballs in the majors. Gilbert was 55th in average velocity. But in perceived velocity — factoring in extension — he was 16th, tied with Jordan Hicks and a third of a tick behind Spencer Strider and Eury Pérez.

So why did hitters slug almost .500 off his four-seamer?

Because even throwing 96 mph isn’t enough to keep opponents off a pitch with pretty lackluster movement, especially if there’s nothing else close to that velocity band. Gilbert’s splitter and slider are both mid-80s; the curveball (at least last year) was even slower. So he can change speeds extremely well, but if the hitter can read a fastball out of Gilbert’s hand, he can probably hit it hard. Gilbert knows he needs something else to throw in the 90s to keep hitters honest; he tinkered with a sinker in 2022 and 2023, but unsuccessfully. So why not try something new?

Which leads to the newest, most exciting addition to Gilbert’s family: a cutter. He told Friedman that he’s not going for big movement with his new pitch. He wants to throw it hard and with subtle horizontal movement. That’s not only in keeping with contemporary trends in pitch selection; it might be exactly what he needs to keep opponents from mashing his fastball they way they have recently.

Until now, this has been the story of a good pitcher making a couple offseason adjustments that — if they work — might take him to the next level. But a dark horse Cy Young prediction needs something bolder, the troubled conjurings a mind that’s already left the present behind.

So it’s time to address the squishy narrative factors that can swing an awards race, even among the most numerate voting bloc the BBWAA has ever assembled.

Playing time considerations notwithstanding, ZiPS projects Gilbert to be ninth in the AL in pitcher WAR this year. That hardly makes him the favorite, but it shows that he’s somewhere close to the conversation about the AL’s best pitchers.

So let’s have that conversation.

Last year’s unanimous AL Cy Young winner, Gerrit Cole, is hurt. Runner-up Sonny Gray? Also hurt, and no longer in the AL. Fourth-place finisher Kyle Bradish? Hurt. Shane McClanahan, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander? Hurt.

There are still plenty of good pitchers in the AL. Corbin Burnes, you might have heard of, as well as Framber Valdez, Kevin Gausman, Pablo López, Shane Bieber. Maybe Carlos Rodón has a big bounceback year in him. If Gilbert does win the Cy Young, it won’t be a walkover.

But I’ve been thinking about what makes a Cy Young candidate in this day and age. Mostly because Blake Snell went unsigned for so long that I spent more time contemplating his telos this winter than any other two topics put together. There’s been a lot of reasonable frustration that a two-time Cy Young winner would get into the third week of March and still be checking the classifieds, but that smooths over some legitimate criticisms about Snell’s game.

His two Cy Young campaigns — especially last year’s — weren’t exactly 1972 Steve Carlton or 1999 Pedro Martinez. We’ve adapted our standards to accommodate pitchers who perform extremely well on a per-inning basis but only barely get over the 162-inning bar to qualify for rate stat leaderboards. For an exceptional performance, like Burnes in 2021 or Snell in 2018, that’s reasonable. But it was only in the past 10 years that the first starting pitcher won the Cy Young for a full season’s work while coming in under 200 innings pitched. We’re still figuring out how to balance quantity versus quality in an age when 150 innings a year counts as high-volume.

In the end, Snell won the Cy Young easily, taking 28 of 30 first-place votes. But it was an odd class; in a less confusing timeline, Snell and Strider would’ve swapped ends on the FIP-to-ERA teeter-totter, the mustachioed Braves righty would’ve won the Triple Crown, and we wouldn’t be talking about any of this.

But I think we’re going to hit an inflection point where voters realize just how scarce a 200-inning starter is now and vote accordingly. Consider the difficulty Snell just had finding work, versus the alacrity with which the Phillies just signed up to pay Nola and Zack Wheeler almost $70 million a year between them.

Teams already value the hoss more than the glass cannon. Voters are going to come around eventually.

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