Major League Baseball instituted rule changes to the game, like banning the shift, bigger bases and pick-off limits, to increase offense. But that didn’t stop three of the game’s best pitchers from keeping their titles.
Thirty beat writers, two from each American League city, wrote five names on their ballots, ranked one through five, to decide who the best pitcher was in the AL in 2023. A point system will decide the winner, and there is one heavy favorite.
The top three point-getters are Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray and Kevin Gausman. Here are each of their cases.
Gerrit Cole – New York Yankees
Almost nothing went right for the Yankees, but if there was one silver lining, it was their ace.
The Yankees inked Cole to the largest deal ever given to a pitcher (nine years, $324 million) before the 2020 season, and the Bronx faithful had been rightfully critical of him the last couple of years. He couldn’t even get through three innings in the 2021 AL wild-card game (albeit hurt), and he had maybe the most disappointing season of his career in 2022, prompting fans to wonder if he was a product of sticky stuff.
Well, Cole heard the noise and shut everyone up. He led the AL with a 2.63 ERA (second in MLB) and 209 innings (third), and his 0.98 WHIP was the best mark in all of baseball. He also led the majors with two shutouts while his 222 strikeouts were third in the AL and fifth in the majors. He earned his fifth-straight All-Star nod in July (there was no midsummer classic in 2020) and started the game this season; he’s previously finished in second twice, fourth twice, fifth, and ninth in the voting.
Of course, with New York expectations, his contract will only be deemed a success based on how many championships he wins in the Bronx (he has none, and four of the nine years are complete). But he’s a stud and worth every penny.
Perhaps this came a season too early, though, as Cole is able to opt out of his deal next season – but maybe that will be added motivation to likely repeat.
Sonny Gray – Minnesota Twins
Gray has solidified himself into maybe the most underrated pitcher in all of baseball. He also picked a good time to have maybe the best season of his career as he’s a free agent with clearly plenty left in the tank at age 34.
He’s a finalist for the Cy Young Award for the second time in his career with a 2.79 ERA, which was the second-lowest in the AL (his 2.83 fielding independent pitching, or FIP, was the lowest).
Gray has found something in Minnesota. In the first five seasons of his career in Oakland, he pitched to a 3.42 ERA. He couldn’t handle New York as his ERA with the Yankees was 4.51. But with the Cincinnati Reds, it was 3.49, and in his two years with the Twins, it’s 2.90. His 184.0 innings were his most since tossing 208 in 2015.
The right-hander was the ace of the AL Central champions who snapped an 18-game postseason losing streak and won their first series since 2004. With the season he just had, his free agency is going to be intriguing.
Kevin Gausman – Toronto Blue Jays
In his first eight seasons, Gausman played for four teams and was a middle-of-the-road starter, pitching to a 4.26 ERA. But in his last three seasons, something has clicked, especially this year.
For the first time in his career, Gausman is a finalist for the Cy Young Award with his AL-leading 237 strikeouts and 11.5 K/9 (which ranked second and third in all of baseball). Both marks were also career-highs (outside the 2020 60-game season). He finished in sixth place in 2021 and in ninth last year.
Gausman allowed no more than three earned runs in 25 of his 31 starts and gave Toronto at least 6.0 innings in 21 of his appearances. After allowing eight earned in 3.1 innings on May 4, he pitched to a 2.96 ERA in his final 24 starts. He finished with a 3.16 ERA, the second-lowest of his career.
The right-hander signed a five-year deal for $110 million after his 2021 season where he earned his first All-Star nod and pitched to a career-low 2.86 ERA. And with this campaign, it seems like Toronto has no regrets as he will more likely than not be their Opening Day starter in a few months.