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AL Cy Young Award Debate: Should You Back Manoah or Gausman From Blue Jays?

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2022 AL Cy Young debate
Alek Manoah of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the first inning of their MLB game against the New York Yankees. Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP.

The Toronto Blue Jays feature two starting pitchers who are among the favorites to take home the American League Cy Young Award this season. Our MLB experts debate who is the better bet to take home the honor as the AL’s best pitcher at season’s end.

Homegrown flamethrower Alek Manoah is putting together an extremely impressive sophomore campaign for the Blue Jays. As such, he owns the third-shortest odds to win the AL Cy Young Award at most of our top-rated sportsbooks, sitting just behind Justin Verlander and Shane McClanahan.

Manoah’s teammate, offseason addition Kevin Gausman, is slightly flying under the radar in the AL Cy Young race. He’s just outside the top five at most books, but is he a more enticing bet than Manoah?

Sean Tomlinson and Andrew Brennan debate their American League Cy Young Award picks in this battle between two Blue Jays right-handers.

2022 AL Cy Young Award Odds

2022 AL Cy Young Award Picks: Alek Manoah vs. Kevin Gausman

Sean Tomlinson: Manoah has risen to become the Blue Jays' ace

Never forget that when you watch Alek Manoah throw his flames from the mound, you’re watching a pitcher who’s just 33 starts into his major-league career. And yet, he’s been utterly dominant while playing in the gauntlet that is the AL East.

Manoah sits third in the American League in ERA (2.00) and is tied for fifth in WHIP (0.94). He’s also not giving up much hard contact while allowing only five home runs, which is significantly fewer than fellow front-running AL Cy Young candidates Gerrit Cole and McClanahan, who have both given up 11 dingers.

Manoah is adapting his approach, too. His strikeouts are down compared to 2021, though at 73 punchouts he still ranks among the top 15 in the AL. But he’s also reduced his walks dramatically, going from walking 8.7% of his batters faced in 2021 to 4.7%.

And that’s all coming from a starter who’s gone at least six innings without surrendering a run in four of his 13 appearances. His lone hiccup was his most recent start against the New York Yankees. But he held the 50-win Bronx Bombers to only a combined one earned run over two prior outings against them.

He still offers value while listed at +700 through DraftKings Sportsbook and Caesars Sportsbook, and Manoah hasn’t yet needed to battle through a period of instability.

Andrew Brennan: Gausman is simply better than Manoah

Pitcher A: 3.3 fWAR, 1.75 FIP, 26.1 K%, 3.9 BB%, 3.09 SIERA, 16.2 SW%, 29.4 CSW%
Pitcher B: 2.1 fWAR, 2.91 FIP, 22.9 K%, 4.7 BB%, 3.62 SIERA, 11.4 SW%, 27.6 CSW%

One of these pitchers grades out better in almost every pitching-independent statistic. The other is Manoah.

Nothing against Manoah, he's very talented. But he's also been relatively lucky this season. His .255 opponent BABIP ranks as the eighth-lowest mark among qualified starters, while Gausman's .372 is easily the highest in the league (over 30 points higher than No. 2).

Gausman's inflated BABIP is bound to normalize. As it does, his 1.28 WHIP will move closer to his 1.11 and 1.04 marks from 2020 and 2021, respectively, thanks to his ability to limit walks - he ranks third among qualified starters with his 3.9% walk rate.

The other piece of this puzzle is expected workload. A prerequisite for this award is the ability to log a ton of innings. Only one of the last 20 Cy Young winners in either league - not including those during the shortened 2020 season - pitched fewer than 180 innings in their award-winning campaign.

Manoah threw just 111 2/3 innings last year, his first in the majors. The Jays will likely limit him down the stretch if they're in a playoff position.

Meanwhile, Gausman logged 192 innings last year and has topped 180 three times in his career. Toronto signed him to be its workhorse, and he will serve that role during the season's final months.

Tomlinson: But Gausman still needs to adjust to the much tougher AL East

As impressive as Gausman has been for all the reasons you outline, there’s lingering uncertainty.

Gausman was also incredible for the San Francisco Giants in 2021 while finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting. But that was his only season with a sub-3.00 ERA over nine previous campaigns before 2022, and it included a significant second-half decline. Opponents went from hitting .159 off of him to .276, and their OPS increased from .477 to .781.

That stumble looms large in the rear view, and now hitters are laying off his lethal splitter more often, resulting in a recent stretch of nine earned runs allowed over 12 innings pitched across three starts. His splitter has been successful as the put-away pitch 25.7% of the time in 2022, compared to 29% in 2021. Due to that ineffectiveness, batters are waiting on and teeing off on his fastball. Opposing hitters are producing a .361 batting average against Gausman’s four-steam fastball in 2022 after the same pitch generated a .257 average in 2021.

Meanwhile, Manoah has cut his home run/fly ball rate nearly in half, from 8.4% to 4.5%. Combine that effectiveness with being a gigantic human who can sustain a workload increase after pitching 111 2/3 innings in 2021, and now is the time to jump on Manoah before his odds get shorter.

Brennan: Bank on regression and take the added profit

You're right, Gausman did suffer some second-half regression last season after having an unsustainably great first half. Sound familiar?

Just as the BABIP gods and regression monster teamed up to take Gausman down a couple of notches in 2021, Manoah will suffer the same fate this campaign. And while that's happening, Gausman should benefit from improved batted-ball luck and experience the reverse of his 2021 season, when he managed a 1.73 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and .159 opponent's batting average thanks to a .212 BABIP and nearly 85% strand rate during the first half of the year. The difference this season will be that his second half will be the stronger of the two, and that will stand out in voters' minds.

The baseball season is a long one. More often than not, numbers normalize and good players finish with good stats. The fact that Gausman leads all pitchers in fWAR despite not being at his best - or benefiting from any luck - thus far bodes especially well for his Cy Young chances. I'll bank on the guy without workload concerns and with regression on his side at +2100 with FanDuel Sportsbook (Caesars has him at +1500 and Pointsbet is offering +1700).

And since you brought up Gausman's splitter, I should mention it has the lowest xBA and second-lowest xSLG and xwOBA among any pitch that's been used in at least 100 plate appearances this season. He simply needs to continue throwing it (and preferably, throw it even more than he is right now) until his arm falls off.

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