Blake Snell is putting together a captivating season. And in the midst of his 2018 success, the Tampa Bay Rays lefty is filling the void that was created by the departure of David Price back in 2014.
This season, Snell owns an American League-best 1.90 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP, and has recorded 211 strikeouts in 30 starts. To put those numbers in perspective, Snell recorded a 4.04 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 2017. He has cut his ERA in half — and then some — and is flat-out dealing on the rubber. He hasn’t surrendered a single run in 10 of his 30 starts, and while it can be a deceiving way of assessing a pitcher, Snell is the only pitcher in Major League Baseball with 20-plus wins (Snell has 21 wins). So, could Snell win the 2018 AL Cy Young Award?
While the All-Star lefty has been phenomenal this season, there’s a significant factor working against him being crowned the AL Cy Young: the number of innings he has pitched. In his 30 starts, Snell has pitched just 175.2 innings. Now, part of the reason why the innings are lower than you’d expect is because Snell went on the disabled list with shoulder discomfort in mid-July. And since he returned from the DL, manager Kevin Cash and the Rays haven’t been pushing him deep into games more often than not; he’s been arguably the most efficient starter in the game since his return because of that approach.
But even if he comes up short of winning the AL Cy Young, the Rays have to be excited with what the future could have in store for Snell. And the fact that Snell is only 25 and finishing up his third season in the big leagues gives them legitimate reasons to believe that he could improve even more in the coming years — which is riveting to envision.
The Rays need to prioritize Snell’s health this offseason; the last thing they want is their ace to endure a career of recurring shoulder pain. It doesn’t mean they have to wrap him in duct tape for the winter, but Snell and the Rays need to monitor the number of pitches and throwing sessions he has in the offseason. If you remove Snell from the Rays starting rotation, they’d still be a respectable unit. Going into Sunday, the Rays were third in ERA (3.64) and second in opponent batting average (.228). But without the lefty, the Rays bullpen day experiment may be hard to go forward with based on there being a limited number of true starting pitchers on their roster.
For years, Price was the Rays bonafide ace. He was a strikeout machine, an innings eater, and considered by some as the best lefty in the game, or at least in the AL. But, for the majority of his time in Tampa Bay, there was talk as to whether they would eventually trade Price before he hit free agency based on the thinking that they wouldn’t pay him top dollar. And in the middle of the 2014 season, they pulled the plug, sending him to the Detroit Tigers.
Sure, at one point, Chris Archer was one of the best righties in the game and ultimately the Rays’ best pitcher. But Archer was underwhelming over the last two and a half seasons (before they traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline), and despite his strikeout prowess in the years beforehand, the righty was never viewed as an elite pitcher, or someone who could lead a rotation in the postseason. There was always optimism that Archer would turn a corner, or return to being the pitcher he once was, but the Rays went into 2018 with little idea if an ace would emerge on their staff. Then, Snell progressed at a level they probably couldn’t even have projected themselves.
When Price was in place, the Rays had someone who other teams didn’t want to face and who the Rays themselves felt could take the hill and get them a win every fifth day. Today, they have that pitcher once again in Snell. His fastball lands in the upper 90s on the radar, and he has one of the best curveballs in the game. Snell also hasn’t surrendered more than two runs in a start since July 12. The biggest knock on Price’s career has been his inability to pitch well in the postseason — which dates back to his time with the Rays. While Snell won’t have the chance to showcase himself this October, he may have the opportunity to do so next season.
Despite being 86-68, the Rays are likely going to miss the playoffs. At the same time, with one of the youngest rosters and best pitching staffs in the game at their disposal — headlined by Snell — the Rays have a sparkling future ahead of them. Plus, with the likes of Matt Duffy, C.J. Cron, Joey Wendle, and Mallex Smith in their order, the Rays offense will improve going forward.
Snell is the most irreplaceable player on the Rays. Sure, they have some blossoming positional players, but there isn’t a single everyday player, starter, or reliever who has been as impactful as Snell this season. Removing him from their roster would take the Rays out of playoff contention for 2019.
Blake Snell may not win the AL Cy Young, but he has become what the Rays have been devoid of over the last four years: a shutdown ace.
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