Only nine relievers have won a Cy Young Award, none since 2003, when closer Eric Gagné did it with the Dodgers.
And with two months to go this season, Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara is the heavy favorite to win the NL Cy Young.
But does Mets closest Edwin Diaz have a case in the middle of a downright dominating season?
“One hundred percent,” Mets reliever Tommy Hunter said Friday. “Who throws better than him?
Diaz, who sat out the Mets’ 9-6 loss to Atlanta on Friday night, is in a class of her own. After his six-out stoppage against the Braves on Thursday, Diaz struck out 87 of 167 batters he faced this year to go with a 0.89 WHIP, 1.44 ERA and 24 saves in 43 ²/₃ innings. . His strikeout rate of 52.1 percent is the highest by a relief pitcher in 43 single-season appearances in MLB history.
Alcantara, meanwhile, was the more elite starter. Entering Friday, he had a 1.88 ERA, 141 strikeouts, three complete games and a 0.93 WHIP in 158 ¹/₃ innings.
“Yeah, he’s got some awesome stuff, but not nearly as dominant [as Diaz], respectfully,” Hunter said. “He’s awesome, don’t get me wrong. But he’s definitely not in the same category as Edwin right now.
Of course, on the other side of the club from the Mets, a starting pitcher had a different take on a reliever bid for Cy Young.
“To be completely honest with you, it’s very, very hard to win as a reliever because of value,” Chris Bassitt said. “The value of a starter versus the value of a reliever is radically different. You have a starter who could win a Cy Young, that’s much more valuable than a closer.
Wins Above Replacement would agree with Bassitt. Diaz posted a 2.2 fWAR to Alcantara’s 4.2, according to Fangraphs. But Bassitt and Hunter, who have previously been teammates with relievers who won votes for Cy Young, agree that what Diaz is doing is special.
Hunter was in the Orioles bullpen during the first half of 2016 when Zack Britton posted a single-season best 0.54 ERA (for pitchers with at least 50 innings). The closest left-hander, ground ball specialist, placed fourth in AL Cy Young voting that year.
“What Edwin does is on a different level,” Hunter said. “Granted, I’m not taking anything away from Zack Britton’s dominance and it’s not something I intend to do – but it’s a different level of dominance. ERA has a lot to do with your team, your game, your defense and uncontrollable results. Edwin controls his own destiny at a historic rate.
“He takes risks and he puts his stamp on it.”
Through Thursday, Diaz’s 87 strikeouts led all MLB relievers and were 21 more than the second-place pitcher, the Cardinals closer to Ryan Helsley. Diaz has been particularly untouchable lately, with 33 of his last 45 strikeouts.
“It’s like a video game,” Bassitt said.
In 2020, Bassitt was an Oakland teammate of Liam Hendriks, who ranked ninth in AL Cy Young voting (Bassitt ranked eighth). In 2018, he was on the list with Blake Treinen when the Athletics came close to tying for sixth place in the AL Cy Young vote. Diaz’s season reminds Bassitt of Treinen’s in that they were able to limit baserunners.
“There are obviously closer players with really good stuff, but they leave the guys on base so things can happen,” Bassitt said. “[With Diaz], it’s honestly more true, when someone walks into the base, it’s like, ‘What happened?’ It’s not even the score. The most impressive thing to me is that it doesn’t work guys.
“When you have this elite stuff he has, the most important thing is, do you fight? He just doesn’t.
New York Post