On Monday, we took a look at which pitchers appear to be the front-runners for the National League Cy Young. Today, we'll break down which pitchers have had hot enough starts in the American League to do the same.
With the average pitcher at three or four starts and around 24 innings pitched, it's still super early. That's about 12 percent of a pitcher's total workload throughout the season. The American League has been especially difficult to handicap early on. With Chris Archer, David Price, and Corey Kluber being downright mediocre, it's still very much anyone's race. With that in mind, let's take a look at the American League front-runners:
A little bit like Kenta Maeda of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Zimmermann has been astonishingly stingy at allowing runs with his new team. On Monday night, he gave up his first earned run -- and two other unearned ones -- in what was his fourth start with the Detroit Tigers.
He hasn't necessarily blown hitters away either though. Zimmermann has a WHIP of 1.12 and has only struck out 16 batters over his 26 innings pitched. Instead, it appears Zimmermann is relying on a slight uptick in his groundball rate. At the highest of his career -- and up seven percentage points from last year -- Zimmermann may have to sustain this new trick to stay in the Cy Young conversation. But a 4-0 start could play well with voters regardless.
Notorious for his ability to strike out the opposing side, Sale should be a contender for the Cy Young every season. However, through his first four starts and 30 innings, Sale's strikeout rate is at a career low.
That hasn't stopped the still only 27-year old phenom from putting together a 4-0 record to start the year thanks in part to a 50 percent groundball rate. Furthermore, Sale currently has a career-best mark in his home run per flyball rate. Maybe Sale has found a way to generate weaker contact while in a strikeout lull. Sale is still generating whiffs at a rate just over 10 percent -- at the same rate as Stephen Strasburg and Jaime Garcia -- so the strikeouts supremacy could rise again.
Kind of an unlikely candidate, but with Archer having a tough early start to the year, Smyly has had a little breakout. With a 1-2 record, you may not know it though.
Only three starters in the American League have struck out at least 30 percent of the batters they've faced so far this season: Price, Archer, and Smyly. With Price and Archer struggling early, and Smyly's ERA settled at 2.51, he could be a legitimate contender for the Cy Young. However, counting out Price and Archer would be ill-advised.
The streaking White Sox seem to have another Cy Young contender, though perhaps a little more under the radar. Quintana ranks first in the American League in FIP so far this season.
With 24.2 innings pitched over four starts, it's not a whole lot to count on. However, Quintana has shown an increased knack for allowing fewer walks and home runs. While that may regress slightly, his BABIP sits neatly near his career average at .319, so much of this success doesn't seem buoyed by luck or great defense.
He's a darkhorse, but Quintana could be a real contender for the Cy Young. Especially if the White Sox find themselves in a pennant race.
Both Danny Salazar and Taijuan Walker could finally be experiencing that breakout we've been waiting for. The former came into this season in a rotation behind Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. The latter is hidden behind perennial Cy Young contender Felix Hernandez.
Salazar has always missed bats at an incredible rate. His strikeout percentage is at 28 percent so far this year, and, with a groundball rate of nearly 50 percent, Salazar could be a third ace for the Indians. With Carrasco on the disabled list, the next month or two may show a lot of whether Salazar can be leaned on.
Walker spent his Monday night striking out 11 of the Astros batters over seven innings. While he's been giving up hits -- including home runs -- Walker has only issued three free passes. That's the fifth-best in all of baseball behind Jake Peavy, Bartolo Colon, Clayton Kershaw, and Chris Sale. If the strikeouts are real, Walker could find himself being mentioned beside the last two a bit more often.