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Ultimate Cy Young draft: Which pitchers will dominate MLB in 2021?

Yahoo Sports Staff
·13 min read
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Sometimes you just want a fantasy league that you can set and forget, right? Well, this year, the Yahoo Sports staff is trying to draft the best of the best in one fell swoop. We went five rounds — snake draft style — trying to choose the pitchers who will take home Cy Young hardware at season’s end.

As reflected in their BetMGM odds, we looked for certainty in star performers, yes, but also tried to spot the names you don’t see coming. If you want to check back and see how we did in November, we’ll score the results of the balloting like this:

-10 points for a winner

-6 points for 2nd

-5 points for 3rd

-4 points for 4th

-3 points for 5th

-1 point for any lower finisher who gets votes

And remember, because we are drafting both leagues combined, someone could wind up with both winners on their staff. Let’s get to it.

(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)
(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)

ROUND 1

Liz Roscher: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

+400 for NL Cy Young

What can you really say? He’s just flat out incredible, displaying the kind of talent and consistency you only associate with guys like Roy Halladay. Every time you watch him you know you’re probably going to see a master technician systematically dismantling his competition, so picking him for Cy Young is the most obvious thing you can do. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, *not* picking him first is wrong, since you’d essentially have to stick your head in the sand and ignore everything you’ve ever known about deGrom.

Hannah Keyser: Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals

+1500 for NL Cy Young

I’m reaching more than I need to with the second pick but I just like Flaherty! His underlying numbers last year were on par with his stellar 2019, when he finished fourth in NL balloting. The NL Central won't put up much fight, and with the Cardinals primed to contend, Flaherty should have ample opportunity to dominate amid a postseason push and solidify his candidacy down the stretch.

Zach Crizer: Shane Bieber, Cleveland

+375 for AL Cy Young

This pick is rendered boring by Bieber having just won the AL Cy Young, but his metamorphosis into a dominant ace is undeniable. The latest jewel of the Cleveland pitcher development system spiked a 41.1 percent strikeout rate in 2020 — which, yes, shortened season, but among all 60-game stretches on record it would rank fourth. Bieber and the Yankees' Gerrit Cole are the two clear favorites in the AL. Both traffic in high fastballs and miss bats at incredible rates, but get hit fairly hard when someone manages to make contact. After adding a cutter in 2020, Bieber was notably more successful at tamping down homers, so I ride with the younger incumbent.

Jack Baer: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

+350 for AL Cy Young

Hmm, so you’re telling me I can get the ace of MLB’s most-watched team, the MLB leader in strikeouts since 2018, a guy with a 2.71 ERA (fourth-best in MLB) since escaping the Pittsburgh Pirates, a potential 20-game winner for people who are into that, and a top-5 finisher in Cy Young voting over the last three seasons? Sign me up.

[MLB On The Record: GMs answer the AL East's burning questions]

Chris Cwik: Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox

+500 for AL Cy Young

Everyone loves a good underdog story. Giolito went from one of the worst pitchers in the majors in 2018 to an ace. The improvements were legitimate, as he remade his delivery and developed a devastating changeup. To spark his turnaround, Giolito went back to his high school pitching coach Ethan Katz. The White Sox hired Katz this season, meaning Giolito will work with him every single day. The only thing holding back Giolito at this point is command. If he can cut his walk rate slightly, he’ll be even better in 2021. And if the White Sox make the leap and win the AL Central, Giolito will be an obvious candidate to get Cy Young votes.

ROUND 2

Cwik: Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

+1200 for NL Cy Young

I struggled with this pick, and ultimately decided Aaron Nola’s consistency was the way to go. Since 2017, Nola has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. Last year, he may have been at his best. Nola changed his pitch mix — relying on his changeup more — and upped his strikeout rate considerably. Every pitcher comes with risk, but Nola gives me a strong chance of pitching a lot of innings with a strong ERA and a bunch of strikeouts. You can’t ask for more.

Baer: Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres

+1000 for NL Cy Young

Basically, I believe 2020 was real, as far as the Yu Darvish renaissance goes. After a few years ranging from mediocre to bad, Darvish overhauled his considerable arsenal and started throwing his cutter like some pitchers throw their four-seam fastballs. The result was a nearly unhittable pitcher. He now joins a stacked Padres rotation, but I have confidence he does enough to stand out as the staff ace if he can keep his 2020 performance going.

Crizer: Kenta Maeda, Minnesota Twins

+2000 for AL Cy Young

After coming over from the Dodgers as part of the Mookie Betts trade, Maeda emerged as the ace Los Angeles never let him try to be. It sounds sappy to say Minnesota boosted his performance by instilling confidence but there's a statistical story that backs it up. Encouraged to throw his best pitch, the slider, more often, Maeda became a more aggressive pitcher who got more swings, more strikeouts and walked fewer batters. I think the evolution is real and here to stay.

Keyser: Max Fried, Atlanta Braves

+1800 for NL Cy Young

There's obviously an asterisk hanging over every feat and fun fact from the 2020 season, but Fried's quest to complete the first homer-less season since Slim Harris in 1926 gripped me as much as any storyline in years. He didn't get there — and he certainly won't over 30+ starts — but it speaks to his ability to limit damage. Then again, MLB says the baseball will be slightly deadened this year so … something to watch for?

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 09: Blake Snell #24 of the San Diego Padres delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch on March 9, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)
Blake Snell, traded from Tampa Bay to San Diego over the offseason, is coming off a dominant World Series start that he was pulled from in controversial fashion. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

Roscher: Blake Snell, San Diego Padres

+1500 for NL Cy Young

Picking Snell isn’t just about talent (which he has), it’s about poetic justice. The last time we all saw Snell, he was being taken out of Game 6 of the World Series. And then he and all of us watched that decision completely backfire. Since then, the Rays traded him to the Padres, a team that’s actually trying to compete instead of working to win the yearly award for spending the least money. Snell has the capability to turn in another lights-out season, and doing it with a new team after that World Series disaster would be unbelievably satisfying.

ROUND 3

Roscher: Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays

+800 for AL Cy Young

Glasnow’s success as a starter in Tampa is really just a big “haha” to the Pirates, the team that traded him to acquire Chris Archer. Pittsburgh had relegated him to the bullpen after two less-than-great starts in the rotation, and that’s likely where he would have stayed if Tampa hadn’t come calling. His success as a starter is a direct indictment of Pittsburgh’s, well, everything, and him winning a Cy Young would just emphasize that most everything they’ve done for the last five-plus years is wrong, wrong, wrong. There are probably better reasons to choose a pitcher as a Cy Young candidate, but none are quite as fulfilling when we're talking about the rage-motivated Glasnow.

Keyser: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

+800 for NL Cy Young

I’ve taken a couple of gambles so far so what could be safer than a three-time winner who fell to the third round? The 36-year-old has looked as good as ever this spring, and if healthy, he's as likely as anyone here to put up Cy Young-worthy numbers. Last year's light workload might not have been the worst thing for Scherzer after he pushed his body to the brink in the 2019 postseason.

Crizer: Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

+3500 for NL Cy Young

I'm already on the record as being intrigued by Burnes' shot at hardware, so I'll take him here. Having discovered amazing dexterity in manipulating his fastballs to fit the situation, he is the hurler with the highest ceiling on a potential contender built around pitching.

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu during the first inning of Game 2 of an American League wild-card baseball series against the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Blue Jays starter Hyun-Jin Ryu anchors the rotation for an up-and-coming young team. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Baer: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Toronto Blue Jays

+1000 for AL Cy Young

You want to know what every pitcher taken up to this point has in common? With the exception of deGrom, they have a worse ERA since 2018 than Hyun-Jin Ryu. His fastball might average less than 90 mph these days, but the Blue Jays ace is still quietly one of the best pitchers in baseball. An improved Blue Jays defense with Marcus Semien and George Springer aboard should only help his chances.

Cwik: Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers

+1000 for NL Cy Young

On talent alone, Walker Buehler might be a top-5 pitcher in baseball. He’s got all the skills, and has been phenomenal when healthy. The only concern with Buehler is innings. The Dodgers handled Buehler cautiously last year, letting him throw 90+ pitches in just one start. He was dinged up to start the year, and that might explain it. The team was more willing to let Buehler top 100 pitches in 2019. Even if they take the reins off this year, the Dodgers are notorious for phantom IL stints for their pitchers. I’m worried a lower innings total could hurt Buehler in the voting, but I know the performance will be excellent.

ROUND 4

Cwik: Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds

+1200 for NL Cy Young

There’s plenty of evidence Luis Castillo is on the verge of a breakout. Already one of the best young pitchers in the game, Castillo has made small improvements every year he’s been in the majors. Last year, Castillo upped his strikeout rate, cut his walk rate and posted a career-best 3.21 ERA. Despite those numbers, his BABIP jumped to .329. Castillo has a career BABIP of .275. If he’s the exact same pitcher in 2021, there’s a good chance that BABIP regresses, Castillo’s ERA drops and he starts getting recognized as a Cy Young candidate.

Baer: Trevor Bauer, Los Angeles Dodgers

+700 for NL Cy Young

Somebody had to.

Crizer: Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves

The Braves' late-season savior, a former No. 3 overall pick, has only 32 1/3 regular season innings to his name at the major-league level, so this is a leap of faith. But, at least in my head, it's not a leap made off the sparkling small-sample numbers so much as the very real revelation that somewhere between the end of 2019 and his arrival in the bigs, he added one of the world's best changeups — the Baseball Prospectus prospect team backs me up there — to an already exciting arsenal.

Keyser: Sixto Sanchez, Miami Marlins

+3500 for NL Cy Young

Probably this pick is a year or two early. Sanchez has ace-worthy stuff, but he hasn't translated that into swings-and-misses the way you'd expect just yet. Perhaps that changes this season. And seriously, what was 2020 good for if not getting overly amped about an unrealistic version of the Marlins?

PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 21: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels prepares to pitch against the San Diego Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex on March 21, 2021 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)
Shohei Ohtani has regained the triple-digit velocity from his 2018 MLB pitching debut in spring training appearances. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

Roscher: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

+4000 for AL Cy Young

Ohtani is still considered a two-way player, but due to an elbow injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery, we’ve barely seen him pitch in the majors. He’s thrown a grand total of 53 1/3 innings in the regular season, 51 2/3 of them coming in 2018. That’s not a lot, but it means he’s still largely an unknown for major-league hitters. Those who have hit against him last did it three years ago, save for the 16 who faced him in his only two appearances last season. Yes, both of those appearances were disastrous, and that doesn’t really strengthen my argument, but he’s finally healthy now! Come on, guys! Get on the train!

ROUND 5

Roscher: Zack Greinke, Houston Astros

+3500 for AL Cy Young

Greinke is 37 and going into his 18th MLB season. Traditionally, not much is expected of pitchers like that, but Greinke is different and that’s what makes him so appealing. Despite an ERA over 4.00 in 2020, his fielding independent pitching (FIP) was 2.80, the second-lowest mark of his career. He’s pitched better since he turned 30 than in the 10 seasons before that — which includes his one and only Cy Young season in 2009. Greinke famously hates attention, but not enough to stop himself from trying to pull off a Cy Young season at 37, because it’s something he absolutely could do.

Keyser: Marco Gonzales, Seattle Mariners

+2500 for AL Cy Young

His 2020 rate stats (8.27 strikeouts per nine innings, 0.90 walks per nine, 1.03 homers per nine) read like vintage Cliff Lee. If he can maintain that for 30+ starts, he'll surely find his way onto some ballots. Long durable and dependable, Gonzales flashed some dominance during the pandemic-shortened season. Now it's just a matter of getting anyone outside Seattle to notice.

Crizer: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

+2000 for NL Cy Young

The narrative around Kershaw smacks of decline and even denouement after he finally secured a World Series ring, but he is all of three months older than Jacob deGrom. In 2019, Kershaw’s worst season of the last decade, he posted a 3.03 ERA across 28 starts. In 2020, he had a 2.16 ERA that didn't even seem to register because he's Kershaw. Are we really sure he's won his last Cy Young?

Baer: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

+2000 for NL Cy Young

He lasted two starts in 2020, but I still remember 2019. Both how Strasburg led the National League in innings pitched, and how he shut down the Dodgers and Astros on the way to a World Series title. Facing diminished velocity compared to his years as an elite prospect, Strasburg found what looks like a lasting formula for success, cutting down usage of his four-seamer and replacing it with curves and sinkers. As long as his spring training calf injury isn’t a portent of more injury struggles in 2021, I think the success continues.

Cwik: Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers

+2500 for NL Cy Young

How many pitchers posted a strikeout rate above 30 percent and walk rate below 7 percent in 2020? Only seven: Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, Yu Darvish, Jacob deGrom, Kevin Gausman, Kenta Maeda and Brandon Woodruff. Of that group, only Gausman and Woodruff failed to receive Cy Young votes. Gausman finished with just 50 innings, so that was understandable. Woodruff just got robbed. The Brewers tend to handle pitchers with kid gloves, so the only concern is Woodruff’s innings. His performance won’t be a question.

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