Oakland Athletics Award Watch: Four Threats to Sonny Gray In Cy Young Race

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July 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) pitches the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Is Oakland Athletics’ Ace Sonny Gray Cy Young Worthy?

Sonny Gray is having a fantastic season for the Oakland Athletics, but there are two components to whether he is Cy Young worthy. The first component is simple. Has his performance on the mound met the standards of the award?

Although he missed his last start, Gray has already thrown over 161 innings this season, making 23 starts with a month and a half left to go in the season. In those starts, he is 12-4, with an American League-best 2.06 ERA. The back spasms he experience in Toronto could be a real concern for the young right-hander, but if he can return to the mound without missing any further starts, he should stay on track for the Cy Young.

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In addition to being fairly durable, Gray also has a 21.8 percent strikeout rate, and a 6.4 percent walk rate – both of these are significantly better than league average. Batters are averaging under .200 against him, and his WHIP is under one, at 0.96. Gray’s 12 wins rank fifth in the American League, tied with two other pitchers. His WHIP is league-leading, and no one has a lower opponents’ batting average. He’s absolutely earned the Cy Young with his performance this season.

The second component of the question is whether or not another pitcher is even more worthy of the award than Gray is. That answer is a little murkier.

If Gray did have a failing, it would be strikeouts – he only ranks tenth overall in those, with 136. Why does that matter? Voters love strikeouts, but Gray has a tendency to pitch to contact whenever he can in order to minimize his pitch count. While he still gets an above-average amount, he doesn’t get nearly as many as the other four pitchers on the Cy Young shortlist.

Even without the necessary strikeouts, Gray has made a case for why he’s the best pitcher in the league this season. So who could possibly stand in his way as he tries to take home the most prized pitching award in baseball? Here are four possibilities:

Next: Cy Young Candidate: The Reigning Champion