ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell's ascension to one of the best starting pitchers in the American League has become, by any measure, increasingly obvious.
He goes into his start today against the MLB-best Red Sox ranked second in the AL with a 2.07 ERA and .182 opponents average, third with 15 wins, seventh with 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings and only his missed DL time from making the leaderboards for innings (139) and strikeouts (160).
Though Boston's Chris Sale and Cleveland's Trevor Bauer were getting most of the Cy Young love before their recent DL stints, and Cleveland's Corey Kluber and Houston's Justin Verlander are receiving more now, Snell has at least pitched his way into the discussion, if not on to some ballots.
"I don't see how he hasn't put himself in the conversation,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Look at where his numbers were at the break; they were as good as anybody in baseball, certainly in the AL. You can pick apart an earned run or some strikeouts here or there, but with the consistency in Blake's overall body of work he has put himself right at the top of that list.''
Added Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder: "It's a pretty solid argument.''
Here's another one:
Snell may be having the best season of any starter in Rays history.
* No Rays fulltime starter has had a lower ERA than Snell's 2.07 or allowed a lower batting average than his .182.
* Only four times has a Rays pitcher won more than Snell's 15 thus far, topped by David Price's 20 in his 2012 Cy Young season.
* Only Chris Archer (three times) and Scott Kazmir averaged more than Snell's 10.36 strikeouts per nine.
* Only four times has a Rays starter compiled a higher WAR (a catch-all stat to reflect accumulating overall value in terms of wins added) than Snell's 5.2 thus far.
* No Rays starter has had a higher ERA+ for a season than his 196 (with 100 as league average and park adjusted).
* Only five (including Price three times) have had lower FIP rates (fielding independent pitching, keyed to preventing homers and walks while getting strike outs) than his 3.28.
Snell vs. Price
The gold standard, and hardware to back it up, belongs to the tall lefty in the other dugout at the Trop this weekend. Price, now in his third year with the rival Red Sox, won the Cy for his 2012 performance with the Rays, going 20-5, 2.56 in 31 starts, striking out 205 in 211 innings, allowing just a .226 average. More advanced stats are similarly impressive, with a 6.6 WAR, 25.4 strikeout percentage (of total batters faced), 150 ERA+, 3.05 FIP.
Snell's work thus far, with another six or seven starts to go, measures up well, with fewer wins but a lower ERA, a 5.2 WAR, 29.4 strikeout percentage, 196 ERA+, 3.29 FIP.
Snell vs. stats
Snell, like most kids today, isn't too concerned with the historical context. He has his own goals for this season — "high goals" — and won't make any evaluations until his body of work is complete.
Which pitching stats does Snell value most? "Innings and ERA,'' he said.
"Innings and ERA mean everything to me, then probably walks and strikeouts, then hits.''
Wins? Not so much.
"I don't know – whatever,'' he said. "Look at (Mets starter) Jacob deGrom. He's the best pitcher in the game and he has like seven wins. What does it matter? It matters if you have a good team or not. … If I played on the Yankees, I'd probably be 20-0, their team is that good, or the Red Sox, they're that good. That's why wins, I don't really care.''
What does matter, Snell said, is giving your team a chance to win, which he has done almost every time out, complimenting the Rays hitters for scoring runs and the relievers for keeping other teams down. "It's just been adding up on the days when I pitch,'' he said.
Snell vs. Snell
What has made Snell so good this season? Snyder said it's a combination of approach and adjustments. First, the way Snell has handled himself since telling Snyder during a January lunch in Seattle that his goal was to become the best pitcher in the game.
"His overall approach, his work ethic, his self discipline, his hunger to be as good as he can be has really been really eye-catching,'' Snyder said. "He exudes confidence every time he takes the mound.''
Second, how he has thrown his curveball more often (nearly doubling usage from 2017) and more effectively, improving his overall strike-throwing with a true four-pitch mix that makes even more unpredictable.
"The curveball has really been a difference-maker this year for him,' Snyder said. "The strike-throwing ability before two strikes with it, and the ability to expand the zone with it late.''
Snell vs. Rays
Here are the top five seasons by a Rays starter based on WAR; All-Star noted with asterisk:
Pitcher, Year W-L ERA IP K WAR K% BB% ERA+ FIP AVG.
David Price*, 2012 20-5 2.56 211 205 6.6 25.4 7.1 150 3.05 .226
Scott Kazmir, 2007 13-9 3.48 206.2 239 5.8 26.9 10 130 3.45 .251
James Shields*, 2011 11-4 2.82 249.1 225 5.8 23.1 6.7 134 3.42 .217
James Shields, 2007 12-8 3.85 215 184 5.5 21.1 4.1 117 3.86 .247
Blake Snell*, 2018 15-5 2.07 139 160 5.2 29.4 9.4 196 3.29 .182
And here are six others worthy of comparison:
David Price* (2010) 19-6 2.72 208.2 188 4.7 21.8 9.2 144 3.42 .221
J. Hellickson (2011) 13-10 2.95 189 117 4.3 15.1 9.3 128 4.44 .210
Chris Archer* (2015) 12-13 3.23 212 252 4.1 29.0 7.6 121 2.90 .220
Rolando Arrojo* (1998) 14-12 3.56 202 152 4.1 17.8 7.6 133 4.23 .256
Alex Cobb (2014) 10-9 2.87 166.1 149 3.9 21.9 6.9 130 3.23 .231
Matt Moore* (2013) 17-4 3.29 150.1 143 2.6 22.3 11.8 117 3.95 .216
* Even if MLB's schedulers put more weight on having the Rays make their first trip to San Francisco since 2002 and second ever, why not schedule a home and home series with the Giants, as the Rays instead have with the Dodgers for the second time in four years, for the no-brainer to bring Evan Longoria back to the Trop?
* Players often talk relative to their situation, but RHP Chris Archer's comments to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he's "actually been pitching" during his 1-1, 4.91 start with the Pirates rather than his past "here it is, hit it" approach, throwing more two-seam (sinking) fastballs and inside more often, could infuriate some who watched him for years with the Rays stick to a limited repertoire. "It's just a matter of trusting it," Archer said. "It's not necessarily an experiment, but the more production I get the more I believe, and it starts to snowball." Also, that at 29 he still has "untapped potential.''
Don't expect wunderkind Wander Franco to get promoted from rookie-level Princeton; the team is quite happy with his dazzling .374 average, 1.073 OPS as a 17-year-old. … NBCSports.com's Craig Calcaterra got cranky replying to Rays fans tweeting him recently about his dire pre-season predictions, posting, "Maybe you guys can hang a 'not 30 games out' banner next to your wild card banner.'' … I like the players weekend concept, the uniforms not so much. Maybe there is a way to involve fans more? Also, seems the Rays could have done better in stadium explaining the player nicknames. … The Athletic's Jim Bowden ranked the Rays farm system fourth best, bestowing an A grade and high praise, noting, their "future is bright" with a mix of hitters and pitchers. … However the season ends, there's something to be said for the Rays having the same record as the big bucks Dodgers through 129 games (68-61). … In his first action since 2016, ex-Rays C Dioner Navarro, 34, is hitting .237 through 11 games with the independent league Long Island Ducks. The 2003 Rays top pick, OF/DH Delmon Young, 32, is hitting .332 combined for two Mexican League teams; he last played in the majors in 2015.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.