Checking in on the MLB Cy Young races: Who have emerged as front-runners in this year's wide-open field?

Tarik Skubal and Zack Wheeler look like the leaders in their respective leagues, but Tyler Glasnow and Corbin Burnes are also thriving in their new uniforms

Earlier this week, we took a look at the state of the two MVP races, with two former winners in Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts at the forefront of the conversation. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the hurlers on the hill and reflect on which pitchers have emerged as potential candidates to win this year’s Cy Young awards.

By nature, pitchers are a more volatile population of players to evaluate. For one, pitchers are markedly more susceptible to significant injury, resulting in greater variance as far as which pitchers stand out as both healthy and elite on a year-to-year basis. On top of that, pitchers participate in a smaller percentage of games, which means we don’t have nearly as many data points to help separate the good pitchers from the great ones — especially just 2 1/2 months into a six-month season. Evaluating a sample of 12-14 outings by a starting pitcher feels more challenging than assessing 300 plate appearances from a hitter across 70 or so games.

At the same time, all of that allows for more hurlers to insert themselves into the discussion — and that can be fun! Talking about the same handful of names every year can get stale, so it’s nice to have some variety.

With all that said, here’s a look at the two Cy Young races so far. As with the MVP race overview, we’ll break the contenders into three categories:

  • Group 1: Preseason favorites who are still very much in the mix to win the award

  • Group 2: Preseason favorites who have fallen to the periphery or out of the race

  • Group 3: New names who have entered the conversation

Corbin Burnes, Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles finally cashed in some chips to trade for a frontline starter, and it has gone basically exactly as they could have hoped. Sure, Joey Ortiz is balling out in Milwaukee, but the O’s needed a bona fide ace more than they needed another good hitter, and they absolutely have one now in Burnes. The strikeout totals might not be as eye-popping as they once were, but Burnes’ efficiency has been excellent, and the run prevention (2.08 ERA) has been elite. With a strong second half on one of baseball’s best teams, Burnes could become just the eighth pitcher in MLB history to win the Cy Young in both leagues.

Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers
Cole Ragans, Kansas City Royals

These two southpaws led all starting pitchers in fWAR from July 30 through the end of last season, and they’ve barely missed a beat in 2024, ranking No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, on the leaderboard through two-plus months (more on No. 1, Tanner Houck, in a bit). Skubal has been better than Ragans across the board — he throws a bit harder, throws more strikes, gets more ground balls and pitches deeper into games — but each has unquestionably lived up to the high expectations fueled by last season’s breakout.

Skubal is appropriately the Cy Young favorite among AL pitchers right now, leading the league in bWAR (3.5), FIP (2.20) and WHIP (0.891) while being just a hair behind Houck on the fWAR and ERA leaderboards. As for Ragans, it’ll be interesting to see if he can close the gap in the second half, especially since he seems more likely than Skubal to be pitching in games with postseason implications down the stretch.

Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

If he is indeed healthy, I’d expect Cole to get right back to dominating once he returns. His first two rehab starts in Double-A have gone smoothly, and he could soon rejoin a Yankees rotation that has been excellent in his absence. He has missed too much time to be a real factor in this year’s Cy Young discussion, but I’m eager to see him back on the mound doing his thing.

Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays
Kyle Bradish, Baltimore Orioles
Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners
Zach Eflin, Tampa Bay Rays
Pablo Lopez, Minnesota Twins
George Kirby, Seattle Mariners
Framber Valdez, Houston Astros
Chris Bassitt, Toronto Blue Jays

These eight pitchers finished Nos. 3-10 on last year’s AL Cy Young ballot. Of them, only Kirby currently ranks among the top 15 AL starting pitchers in fWAR, and he’s ninth and has a 3.81 ERA. Their performances have varied wildly, and injuries have surely contributed to some of the more disappointing (or incomplete) showings from this group. Still, it’s conceivable that a few of these guys could get on a roll down the stretch and end up in a similar place on the ballot.

Kirby, Castillo and Bradish are each having a season on par with what they did a year ago, though Bradish’s campaign was delayed due to the UCL sprain he suffered before spring training. Meanwhile, Gausman, Eflin, Lopez, Valdez and Bassitt have all significantly underwhelmed. In turn, expect a bevy of new names to be in the mix …

Through nearly three months of the season, Tarik Skubal and Zack Wheeler are the front-runners to take home this year's Cy Young awards. (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports)
Through nearly three months of the season, Tarik Skubal and Zack Wheeler are the front-runners to take home this year's Cy Young awards. (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports)

Tanner Houck, Boston Red Sox

Your current MLB leader in pitcher fWAR, Houck has been the poster child for Boston’s organizational leap forward on the mound compared to last season, a remarkable collective effort that has kept the Red Sox afloat in the brutal AL East. As Boston’s first-round pick back in 2017, it’s not like Houck is a total nobody who launched out of obscurity into Cy Young talk.

But after multiple seasons bouncing between the bullpen and the rotation, as well as long-standing struggles with command and control, Houck has made huge strides with his strike-throwing and is one of several pitchers finding success with increased usage of a splitter to go with his already elite slider. While a 94-pitch shutout of Cleveland in mid-April is his signature start thus far, Houck has been reliably pitching deep into games all year and sports the lowest ERA in MLB (1.91) among qualified starters.

Garrett Crochet, Chicago White Sox

As the definitive worst team in baseball, the White Sox have gotten a whole lot wrong this season, but one thing they seem to have gotten spectacularly right was their confidence in Crochet as a legitimate anchor atop the rotation. It was hard not to scoff when Crochet, having never started a big-league game and saddled with a troubling recent injury history, was named Chicago’s Opening Day starter. But now, Crochet is one of the more obvious 2025 Opening Day starters in baseball — assuming he doesn’t get traded, of course. The imposing lefty leads the AL in strikeouts and has thrown 109 pitches 98-plus mph, the most of any southpaw starter in the league (Skubal is second with 106, Ragans third with 51).

While we’re giving the White Sox some rare love amidst a miserable season, I’ll give a hat tip to Erick Fedde, who has also been terrific in his first year back in MLB after winning MVP in the KBO for the NC Dinos in 2023. He’s not quite on Crochet’s level, but he also represents a huge organizational win for Chicago — and is a much more realistic trade chip as the deadline approaches.

Luis Gil, New York Yankees

Gil isn’t the only Yankees starter who has stepped up while Cole has been out — Carlos Rodon has looked way more comfortable, and Marcus Stroman has fit in brilliantly since signing this past winter, with each currently rocking a sub-3 ERA — but Gil is the clear standout of the bunch and should be talked about as such.

The 26-year-old righty has emerged as not only a serious AL Rookie of the Year contender but also a viable Cy Young candidate. New York’s patience with his development through various injuries is paying off, as Gil’s high-90s heater and dastardly changeup have been flummoxing opposing hitters all season. The Yankees have won 11 of Gil’s 13 starts, and he ranks in the top seven in both bWAR and fWAR among AL starters.

Jack Flaherty, Detroit Tigers

Skubal’s sensational start to the year has somewhat overshadowed a splendid resurgence from Flaherty in his first year in the Motor City, one that could prime him for a serious payday this winter if he can sustain his level of performance. Many wondered if we’d ever see the 2019 version of Flaherty again, but this year’s Flaherty isn’t just back to his previous best self; he seems to be better than ever.

The 28-year-old righty currently boasts the highest strikeout rate (33.5%), lowest walk rate (3.6%) and highest ground-ball rate (45.3%) of his career. All signs point to this re-breakout being legit, but the key for Flaherty, as always, will also be health. He exited his most recent start early due to back tightness and had his next start pushed back. Fingers crossed all is well and he can get back to carving shortly.

Seth Lugo, Kansas City Royals

Another outstanding offseason addition in the AL Central, Lugo leads the AL in innings pitched, and his incredibly deep, six-pitch arsenal has been wonderfully effective as a surprising co-ace for Kansas City alongside Ragans. He has certainly had some luck on balls in play (.261 BABIP), and the modest peripherals (20.4% strikeout rate is down from his 23.2% mark in 2023) suggest the run prevention could regress a bit moving forward, but Lugo has been an immensely valuable free-agent signing this season, no matter how you slice it.

1. Tarik Skubal
2. Tanner Houck
3. Garrett Crochet
4. Cole Ragans
5. Corbin Burnes

Sonny Gray, St. Louis Cardinals

Last year’s Cy Young runner-up in the AL, Gray has been marvelous in his first year as a Cardinal. It seemed hard to fathom that the 34-year-old could improve upon what he did a year ago, yet here we are: Gray’s 33% strikeout rate and .588 OPS allowed are both career-best marks. He has been exactly what St. Louis paid for and a welcome addition atop a Cardinals rotation in dire need of a frontline arm.

Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies
Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies began last offseason by signing Aaron Nola to a massive, seven-year contract and finished it by extending Wheeler through the 2027 season. Both decisions have been thoroughly validated in the early going, as the two veterans have been at the forefront of Philadelphia’s emergence as the best team in the National League.

Wheeler, currently tied with another non-Nola Phillie atop the fWAR leaderboard among NL starters, is the current favorite to win the award, and rightfully so. He has been outrageously dominant against right-handed hitters (.375 OPS allowed) and continues to master the use of two different fastballs to consistently stifle opponents. While Nola is comfortably behind Wheeler in the Cy Young discussion, he is once again on pace to deliver 32 starts of consistently high quality, something very few pitchers can be counted on to do nowadays — which is exactly why Philadelphia paid him all that money.

Tyler Glasnow, Los Angeles Dodgers

A staggering lack of run support over the past month has prevented Glasnow from earning a win in his past six starts, but it’s hard to argue that the super-tall right-hander hasn’t been as advertised over his first 14 starts in Dodger Blue. Sure, he has been prone to the occasional untimely homer or a few too many walks late in outings, but he has stayed healthy, is leading MLB in strikeouts and has even started to unleash a fourth pitch — an intriguing sinker — after years of relying exclusively on his hellacious four-seamer and wicked slider/curve breaking-ball duo. Remarkably, Glasnow has never pitched enough to appear on a Cy Young ballot in the first eight years of his career. If he can finally make 30-plus starts, there’s a pretty good chance that will finally change.

Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants

You’re not gonna believe this: Webb is leading the NL in innings pitched. As long as he stands out as one of the ultimate workhorses in an era of five-and-dive artists, he is going to have an excellent chance to win this award, no matter how pedestrian his record or strikeout total. Webb’s dynamic sinker and changeup combo continue to rack up grounders at an elite rate, helping him to suppress SLG% as well as any starter in baseball. He is unique in both style and substance and will once again be in the mix to win this award after finishing second in 2023.

Max Fried, Atlanta Braves

Another maestro of the ground ball, Fried is healthy and excelling in what could be his final year as a Brave, with free agency looming this winter. After a prolonged stretch on the IL last year following four straight durable seasons, Fried is back to doing what he does best every fifth day for an Atlanta team that has needed its pitchers to perform amidst a collective cold streak on offense. Fried continues to prevent hard contact as well as any starter in baseball and is primed to cash in this winter if he can stay healthy.

Blake Snell, San Francisco Giants
Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves
Kodai Senga, New York Mets

Last year’s winner and one of the preseason favorites this year, neither Snell nor Strider will be in the mix in 2024 due to injury. Strider underwent season-ending elbow surgery after just two starts, while Snell has struggled mightily (9.51 ERA in six starts) in his debut season with San Francisco and is dealing with a groin strain that has him on the IL with no reported timetable for return. Senga, who finished seventh on last year’s Cy Young ballot and runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year, has yet to throw a pitch this season as he works his way back from a shoulder injury.

Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks
Justin Steele, Chicago Cubs

The third- and fifth-place finishers on last year’s ballot, respectively, these two pitchers have been perfectly cromulent when they’ve been on the mound, despite both battling hamstring injuries at different stages of the season. However, neither has pitched at a level to warrant serious consideration for this award for a second straight season, so they fall into this category (for now).

Ranger Suarez, Philadelphia Phillies

Suarez has been sneaky awesome for a few years now, but he has reached a whole new level in 2024. Long known for his proclivity to garner grounders at an elite rate, Suarez is also racking up strikeouts while cutting his walk rate to a career low. Add it all up, and you’ve got the league leader in wins, ERA, WHIP, fWAR and bWAR. He has undeniably leveled up to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. Whether he can outduel his teammate Wheeler and the rest of the contenders for the award remains to be seen, but Suarez has put himself in excellent position.

And in case you needed another reason to be impressed by Philly’s pitching staff, consider that lefty Cristopher Sanchez’s 3.07 ERA in 70 1/3 innings has him sixth in fWAR among qualified NL starters, ahead of guys such as Dylan Cease, Gray, Fried and even his teammate Nola. The Phillies are pretty good!

Shota Imanaga, Chicago Cubs
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Los Angeles Dodgers

Imanaga came out of the gate in unbelievable fashion, posting a 0.84 ERA over his first nine starts and making some wonder if Chicago’s investment in the Japanese lefty might have been wiser than the record-breaking sum lavished on Yamamoto by the Dodgers. Things have been a bit rockier for Imanaga lately, while Yamamoto has really started to catch his stride, but each currently ranks in the top 10 among NL starters in fWAR, with Imanaga’s 1.96 ERA still second-lowest behind only Suarez. At the very least, these two will be jockeying for position in the NL Rookie of the Year race. And if they continue to carve, we might be talking about one or both for Cy Young as well.

Chris Sale, Atlanta Braves

How wild would it be for this to be the year Sale finally wins a Cy Young? He’s the pitcher version of Jose Ramírez in this regard, but unlike with Ramírez, it has been a while since we saw Sale on an awards ballot, given that he has been so injured in recent seasons. Still, this is a guy who finished in the top six in Cy Young voting in seven consecutive years from 2012 to 2018 without winning, and here he is in 2024 with a 3.01 ERA as a 35-year-old and leading the league in FIP (2.33) and strikeout-to-walk rate (8.36, a career-best mark). He isn’t the front-runner right now, but if enough of the guys in front of him falter and he stays healthy for 30-plus starts, Sale has a shot. Even appearing near the top of the ballot again would be an incredible accomplishment.

1. Ranger Suarez
2. Zack Wheeler
3. Chris Sale
4. Logan Webb
5. Shota Imanaga