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Way Too Early 2024 MLB Cy Young Award Favorites

Tarik Skubal - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

It’s the middle of winter and what is everybody thinking about? The 2024 MLB season, of course! While it may technically be too early to be thinking about end-of-season awards, it certainly is fun. The major award for pitchers is the Cy Young Award, given to one pitcher from each league. Whether you’re a fan of baseball, pitching in particular, or betting, it’s never too early to start considering who could earn the award in 2024.

Before predicting Cy Young candidates, let’s first review the award and the profile of pitchers who tend to earn it. The award is almost exclusively won by starting pitchers. In terms of metrics, innings pitched seem to somewhat matter with a floor of around 170 IP. However, more IP do not necessarily mean a better chance of earning the award.

Cy Young winners also tend to have an ERA under 3.00, sometimes even below 2.00. WHIP threshold is usually under 1.00, and strikeout rate is usually well over 9.00 K/9. There are other considerations, but this paints a general picture of how to spot a potential Cy Young winner. With those guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at three American League pitchers and three National League pitchers who I think could be Cy Young contenders at the end of 2024.

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2024 AL Cy Young Favorites

Pablo Lopez, Minnesota Twins

My first AL Cy Young candidate has shown flashes of dominance throughout his career, but has never been able to tie it all together for a full season. Pablo Lopez had a solid first season with the Twins overall, going 11-8 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 29.2% strikeout rate in 32 starts and 194 IP. Here’s why I think he has what it takes to bring home a Cy Young award.

First, Lopez has shown that he can eat innings when healthy. The 27-year-old has dealt with a slew of injuries throughout his career, but he managed to pitch 180 innings in 2022 and reached a career-high in 2023. There is no reason to think he cannot hit a similar mark in 2024 barring injury.

He also has elite stuff. Lopez has a five-pitch arsenal with few holes, leading to his high strikeout rate and a 14.5% swinging-strike rate. It also led to an excellent batted-ball profile and expected results, as indicated by red across his Statcast page.

The issue he ran into in 2023 was a slow start. Lopez posted a 4.24 ERA in 17 starts through June, although his 3.48 SIERA was much more encouraging. Things righted themselves after, as Lopez managed a 3.03 ERA in 15 starts the rest of the way. It seemed like Lopez got unlucky for the entire first half of the season, which is not something one would expect to occur regularly.

Having the stuff alone will not guarantee winning awards; everything has to come together over the full course of the season. Pablo Lopez does have the ability to miss bats, limit hard contact, and pitch deep into games. However, it took over half a season for his underlying numbers to finally catch up to his peripherals. If he starts 2024 firing on all cylinders, I think Lopez can win a Cy Young award.

Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers

My second AL candidate has garnered a lot of attention lately for how he performed in 2023. Tarik Skubal missed the first portion of the season with a left flexor tendon injury but went 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 32.9% strikeout rate in 15 starts and 80 ⅓ IP. The 27-year-old also missed time in 2022 due to injury but pitched well. Is health the only thing holding Skubal back from winning the Cy Young in 2024?

It is of course a bit of an oversimplification, but I do think the answer is yes. First, Skubal came back in 2023 with almost two extra mph on his fastball, which allowed him to throw it more in combination with his deadly changeup. All three of his main pitches (four-seamer, changeup, slider) had swinging-strike rates above 10%, with his changeup being the highest at 27.6%.

He also had a great Statcast profile overall. Specifically, his 2.00 xERA and 2.77 SIERA support his excellent ERA. The least impressive part of his profile was his middling hard contact, but he kept the ball out of the air with an 8.7-degree launch angle.

Overall, Skubal looked like a Cy Young candidate once he returned in 2023. His 2022-to-2023 improvements seem sustainable given that he was returning from an injury. The biggest impediment to a Cy Young award seems to be health. Don’t be surprised to see him win if he can make 30 starts in 2024.

Cole Ragans, Kansas City Royals

My final AL candidate is my boldest take in the whole article. Cole Ragans had a tale of two halves in 2023, posting a poor 5.92 ERA out of the bullpen for the Rangers before being traded to the Royals and compiling a stellar 2.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 31.1% strikeout rate in 12 starts. As a former first-round draft pick with one-half of an excellent season under his belt, can Ragans vault himself into the Cy Young running in 2024?

A lot will have to go right for him of course, but I do think it’s possible. First, he did make 19 combined starts between Triple-A and the big leagues and racked up 124 ⅓ IP combined. The Royals will need Ragans in their rotation this season, so I don’t foresee them babying his inning count. 

He also flashed elite strikeout upside with a 14.1% overall swinging-strike rate. His secondary pitches are particularly lethal, as he generated an 18.8% swinging-strike rate with his changeup and a 25.8% swinging-strike rate with his slider. He also has a 96.5 mph fastball with a ton of spin.

The clear thing Ragans will need to improve is his WHIP, particularly his walk rate. Ragans allowed too many free runners with a 10.5% walk rate throughout the season. He’ll need to learn to pitch in the zone more, as his zone rate was only 40.9%. I think this can be achieved, as he is just 26 years old and doesn’t have a ton of big-league experience.

Ragans’ 12 starts to end the 2023 season provided a lot to be excited about for next season. He showed all the makings of a front-end starter and a potential Cy Young winner. He will need to prove that he can produce consistently and has things he will need to work on, but it isn’t out of the question that it won’t all come together.

2024 NL Cy Young Favorites

Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

My first NL Cy Young candidate is no stranger to pitching greatness, having won the award back in 2021. Corbin Burnes’ name has popped up this offseason as a potential trade candidate, but I think he has a chance to win the Cy Young award for whatever team he plays on. He had a relatively down 2023, compiling a 3.39 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 25.5% strikeout rate in 32 starts and 193 ⅔ IP. Why do I think he can rebound in 2024? Let’s find out.

First, any pitcher who has shown they have the stuff to win a Cy Young award should not be considered out of the running. Burnes is just 29 years old and won his Cy Young award in his age-26 season, so he is still in the prime of his career.

He has also proven to be a durable arm. He only pitched 167 innings when he won the Cy Young, but his innings totals over the following seasons were 202 and 193 ⅔. There is somewhat of an innings threshold to hit, but more innings pitched allows for more innings to rack up strikeouts and improve/solidify ratio metrics.

Digging into his 2023 numbers, the peripherals took a step back, but the underlying numbers remained pretty consistent. Burnes’ hard-hit numbers were all solid and were lower than his 2022 numbers, and his expected metrics were all toward the top of baseball. His overall Statcast profile suggests a high-end starter. His overall batted-ball profile compared to his results suggests to me that regression in ERA and WHIP are very feasible.

The biggest step back came in the strikeout department. Burnes has an impressive career strikeout rate of 30.4%, and his 2023 mark was the lowest full-season mark of his career. Looking at his pitch arsenal, Burnes has utilized nearly the same pitch mix since 2021. While his velocity was slightly down across the board in 2023 compared to 2021-22, the dip was only about one-half to one mph difference.

Burnes had similar movement on his three main pitches: cutter, curveball, and changeup, and located them well. None of this explains the strikeout dip, further supporting the opportunity for a bounce-back.

It may not be surprising to see a former Cy Young winner in this article, but I think Corbin Burnes has everything in place to compete for the award in 2024. His peripherals fell short last season, but everything under the hood looks close to what it did in the past couple of seasons. I see no reason why he can’t take home the hardware once again.

Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves

My next NL candidate has shown all the makings of a Cy Young candidate, and now may finally be the time to put them all together. Spencer Strider is just 25 years old, but is one of baseball’s top pitchers. He had a solid 2023 season, going 20-5 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and an insane 36.8% strikeout rate in 32 starts and 186 ⅔ IP. He has just one-and-a-half big league seasons under his belt, but it is clear he has everything it takes to win the award.

For starters, Strider possesses some of the best strikeout stuff in baseball. He relies on a deadly fastball-slider combo, despite being a starter. His fastball comes in at 97.2 mph with a ton of spin, and he complements that with a slider that generates a 28.9% swinging-strike rate. His strikeout rate and 18.9% overall swinging-strike rate in 2023 were only topped by elite closers, so he has the upper hand in that department for Cy Young considerations.

He was also able to take the innings jump in 2023. Strider’s 2022 rookie season was spent both as a reliever and as a starter to monitor his innings, and he went from 131 ⅔ to 186 ⅔ in 2023. It remains to be seen if he can take another step forward to get closer to 200, but his 2023 performance was more than enough to get into Cy Young range.

The biggest blemish to his changes in 2023 was his ERA, which was surprising after his 2.67 mark in 2022. Looking closer, it seems as though Strider got unlucky. He did a good job limiting hard contact and had a much better 3.09 xERA and 2.86 SIERA. 

Overall, Strider seems to have everything it takes to be a Cy Young winner. He has elite strikeout upside, he can pitch enough innings, and his batted-ball profile lends itself to a low ERA. It also doesn’t hurt that he should win a lot of games with the Braves. Assuming it can all click at once, Strider should have no problem winning the award in 2024.

Jesus Luzardo, Miami Marlins

My final NL candidate is a former top prospect who is finally starting to find his way. Jesus Luzardo has put together two solid seasons with the Marlins, going 10-10 with a 3.58 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 28.1% strikeout rate in 32 starts and 178 ⅔ IP last season. While he has yet to put together a Cy Young-worthy season, he has been trending in the right direction, and I think he could get closer in 2024.

Luzardo hit many of the “Cy Young metrics'' for the first time in 2023. He hit a full-time workload with 178 ⅔ IP, up significantly from his 2022 total of 100 ⅓. It was also encouraging to see his performance more or less maintained despite pitching so many more innings. His ERA only jumped from 3.32 to 3.58, and his strikeout rate dropped from an excellent 30.0% to a still-strong 28.1%.

The part of his game that will need to take a step forward to be a Cy Young contender in 2024 is the WHIP. His 7.4% walk rate was fine, but his .311 BABIP leaves room for improvement. The underlying issue could be the hard contact Luzardo gave up. His average exit velocity and hard-hit rate were in the 37th and 44th percentiles of baseball, respectively.

The good news is that Luzardo doesn’t allow a ton of contact, as he had a decent 70.8% contact rate in 2023. However, if he can figure out how to avoid hard contact while maintaining his high strikeout rate, his BABIP, WHIP, and ERA should all benefit.

Of my three NL candidates, Luzardo is the only one who has to prove that he has all the skills to meet the necessary criteria. However, he made several strides from 2022 to 2023 and has clear strikeout upside. If he can finesse his main three-pitch arsenal to avoid hard contact, I think he could be in the running for a Cy Young award in 2024.

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