On September 10, 2021, the Orioles beat the Blue Jays, 6-3. In the game, they scored three runs off of Jays pitcher Robbie Ray, who was lifted from the game with just 4.1 innings pitched and three runs allowed on eight hits and two walks. During the game, Ray got into a shouting match with manager Brandon Hyde, and after the game, he hinted that the Orioles were stealing signs.
More than two months later, it remains absurd: A pitcher claimed the Orioles, who in the 2021 season batted a combined .239/.304/.402, were stealing his signs. Ray must have been frustrated facing such a powerful offense because the O’s, across three games, had an .894 OPS against Ray.
In spite of this largely pathetic performance against the worst team in baseball, Ray was voted the winner of the AL Cy Young Award on Thursday night. It was not a close race; Ray was the near-unanimous pick, named in the first place spot on 29 out of 30 ballots by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
One iconoclast listed Gerrit Cole of the Yankees in first instead. Between them, Ray and Cole accounted for all 30 first place votes and all 30 second place votes. Cole did a much better job of boning up against the crummy Orioles, holding the team to just a .484 OPS over two games.
This bit of salty trolling aside, Ray being the runaway winner of the Cy Young is warranted when looking at the actual results of the season. Ray led the league with 6.7 bWAR, a full 1.0 ahead of the second place finisher. He had the lowest ERA of any qualified AL starter with 2.84, led the league in innings (193.1), strikeouts (248), and WHIP (1.045). Cole was runner-up to Ray in many of the categories that Ray led and was in the top five of the league in all of them.
Based on his career to date, one might argue that Ray was lucky. Batters had just a .268 BABIP against him, when his career total was .305. That’s a lot of hits that didn’t fall in. In a similar vein, Ray was able to strand 90.1% of runners who reached base this season; his career number is 76.8%. With that in mind, he ranks much lower in Fangraphs WAR, just seventh among AL starters with 3.9.
At the top by fWAR was Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi, who finished fourth in the voting, behind Chicago’s Lance Lynn as well as Ray and Cole. Cole was once again the runner-up by fWAR at 5.3.
The team that signs the now-free agent Ray will probably want to think hard about how much of his 2021 performance was luck-fueled before it makes its final contract offer. As far as who should have won the AL Cy Young, though, it’s very hard to argue against those results, even if it is hilarious and honestly kind of pathetic that the league’s best pitcher for the season accused the 52-110 Orioles of stealing his signs. Maybe if he had pitched a little better against the O’s, his team would have made the playoffs instead of sitting at home.