Sandy Alcantara has been dominant in 2022. But will it be enough to atone for playing for the Miami Marlins?
For twenty-four starts, no one had looked more deserving of winning the 2022 NL Cy Young Award than Miami Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara.
Unfortunately, the twenty-fifth start was the roughest one this season, and has temporarily brought the Alcantara hype train to a screeching halt. Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sandy surrendered 6 ER on 10 hits across only 3.2 IP of work. That’s poor enough to be his worst outing since a disastrous appearance at Coors Field last August, and tied for the third shortest start of his MLB career. Rare indeed, but also, very un-Cy Young worthy.
Fortunately though, every MLB pitcher can have a bad day, even Cy Young winners. Alcantara’s dominance in 2022 has been so absolute that if the season ended today, it would still be hard to argue anyone else was more deserving of taking home the award. This should be a slam dunk.
But will it though? Will Alcantara be able to overcome his greatest obstacle?
Even in terms of Alcantara’s production alone, there is some cause for concern. Only three NL Cy Young winners in the last ten years have had more starts allowing 4 ER or more than Alcantara has right now, and his next three opponents presently line up as the same Dodgers that just lit him up, followed by the Braves and Mets. Furthermore, in that same ten year span, only R.A. Dickey in 2012 has had two legitimately terrible starts against the same opponent in the same season. Unsurprisingly, pitchers deemed as Cy Young worthy would appear to make adjustments quickly. Making those adjustments before facing the Dodgers again could prove very important to Alcantara’s chances.
However, it’s not that fearsome Dodgers lineup that looms as the largest obstacle for Sandy Alcantara taking home the Cy Young. That would be the Miami Marlins themselves.
Consider this. In the last thirty years of handing out this award, only three pitchers have played for a losing team. Three. Now on the bright side, it has happened as recently as 2018, when Jacob deGrom took home his first despite playing for a subpar Mets team. On the other hand though, that Mets team did win 77 games. They were losers, but not terrible. Certainly not ’22 Marlins terrible.
Throw in a smaller market, less national attention, and yes, the whole truckload of baggage that comes with the Miami Marlins franchise in the eyes of professional pundits, and it’s a lot for Alcantara to overcome. Miami’s two previous best chances at taking home a Cy Young, 1996 Kevin Brown and 2005 Dontrelle Willis, couldn’t overcome all that. And both them played for teams that won at least 80 games (Brown’s ’96 team came in right at 80, and Willis’ ’05 team was over .500 at 83). The same argument has been used in the past for NL MVP bids by Marlins hitters as well. Gary Sheffield probably should have won some hardware himself in 1996, and Giancarlo Stanton very likely did enough in 2014 to warrant the MVP before that Mike Fiers errant pitch broke his jaw and ended his season three weeks early. Had any of those players played for either a playoff team, or a team regularly featured on Sunday Night Baseball, they’re walking away with the trophy.
In short, I think a not insignificant percentage of voters want a reason to not give Alcantara the award. The best things he has going for him are the overall lead he has in a bunch of flashy categories already (innings pitched, complete games, shutouts) and the fact that baseball thinking has evolved, at least a little, in recent years. Jacob deGrom did win in 2018 despite his losing team. Multiple MVP and Cy Young decisions from the 90s on down are now widely decried as stupid, with an appropriate appreciation existing for things other than home runs and wins. One typical Alcantara start likely puts him right back to the top of the ERA, WHIP, and adjusted ERA lists.
But he needs that one start. And fair or not, he probably needs one or two more brilliant ones. Otherwise, I fear the voters might take it away from him.