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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    Second Cy Young could point to larger legacy for Blake Snell

    San Diego Padres starting pitcher Blake Snell works against a San Francisco Giants batter during the second inning of a game Sept. 2 in San Diego. Snell won the National League Cy Young Award on Wednesday after leading the majors in ERA for the Padres, becoming the seventh pitcher to earn baseball's top pitching prize in both leagues. (Gregory Bull/AP File Photo)

    San Diego — Blake Snell will celebrate his 31st birthday early next month. He could pitch for another decade, so forgive him if he sits out Hall of Fame talk even after Wednesday's conversation-starter.

    The Padres' pending free agent was named the NL Cy Young Award-winner on Wednesday, becoming just the seventh pitcher to win the award in both leagues. Of the other six, four are already in the Hall of Fame and another will surely fly to Cooperstown five years after he retires.

    As for Snell, he may just be getting started, but 2023 will be hard to replicate.

    He won only 14 games, but he led the majors with a 2.25 ERA and .181 opponent batting average and finished tied for third with 234 strikeouts in joining Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay and Max Scherzer as double-league Cy Young winners.

    The Cy Young campaign was also the fifth by a Padre, as Perry won his San Diego title two years after Randy Jones won the franchise's first ever in 1976. Closer Mark Davis won in 1989 and Jake Peavy won in 2007.

    None of those seasons were as unique as Snell's.

    In fact, no one has ever led the majors in ERA and walks, and only one other walks leader — Early Wynn in 1959 — has ever been honored as his league's top pitcher.

    The (99) walks be damned, Snell beat out the Diamondbacks' Zac Gallen and the Giants' Logan Webb to win his second Cy Young Award. He earned 28 of 30 first-place votes to add a second Cy Young to a mantel that includes the AL version that he won while leading the majors in wins (21) and the AL in ERA (1.89) with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018.

    His third season in San Diego wasn't quite as good in the traditional sense, what with only 14 wins for an underachieving Padres team, a higher ERA, all those walks and only 180 innings for a franchise that saw its first Cy Young winner top 315 innings.

    And yet Snell's end-of-season dominance is nearly unmatched as a 1.20 ERA over his final 23 starts is better than everyone but Bob Gibson's 23-start run in 1968 (0.85).

    That stretch saw Snell hand a no-hitter to his bullpen after seven innings in September, strike out 12 batters in a game twice and allow more than two runs in a game just twice.

    He did walk as many as seven batters in one game (and somehow just one run) and five batters in four separate games, but free passes were easier for Snell to swallow as it became clear how unhittable his stuff was as the season wore on.

    That's evident in posting the third-lowest ERA in Padres history behind Dave Roberts' 2.10 mark in 1971 and fellow Cy Young-winner Randy Jones' 2.24 ERA in 1975, as well as in some of the deeper numbers. His MLB-best .181 opponent average set a club record, he led the majors in opponent slugging (.286), OPS (.579), hit rate (5.75 per nine innings) and percentage of pitches put in play (12.8), all of it pumping up his resume as he ventures into free agency for the first time.

    A thin market — Shohei Ohtani won't pitch this year as he comes back from a second Tommy John surgery and Sonny Gray, Aaron Nola and foreign imports might not have the same upside — likely pushes Snell's payday well north of $150 million and might price him out of a San Diego market that's expected to cut payroll by some $50 million.

    Never say never with Padres President of Baseball Operations A.J. Preller, but Chairman Peter Seidler's death on Tuesday further clouds how the team will operate in both the short- and long-term as it looks to fill rotation spots vacated by Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Nick Martinez and, of course, Snell.

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