Advertisement

Can Blake Snell reproduce his Cy Young stuff with the Giants? The numbers suggest it won't be easy

Snell reportedly agreed to a 2-year, $62 million contract with San Francisco on Monday

Blake Snell is now reportedly a San Francisco Giant.

His two-year, $62 million signing reportedly agreed to Monday comes with plenty of upside, but don't count on a repeat of his 2023 Cy Young performance. Because while the Cy Young was the second of his career, Snell is far from guaranteed to produce going forward like the high-end ace the San Diego Padres fielded in 2023.

At his best, Snell is a dominant starter, a guy you can count on to stifle opposing batters and give your team its best chance to win. See the pair of ERA titles that coincided with his two Cy Young Awards. Snell posted a career-low 1.89 ERA in his first Cy Young season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018, and his 2.25 ERA in 2023 was also baseball's best.

But in addition to two Cy Youngs, Snell's career has produced some middling seasons and a single All-Star bid. Worse, there were statistical signs in 2023 that his performance would be difficult to reproduce. Add the fact that he's approaching his age-31 season and getting a very delayed start to spring training, and there's reason for Giants fans to temper their expectations for 2024.

[Join or create a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league for the 2024 MLB season]

Which Blake Snell will show up for the Giants?

Snell's pair of Cy Young seasons are the only two in his eight-year MLB career in which he approached such numbers. His next-best season produced a 3.24 ERA in the 2020 COVID-shortened campaign. He has also logged three seasons with an ERA of 4.04 or higher. So while his career-worst 4.29 ERA in 2019 suggests a dependable floor, the production from his two Cy Young campaigns is the outlier more than the norm.

Snell is also not an innings-eater. Even in his best years, he has never pitched 200 innings in a season. And his 180 innings in 2023 trailed only the 180 2/3 innings of his 2018 season as his career high.

Last season, Snell averaged 5.625 innings per start, and he has worked 5.195 innings per start in his career. Compare those numbers to those of another Cy Young winner, New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. A more traditional workhorse, Cole has cleared the 200-inning barrier in six of his 11 seasons and averaged 6.196 innings per start, a full inning more than Snell, in his career. That said, that threshold for Cole appears to be in jeopardy in 2024 as he prepares to start the season sidelined due to elbow inflammation.

Will Snell's control issues catch up to him?

Even in his best seasons, control is an issue for Snell. He won the Cy Young in 2023 while surrendering an MLB-high 99 walks. His 13.3% walk rate marked a career worst and ranked in the fourth percentile among MLB pitchers. That Snell limited his ERA to 2.25 while issuing so many free passes is quite remarkable.

That said, his walk rate has always ranked near the worst in the league. His career best in the metric came when he finished in the 46th percentile in 2020, and that was with the small sample of the COVID-shortened season. Outside of 2020, his best put him in the 35th percentile, and he has finished in the bottom 10% of baseball in walk rate in three seasons.

Snell's best stuff is outstanding

Of course, none of this is to suggest that Snell isn't a valuable pickup for the Giants. He owns a four-pitch arsenal anchored by a four-seam fastball that he threw 48.6% of the time last season. His 95.5 mph fastball velocity in 2023 was in line with the rest of his career. His overall whiff rate was in the 98th percentile and his strikeout percentage in the 94th. In fact, per MLB.com, his 37.4% whiff rate was the second-highest of any pitcher in the pitch-tracking era, trailing only Atlanta Braves All-Star Spencer Strider last season.

Snell is extremely difficult to hit, and he makes batters swing and miss. His 5.8 hits allowed per nine innings last season was the best in baseball. These days, he relies more on his secondary pitches, such as his curveball, to produce those swing-and-misses, and they are extremely effective.

This is why the Giants signed him to a $62 million deal. He marks a significant upgrade to the top of their rotation, forming a 1-2 punch with Logan Webb and immediately improves their chances of competing after an offseason in which they also added Jorge Soler, Jung Hoo Lee and Matt Chapman to the lineup.

Still, it's best to keep expectations in check. Snell's overall statistical picture suggests that some regression to the mean is a reasonable thing to expect in 2024.

The Giants signed three of this winter's top 10 MLB free agents. (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)
The Giants signed three of this winter's top 10 MLB free agents. (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports) (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)