Who Else Can Win AL Cy Young With Justin Verlander on Injured List?

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander was placed on the 15-day Injured List but isn't expected to miss more than 2-3 starts.
Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander was placed on the 15-day Injured List but isn't expected to miss more than 2-3 starts. / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The leader in the clubhouse for the 2022 American League Cy Young award will have to stay inside for the next few weeks, potentially opening the door for a late September run.

Houston Astros starter Justin Verlander went on the 15-day injured list Tuesday with a right calf injury after undergoing an MRI on Monday revealing "fascial disruption." In Layman's terms, fascia disruption is much better news than "muscle fiber disruption," allowing the possibility for Verlander to return following the 15-day stint.

The 39-year old ace has won two Cy Young awards in his future Hall of Fame career, and looked to be on pace for his third this season. He leads all of Major League Baseball with a 1.84 ERA in 24 starts, while ranking first in the AL in wins, and second in starting pitcher wins-above-replacement, or WAR.

Could this injury impact his shot at another post-season award? The Astros hold an 11.5-game lead in the AL West over the Seattle Mariners, and a four-game lead in the overall AL standings over the New York Yankees. With the right-hander on the shelf, as long as Houston continues to play well, they may choose to be cautious with their star's recovery timeline; opening up the possibility of another pitcher potentially passing him by?

Can anyone pull it off? Here are a few names worth watching down the final month of the season.

Dark Horse AL Cy Young Candidates That Could Pass Justin Verlander

Dylan Cease - Chicago White Sox (+250)

I'll admit my bias here, as I bet Cease at +275 to win the Cy Young several weeks ago. After all, back on August 11, the White Sox were 17-5 in starts that Cease made, and just 39-50 for everyone else. With a 1.98 ERA, and a better expected ERA (xERA) and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and expected FIP (xFIP) than Verlander at the time, Cease's odds weren't reflective of him being the better pitcher.

Unfortunately, in his two starts afterwards, he allowed seven earned runs in 10.1 innings, striking out just eight batters while walking six. He did bounce back vs. the Diamondbacks in his previous start, going eight innings of two-run ball with eight punchouts.

Cease was single-handedly keeping the White Sox' playoff hopes alive before. If he can do it again, he'll be firmly in the mix once again.

Shane McClanahan - Tampa Bay Rays (+1000)

McClanahan was scratched from his Tuesday night start in Miami with left shoulder impingement. A potentially brutal blow to a magnificent season from the talented left-hander.

If McClanahan is forced to go on the injured list, that would almost certainly end his Cy Young campaign in the American League. The 25-year old leads all of baseball in strikeout percentage; fanning 32.5% of hitters he's faced, while also leading all of baseball in SIERA, a metric that according to Fangraphs, "adds in complexity in an attempt to more accurately model what makes a pitcher successful," while not ignoring balls hit in play."

Kevin Gausman - Toronto Blue Jays (+13000)

As more voters become aware of advanced metrics in baseball, Gausman leads all pitchers in fWAR, or Fangraphs Wins-Above-Replacement at 5.1.

His more mainstream numbers don't jump off the page (10-9, 3.50 ERA in 140.1 IP), but he owns by far and away the best Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) in all of baseball at 2.13, with an expected FIP (xFIP) of just 2.77.

The Blue Jays have remained in the playoff race because of Gausman, and if they go on a run, he's more likely to be recognized for his consistency all season.

Shane Bieber - Cleveland Guardians (+13000)

Bieber's fantastic August has gotten him back into the Cy Young conversation as the Guardians lead the AL Central heading into September. Over his last five starts, he has a 1.62 ERA with a 1.78 FIP while allowing barely over one walk per nine innings.

Since July 24, he's lowered his ERA from 3.55 down to 3.02, and hasn't gone less than six innings in a start since July 6 vs. the Detroit Tigers.

If Cleveland starts to pull away from the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox to take the AL Central, Bieber's success likely plays a key role in it.

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