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Blake Snell Has Returned To Cy Young Form In 2023, And He May Be Baseball's Most Intriguing Trade Piece

Blake Snell has been something of a frustrating pitcher for me. In terms of overall stuff, he's always been in the top 1% of pitchers in Major League Baseball. He was a former top prospect coming up through the system with the Tampa Bay Rays. He featured a fastball in the mid to upper 90s and wipeout off-speed stuff. It took him a minute to find it at the big league level, but his 2018 season was a revelation. In an age where no one seems to win 20 games anymore, Snell won twenty-one, leading the American League in ERA, ERA+, and hits per nine en route to his first Cy Young Award, becoming only the second Tampa Bay Ray to take home that honor. He was only 25 when he won the Cy Young, and it seemed like he would take off and become a perennial All-Star for the next decade. Snell never cratered, he's been a well above-average major-league pitcher since the Cy Young season in 2018, but he hasn't been able to recapture the magic of that Cy Young campaign. That's changed in 2023.

Snell has nasty stuff, a good demeanor, and the ability to miss a lot of bats. He's had one fatal flaw throughout his career, and that's been command. When he's not striking guys out, he's often walking them. Even this season, in which he leads all of baseball in ERA, he also leads the sport in walks with 64 in 114 innings. His 5.1 walks per nine is the highest of his career since his rookie season in 2016. The walk rate consistently elevates his pitch count. Managers have always hesitated to let him go a third time through the order. 

But command has always been his only flaw. His baseball savant page is dazzling. He doesn't give up hard contact and induces many swings and misses. He's in the 95th percentile in whiff percentage right now but in the 5th percentile in walk rate. It's rare that a pitcher with his kind of stuff that strikes out as many hitters as he does also walks so many. But Snell has found a way to make it work. Snell has now gone 12 consecutive starts giving up two runs or fewer. Keep in mind in 11 of those 12 starts he gave up one run or fewer. His ERA since May 25 is 0.78, and he's struck out 99 hitters in 69 innings. The Cy Young race in the National League is wide-open this year. It's a down here for starting pitchers. The new rules may have something to do with that. But Snell has put himself back in the forefront of that Cy Young discussion.

Snell-Zilla is about to get himself paid. The 30-year-old starter is in the midst of a contract year, and he's having one of his best seasons. It also puts the San Diego Padres in an interesting position. San Diego came into the year as one of the World Series favorites, and they've grossly underachieved. I don't see them pulling a complete fire sale at the deadline, mainly because they can't. They have multiple guys under long-term contracts that no other team would want to take. But Snell is an interesting case. He'd only be a rental, but considering how he's pitched, San Diego could add some good young pieces for the future, which may be necessary because it seems like they're going nowhere in 2023. I would love to see a team like the Rangers, or Orioles make a run at Blake Snell. He would immediately become the ace at a place like Baltimore that wants to add a top-tier starter at the deadline. He also has a lot of experience pitching in October and has a pretty solid postseason résumé. Regardless of where he finishes the season, Snell is putting himself in a position to be one of only five active pitchers with multiple Cy Young awards. He could join the likes of Verlander, Scherzer, Kershaw, and deGrom. That's elite company.

The Angels decision to go all out and buy at the deadline changes how I feel about Blake Snell as a potential trade ship. The Angels might be stupid, but they also just set the market with their move to trade for Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. I don’t mind Lucas Giolito. I know he can pitch good baseball, but Blake Snell is a vastly superior pitcher to Giolito. Yet, Giolito just got two of the Angels top three prospects, including a top 100 prospect back for less than half a season. If that’s what the market will be like for starting pitching, then I would almost urge the Padres to trade Snell. Their 2023 campaign has been a remarkable disappointment, but they can right the ship for the next few years if they make the right moves.