When it comes to baseball awards, they’re either easy and obvious, or nonsensical and infuriating. There’s no middle ground. Gold Gloves can easily veer into the latter categories, while Silver Sluggers, Cy Youngs, and even usually MVPs will tend to defer to the former. I mean you may be stuck arguing between two guys who could both win any of them, but you’re usually not looking at the finalists going “Wait, who?!”
Well that’s where the WLB team comes in, because we’re here to give out some of the most subjective awards this side of whatever they’re calling the biggest video game awards show these days. Well, kind of. Honestly, I think my case for the winner of this coveted pitching prize is pretty sound, but it still probably will elicit a “Wait, who?!” from at least a couple of people.
The PL+ Choice: Johnny Cueto & Zack Greinke
Neither of those names should be particularly surprising, and this year we did see this amazing performance from Cueto:
When @JohnnyCueto pulls out the TRIPLE shimmy>>> pic.twitter.com/8gQJpfteFr
— MLB (@MLB) April 9, 2021
A triple shimmy isn’t something you see every day, and while Cueto did pitch 114.2 IP this year, which is more than I would have guessed, you just didn’t hear about him that often. Much like Mike Trout can’t win the MVP every year, Cueto has given way to the next generation of shimmiers.
This is, of course, a ridiculous way to introduce the segment on Zack Greinke since he’s actually older than Cueto, but look, I gotta have a narrative hook here, right? Greinke’s been making a living off of savvy for years, as his average fastball velo has been below 90mph since 2018, and he’s famously tried to set a new record for slowest pitch every year, which leads to wonderful creations like this:
Zack Greinke, 51mph Eephus. 🐢 pic.twitter.com/GBIyw3qRNN
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 13, 2021
(You’re going to see a lot of PitchingNinja in this article, just FYI.)
But it’s not just the pitch speeds that give Greinke his Sly Young appeal, he also has taken up publicly giving the signs back to the catcher and throwing the ball very slowly:
You sly, sly dog Greinke. pic.twitter.com/d73jkqoNvT
— TLM Bets (@thelinemovement) August 23, 2020
While smart people will say “He’s actually just calling for the sign set, not the actual pitch!” about this behavior, and those people are factually correct, I still choose to believe, dangit.
But here’s where I’m gonna Kanye both myself and the voting public (sorry, everybody) and say that both Cueto and Greinke simply weren’t effective enough to earn the top spot and take home the award in 2021. And the real winner and runner-up weren’t even in the write-in votes, says me! So here I am to hijack the entire voting process and present them to you:
The Runner Up: Nathan Eovaldi
Nathan Eovaldi has been one of my favorite pitchers since the Yankees traded for him back in 2015 (side note: how has it been that long?) and the fact that he uh, wasn’t particularly good for New York never changed my mind. Since then, he’s gotten a second Tommy John and become arguably the staff ace for the Red Sox (although Chris Sale had to get injured for that to happen, I guess.) And while his fastball velo is still in the high-90s, he’s decided to also do stuff like this:
Nathan Eovaldi, 99mph ⛽️…and Messing with Timing/Leg Hang pic.twitter.com/CJLR7ki3up
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 23, 2021
It just seems unfair that you can throw that hard while also changing where your foot’s landing, if you need an even better example, here’s some form a single at-bat, in the wild card game!
Nathan Eovaldi, Windup/Timing Variations (all from 1 Rizzo AB).
Regular, Leg Hang/Stutter and Quick Pitch. pic.twitter.com/Hsdc8Tv93a
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 6, 2021
And it’s expanded on in this video from PitchingNinja:
And while my general fandom gland is swelling with patriotic jelly for Eovaldi, it also pains me deeply to be giving him the spotlight here with several clips from the Wild Card game, that alone isn’t the reason I’m not declaring him the winner. Because see, even without the leg hangs and quick pitches, he’s still throwing a 99mph fastball to go with four other pitches. He doesn’t need the tomfoolery, it’s just icing. The Sly Young in my mind is somebody who lives off of the tomfoolery. Eovaldi simply adopted the Sly, our winner was born in it, molded by it.
And he happens to be a Yankee but I swear that’s just a coincidence.
The 2021 Sly Young Winner: Nestor Cortes Jr.
Nestor Cortes Jr was taken from New York by Baltimore back in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, and he was returned. He pitched to a 7.71 ERA in 4.2 innings. He was traded to Seattle for IFA bonus money in 2020 and pitched to a 15.26 ERA in 7.2 innings. Then in 2021, the Yankees got him back on a minor league deal. The injuries they suffered to the rotation threw him into the starter’s job rather quickly, but this time he pitched to a 2.90 ERA over 93 innings. How, you ask? Well, stuff like this:
Nestor Cortes. Messing With Timing. 😂
h/t @lindseyadler pic.twitter.com/AiGyC87qxt
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 12, 2021
That’s a triple step, double shimmy, dropdown slider. To Bryce freakin’ Harper.
He didn’t just drop the hammer on the NL MVP this season, but the AL MVP Shohei Ohtani, too:
This AB features a rundown of some of his weirder moves, but also a windup so slow that even the umpire bails from behind the plate and calls a timeout. That’s just impressive.
And lest you think Nasty Nestor, Staff Ace Of The New York Yankees is just up there throwing junk, check out his screaming 93mph fastball that comes off of what I can only describe as a mockery of Masahiro Tanka’s windup that was made by an AI chatbot:
Nestor Cortes Jr. , Messing with Timing. 😂 pic.twitter.com/9TTK5d4KuN
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 26, 2019
In every appearance, Nestor gave us something to talk about in terms of his delivery, his, release point, his timing, and his mustache.
And sometimes that something to say was just bafflement:
What in the heck is this delivery pic.twitter.com/7IaXjni9nO
— Internet #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) July 4, 2021
In fact, he gave us so much to talk about that PL’s very own Zach Hayes wrote an entire piece on the effectiveness of it, plus a deeper look at how he pulls it all off. I don’t want to spoil Zach’s conclusions (although you can probably guess where he comes down) but I do want to leave you with this chart of his release points, a veritable rainbow of Sly Young Greatness:
And if you still don’t buy it, go re-watch the Jomboy video and look at all the faces, that’s just fun baseball, people.
Feature Image Photo by Ariel Basaar/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)