When the 2019 AL and NL Cy Young award winners are announced Wednesday evening, the winner won’t be a Latino, nor will a Latino finish in the top three of either ballot.
Unfortunately, 2019 is not an anomaly. In fact, it’s part of a growing trend within the league. Long gone are the days of Latino aces in Pedro Martínez and Fernando Valenzuela and even more recently with Johan Santana and Félix Hernández.
Hernández owns the title of being the last Latino to win the Cy Young in 2010. Martínez is the last Latino in the NL to receive the award in 1997.
In many ways, the Latino ace simply does not exist. Sure, many teams have a Latino staff ace, but there is no true league-wide ace, like former Astro and AL Cy Young finalist Gerrit Cole.
Of the major counting stats utilized to determine annual winners (ERA, innings pitched, wins, strikeouts and WAR), Latinos only chart in two of those categories, wins and WAR; and if last year is any indication, wins are the least valuable stat in determining overall pitcher value. More so, Eduardo Rodríguez’s WAR varies between FanGraphs, 3.7 fWAR, and Baseball-Reference, 6.0 bWAR, making his candidacy a contestable subject.
To recap, Luis Severino, who spent half of 2018 as the AL frontrunner before a combination of fatigue and reported tipped pitches ended his candidacy, opened the 2019 season on the IL.
The two-time All-Star was scratched from his first spring training start with discomfort, which later became right shoulder inflammation and then eventually a lat strain, all of which kept him off of the mound until August. When he did return, he was good for just three starts.
Severino’s fill-in, Domingo Germán, pitched well and immediately cemented himself as the staff No. 1 and potential Cy Young nominee. For much of the season, he led the league in wins and had a respectable 3.67 ERA at the All-Star break with 83 strikeouts in 14 games.
German saw his season end from the sideline after being placed on administrative leave under the Joint MLB-MLBPA Domestic Violence Policy. His immediate future is not yet known.
Elsewhere, José Berríos pitched well with a 14-8 record and 3.68 ERA and the same can be said for Luis Castillo at 15-8 and a 3.40 ERA. However, in a league featuring world eating pitchers like Cole and Jacob deGrom, good is simply not enough.
It can be argued that future Latino aces have since become bullpen mainstays. Of the 10 league-wide leaders in saves, five of them are Latino.
The Tampa Bay Rays and their bullpen-first strategy rode a bevy of Latinos, including Diego Castillo, Emilio Pagán, Yonny Chirinos and José Alvarado, to a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series.
In Flushing, the New York Mets mortgaged some of their top prospects in order to obtain Puerto Rican closer Edwin Díaz, who saved a league-leading 57 games for the Seattle Mariners in 2018.
Budding superstar Julio Urías of the Los Angeles Dodgers only started eight games and instead factored into the team’s bullpen. Urias also spent 20 games suspended in violation of the league’s domestic violence policy.
St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martínez found himself moved from a cost-efficient starter to an $11 million bullpen option.
Perhaps most emblematic of the death of the Latino ace was Hernández’s final outing in a Mariners uniform.
Hernández, the most dominant Latino starter of this decade and the last to obtain a year-end award, pitched a finale that felt more like a drawn-out retirement ceremony than a thank you.
Yet, despite the absence of an ace in 2019, there is hope for the future.
Sinaloan José Urquidy of the Houston Astros finished the month of September splitting his time between the bullpen and as a starter, having only given up three earned runs in 18 innings of work.
In the postseason, Urquidy turned heads when he became just the third Mexican-born pitcher to start a World Series game behind Jaime García and Fernando Valenzuela. Urquidy twirled five innings of shutout baseball to help propel the Astros to a Game 4 victory. The win made Urquidy just the second Mexican-born starting pitcher to win a World Series game and third pitcher overall.
Elsewhere, Yankees young phenom Deivi García saw his prospect stock rise after posting a 1-2-3 scoreless first inning in the All-Star Futures Game. The 20-year-old was immediately promoted to Triple-A with the goal of him joining the Yankees next season in full bloom.
Jesus Luzardo, who became the first native Peruvian to pitch in the majors, pitched to a 1.50 ERA with 16 strikeouts across six appearances.
Pitching from behind in the AL Wild Card Game, Luzardo turned in three scoreless innings mixing in his sinker (95.9 mph) and four-seam fastball (96.8 mph). He stymied Rays batters and gave a glimpse of what is possible next season.
So, sure 2019 may not have featured a bonafide ace, but 2020 has the potential to change that.
Featured Image: Jean Fruth