In an era of quick hooks and deep bullpens, innings are the most precious currency for starting pitchers across Major League Baseball. Miami Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcántara did a better job than anyone else at outlasting his opponents in 2022, and that is the starting point for why he deserves the National League Cy Young Award.
Alcántara logged 228 2/3 innings, the most in the majors in six seasons, and completed six starts, tied for the most since 2011, on his way to a unanimous victory in balloting among a 30-person BBWAA panel. It was the 15th time an NL pitcher received every first-place vote, and it's the most recent occurrence since Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014.
The announcement came Wednesday night on the MLB Network, which also revealed the results of the AL Cy Young voting: Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros won unanimously as well.
Alcántara, who turned 27 in September, said he was proudest of his ability to compete effectively deep into games — relative to the era. He faced a league-high 886 batters in 2022. By comparison, starting pitchers a generation ago frequently led the league by surpassing a thousand batters per season. In the 1980s, the high marks were in the 1,100s. In the ‘80s, it was about 1,200 batters. In the 19th century during the times of Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, surpassing 2,000 batters per season was not uncommon.
Alcántara is a hoss in his own time.
"That's why I get so mad when they take me (out) in the eighth," Alcántara said with a chuckle.
In 32 starts, Alcántara posted a 2.28 ERA, which was second in the NL, and finished first with an 8.0 WAR at Baseball-Reference, a mark that was better than the next pitcher (Aaron Nola of the Philadelphia Phillies) by two full runs. Alcántara also led the NL in Win Probability Added, as calculated separately at Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. His 207 strikeouts were fourth in the NL.
Atlanta Braves left-hander Max Fried finished second in the NL voting, edging Dodgers lefty Julio Urias. Nola, Zac Gallen of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers also got significant down-ballot support. It was a deep season for great pitching performances in the NL, but Alcántara was clearly the best.
"I've been learning," Alcántara said. "I've had a lot of growth as a player, because every time I cross that line, no matter who it's against, I don't care who else is there — I just want to compete."
Alcántara had six double-digit strikeout games — including a 14-punchout performance in a 4-1 victory against the Braves on May 28, a 12-K effort against the Phillies on July 15 and a 10-strikeout outing against the Dodgers on Aug. 27. He had eight games in which he allowed zero runs, plus eight more games where he allowed just one run. Only three times did he allow more than four runs in any start.
By game score, Alcántara’s best outing came against the Los Angeles Angels on July 5 in which he allowed two hits and struck out 10 (including Mike Trout twice) over eight scoreless innings. According to Baseball-Reference, it was the 11th-best individual performance by a starter in 2022.
The St. Louis Cardinals signed Alcántara from the Dominican Republic as an 18-year-old in 2013, and he ascended to the No. 40 overall prospect at Baseball Prospectus before the 2017 season. He debuted with the Marlins that September before being traded with Gallen in a package for outfielder Marcell Ozuna.
Alcántara made six starts in 2018 and, in his first full season, made 32 starts a year later, including an NL-best two complete-game shutouts. He has always finished with above-average results in the majors and has shown improvement every season, especially going by WPA.
"Everything I do, from my head to my feet, I want to do better,” Alcántara said. "I don't feel happy about myself when I just do something 'pretty good’ because I know tomorrow I can do better."