A big league reliever hasn’t won the Cy Young Award since former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne accomplished the feat with 55 saves in 2003. It’s highly unconventional for a closer, let alone a middle reliever, to win the most prestigious pitching award in baseball. San Francisco Giants right-handed reliever Jean Machi is seemingly trying to achieve the unthinkable in spite of slim odds.
The 255-pound hurler owns a 4-0 record with a microscopic 0.49 ERA in 18.1 innings of work in the 2014 MLB season. His current ERA is less than half of what Gagne posted in his remarkable ’03 season (1.20), although Machi is nowhere near as prolific at striking out batters (8.1 K/9 in parts over three seasons), nor will he ever have the saves total to accompany his statistical success.
Machi posting one of the best win totals in baseball through the first six weeks of the season has been plain dumb luck, and will be almost impossible to sustain over the course of a 162-game season. At the moment, he’s listed as an official Cy Young award candidate in the NL according to ESPN’s MLB Cy Young Predictor. The same could be said for three other Giants pitchers, including another reliever. Closer Sergio Romo, and starters Tim Hudson and Madison Bumgarner all check in with top-10 odds to win the award in 2014.
The Cy Young Predictor is a formula created by Bill James and ESPN.com’s Rob Nyer. It essentially values strikeouts, saves, shutouts and wins, but also credits pitchers with a “victory bonus,” which has largely impacted the presence of three relievers, including Machi, in the NL’s top-10. Milwaukee Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez currently leads the NL Cy Young Predictor standings with a score of 67.8. Romo is slotted in second place at 65.8 while Machi sits in fourth place with a distant 54.9.
Perhaps Machi’s current status as a top candidate for Cy Young award has been hindered by the fact that he hasn’t won a game in nearly a week. He’s been forced to settle for holds and his first career big league save in the meantime. As the Giants continue to blow by competition en route to first place status in the NL West, Machi should continue his unlikely pursuit for an irreplaceable piece of hardware.