Blue Jays' Robbie Ray named AL Cy Young Award winner

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Robbie Ray is the 2021 AL Cy Young Award winner. (Getty)
Robbie Ray has won the Cy Young Award. (Getty)

Robbie Ray is the 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner.

MLB announced Ray as the AL's most valuable pitcher on Wednesday, a triumphant close to the left-hander's incredible resurgence with the Toronto Blue Jays.

"I didn't like to talk about it (during the season), but it feels great to talk about it now that I've actually won the award," Ray said in a conference call after winning the award. "I'm super excited and looking to build on top of it, honestly, to keep getting better every single day and to push forward to even greater things."

The southpaw beat out the New York Yankees' Gerrit Cole and the Chicago White Sox's Lance Lynn for the award, finishing with a landslide 29 out of 30 first-place ballots by BBWAA voters.

The 30-year-old Ray is the first Blue Jays pitcher to take home the honour since Roy Halladay in 2003.

After adjusting his mechanics in the offseason and transforming himself into a two-pitch ace, Ray finished the 2021 campaign with a league-leading 2.82 ERA and 11.5 strikeouts per nine, while holding opponents to a .236 batting average in 193.1 innings. His 6.7 WAR was by far the best of any pitcher in the American League, per Baseball Reference. The numbers are even more impressive when considering that Ray had a 6.62 ERA and 7.8 walks per nine innings in 2020.

Reducing his walk rate was the biggest improvement for the left-hander. Ray went from that 7.8 mark in 2020 to just 2.4 bases on balls per nine innings this year, relying mostly on his fastball-slider combo to get outs.

"Mentally, I'm as tough as anyone. I feel like I put almost too much pressure on myself to be excellent every time I go out there," said Ray. "The mindset was always there, it was just putting the physical stuff with the mindset."

For Ray, the physical stuff included adding some muscle and working on what he calls a "repeatable delivery." From there, he worked on attacking the strike zone with his fastball as a way to set up a swing-and-miss slider.

Among his many feats in 2021, Ray broke the Blue Jays' single-game strikeout record for a lefty, when he fanned 14 White Sox in August.

After being traded to Toronto from the Arizona Diamondbacks in mid-2020, Ray signed a one-year, $8-million contract with the Blue Jays in 2021. He's now set for a lucrative free-agent deal, as he turned down Toronto's qualifying offer of one year and $18.4 million.

"I'm enjoying free agency, it's a process that's a lot of fun," said Ray. "Me and my family are enjoying it as a family. Every player desires to make it to this point — to get to free agency and be in the position that we're in."

Ray's Cy Young keeps building on Toronto's season of awards, as the club had already earned three Silver Slugger awards (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernández and Marcus Semien), the AL Hank Aaron prize (Guerrero Jr.) and a Gold Glove (Semien) after missing out on the 2021 playoffs by a single game.

"We had a lot of fun together this year and we enjoyed every minute together in the clubhouse," said Ray. "Obviously, I love Toronto. But, you know, we'll see where things go."

This is the fifth Cy Young Award in Blue Jays history.

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