Worst Cy Young Votes in National League History (winner listed first)
There was no chance Randy Johnson was going to win the Cy Young in 2004 no matter how good he pitched since his Diamondbacks were one of the worst teams in MLB history with a 51-111 record. However, the Cy Young is not an MVP award. Astoundingly, there were 23 voters in the NL who thought Clemens was the better pitcher in ‘05. Johnson pitched 35 more innings with an ERA+ that was 31 points higher. Interestingly, if Johnson had won the award as he should have, he and Clemens would have been tied with six Cy Young’s a piece. Instead, Clemens holds a 7-5 advantage.
Whereas Dave Stieb’s snubs wouldn’t have made an impact on his Hall of Fame chances, the same cannot be said for Kevin Brown. Unlike Stieb, Brown’s chances for the Hall of Fame are borderline even without a Cy Young Award. Had he won one or two, he probably would’ve been a good bet for election. Instead, Brown came up with zero and thus his chances are zero. It’s debatable just how many Brown should have won. It’s one or two depending on how you view ’98. There is no question in my mind that Brown should have easily finished ahead of Tom Glavine who won the award. Brown pitched 28 more innings with virtually the same ERA+ and a much better WHIP. However, Greg Maddux was the best pitcher in the NL in ’98. In a case very similar to the AL Cy Young voting in ’01, Maddux was clearly the best pitcher on his team and still lost the award to his teammate. People who vote this poorly should have their credentials stripped. Maddux pitched 22 more innings with an ERA+ 23 points higher. I know this can be difficult for Cy Young voters to comprehend but if Pitcher A and Pitcher B pitch for the same team, and Pitcher A pitches more innings and has a better ERA, then Pitcher A is the better pitcher. Maddux was robbed of a fifth Cy Young Award.
Smoltz had a very good season in 1996. However, Kevin Brown had an ERA that was more than a full run better. How could a reasonable-thinking person conclude that Smoltz was the better pitcher? Brown’s 216 ERA+ is the highest single-season mark to not result in a Cy Young Award (min. 215 innings). Smoltz led the league in wins and pitched for a playoff team. In other words, Brown had no chance.
At least when Sparky Lyle won the AL Cy Young in ’77 he pitched 137 innings. Bedrosian only managed 89 innings. Orel Hershisher pitched close to three times as many! Bedrosian won because there were no other obvious candidates. Even Hershisher, the best pitcher in the NL in ’87, was only 16-16. Jesus couldn’t win the Cy Young with that record. Bedrosian’s win was, by no means, unanimous. In fact, he only received 9 of the 24 first place votes. The majority of voters agreed that Bedrosian was not the best pitcher in ’87. They just couldn’t agree who was.
I’m sure every pitcher would love to be able start over halfway through the season like Sutcliffe was able to do in 1984. Sutcliffe went 4-5 with a 5.05 ERA to start the season with Cleveland in the American League. He was traded to the Cubs and saw his ERA immediately drop to 0.00. By rule, his horrid stats over 15 starts in the AL would not be factored into his statistics for Cy Young voting purposes. Sutcliffe went on to receive a godly amount of run support (5.6 runs per game) and finished the season 16-1 in the NL. Even if we pretend that it’s OK that Sutcliffe’s AL statistics got washed away, Gooden pitched 126 more innings in the NL with nearly identical ERA numbers. I realize that a 16-1 record is like a pair of bare breasts walking into a room but these voters get paid to look away. It probably didn’t help Gooden that he was a rookie but he should’ve been a back-to-back winner in ‘84-‘85. Additionally, this would never happen in the MVP voting. There is no way that the best ½ season could be as impactful as the best full season.
Steve Carlton was the Tom Glavine of the 70’s. And like Glavine, he won a Cy Young that he shouldn’t have. Rogers had an ERA+ that was 33 points better. He also had a better winning percentage and WHIP. However, his name wasn’t Steve Carlton. So he apparently didn’t deserve it in ’82.
There is a closer every year who puts up numbers like Sutter put up in ’79. I can understand truly great relief performances resulting in the Cy Young like Eck in ’92 and Eric Gagne in ’03. If voters are going to give the Cy Young to Sutter in ’79, then they should give it to a closer every year. I just can’t fathom how big of a detour from logic it would take to get to the belief that Sutter’s impact was greater than Richard’s. Richard threw almost three times as many innings! He had 313 strike outs to go with 18 wins and a 1.09 WHIP. A sure-sign that NL voters in ’79 were on some sort of a controlled substance is that Joe Niekro—Richard’s Houston teammate—finished ahead of Richard in the voting while pitching significantly fewer innings with a much worse ERA and WHIP. As for Sutter, Gagne’s ERA+ in ’03 was 335. That’s the sort of season that should garner Cy Young consideration if you’re only going to pitch 100 innings.
Sutter was bad but I don’t think anything trumps Mike Marshall in ’74. While I commend the voters for going with a reliever who actually pitched over 200 innings (which is unheard of in today’s game), Marshall probably had the worst of the ten seasons that resulted in a Cy Young going to a reliever. Messersmith’s season wasn’t overwhelming but he was clearly the better pitcher in ’74. Marshall lost 12 games! Can you imagine a reliever doing that today? Well, I guess I should say “can you imagine anyone other than Shawn Chacon doing that today?” Marshall also pitched in 41 games in which his team lost. Messersmith pitched 84 more innings with a better WHIP, more wins, a better winning percentage and an ERA only slightly less impressive than Marshall’s.
I’d like to invoke rule 1a of the Cy Young Voting Common Sense Charter that states, “If Pitcher A has an ERA that is a full run lower than Pitcher B and Pitcher A pitched a competing workload, then Pitcher A was the better pitcher.” Seaver went for 286.3 at a 1.76 clip. That is phenomenal. I do have to give Ferguson Jenkins credit for a 325-inning season but a 143 ERA+ won’t cut it when we’re talking about Seaver’s 193. This should have been a fourth Cy Young for Seaver. Like Maddux, though, he actually should’ve finished with five and here’s why…
Seaver and Gibson went for just about the same amount of innings in 1970. Seaver had the better ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and had more K’s. The only thing Gibson had going for him was that he led the NL in wins which, as you know by now, is the only statistic that matters
I don’t necessarily want to embark on the task of ranking the worst Cy Young winners in order but the ’67 result would be a frontrunner for worst all-time. Jim Bunning pitched 40 more innings with an ERA+ that was 32 points higher than Mike McCormick. Even more absurd is the fact that Bunning only received one of 20 first place votes. He must have slept with a lot of sportswriters’ wives.
The ’59 voting was almost as bad as ’67 but not quite. Sam Jones pitched more innings with a better ERA+. While not as egregious as some of the other awful votes, ’59 is where the Cy Young voting shenanigans got started.
The 2008 NL Cy Young Race
I’m not sure that it’s possible for the NL Cy Young to go to an undeserving pitcher this year. For that to happen, there would have to be a deserving pitcher to start with. There are at least ten pitchers in the NL who could legitimately claim a shot at the Cy Young. There are a number of scenarios that could play out including a repeat of the ’84 NL Cy Young with Sabathia winning despite playing in the league for half the season. We could also see a repeat of the ’01 AL Cy Young with a pitcher winning the award over a teammate with better numbers (i.e. Webb over Haren). I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the top five listed below end up winning the award. If I had to guess how the season was going to end in the NL, I’d say Webb distances himself from the rest of the group including Haren and picks up his second Cy Young Award. Also, look out for Randy Johnson next season. After battling injuries for the better part of two seasons, The Big Unit has allowed only two earned runs in his last 27.3 innings.
Best guess for 2008 NL Cy Young ballot (as of August 7, 2008)
1). Brandon Webb
2). C.C. Sabathia
3). Carlos Zambrano
4). Dan Haren
5). Jake Peavy
6). Tim Lincecum
7). Johan Santana
8). Edinson Volquez
9). Ryan Dempster
10). Ben Sheets
11). Tim Hudson
Worst Cy Young Winners (AL)