Thursday, August 07, 2008

Worst Cy Young Winners (NL)

There was almost perfect symmetry between the NL screw-ups and the AL screw-ups. My initial tally was 12 screw-ups a piece but there were two borderline cases in the NL that I just could not sign-off on. First, I wanted to include 1989 when Mark Davis beat out a slew of starters who had similarly uninspiring years. Orel Hershiser had the best season of the bunch. At first glance, it looked like ’89 was just a repeat of ’87 when Hershiser was erroneously beat out by Steve Bedrosian. However, Davis had a much better year than Bedrosian. I don’t condone Davis winning in ’89 but I couldn’t pull the trigger on calling it horrible. I could be convinced otherwise, though. Secondly, I wanted to include 2005 when Chris Carpenter beat out Roger Clemens despite sporting an ERA almost a full run higher. However, Carpenter and Clemens essentially made the same number of starts (33-32 in favor of Carpenter) yet Carpenter finished with 31 more innings. It doesn’t take too much math comprehension to see that Carpenter basically averaged an inning more per start. There is not question in my mind that Clemens’s ERA wouldn’t have been as impressive if he were able to go as far into games as Carpenter. So, I left that vote off the list as well. I do have a bonus-inclusion under “ML” since it was in ’59 when the award was only given to the best pitcher in the majors.

Worst Cy Young Votes in National League History (winner listed first)


Roger Clemens2.9814682%214.3181.16218
Randy Johnson2.6017753%245.716.90290

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.


Tom Glavine2.4716877%229.3201.20157
Kevin Brown2.3816472%257181.07257
Greg Maddux2.2218767%25118.98204

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.


John Smoltz2.9414975%253.7241.00276
Kevin Brown1.8921661%23317.94159

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.


Steve Bedrosian2.83150638951.207440
Orel Hershisher2.0613150%264.7161.201900

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.


Rick Sutcliffe2.6914494%150.3161.08155
Dwight Gooden2.6013765%276.7171.07268

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 Carlton3.1011968%295.7231.15286
Steve Rogers2.4015270%277191.12179

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.


Bruce Sutter2.2218750%101.36.9811037
J.R. Richard2.7113058%292.3181.093130

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.


Mike Marshall2.4214156%208.3151.1914321
Andy Messersmith2.5913277%292.3201.102210

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.


Ferguson Jenkins2.7714265%325241.05263
Tom Seaver1.7619367%286.320.95289

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…


Bob Gibson3.1213277%294231.19274
Tom Seaver2.8214260%291181.07283

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


Mike McCormick2.8511769%262.3221.15150
Jim Bunning2.2914953%302.3171.04253

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.


Early Wynn3.1711969%255.7221.26179
Sam Jones2.8313458%270.7211.26209

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)


Anonymous said...

Voters obsess over wins and losses more than they should. I agree that ERA+ should be weighed more heavily, but if there are historic years, then I don't think those pitchers should be snubbed. For instance K-Rod this year is very likely to win the Cy Young (even though Cliff Lee deserves it more at this point), but if he smashes the saves record by 8-10 saves, shouldn't he deserve some recognition especially if other closers have won the Cy Young in past years?

Great post. Can you do Worst MVP Winners too?

Jake said...


First, thanks for the comments. Lee is making a pretty solid case right now but I do agree that K-Rod at least deserves a look. If he continues to sputter like he has recently, this will be moot. I don't have a problem with closers winning the Cy Young. I just think if they are going to win, they better have phenomenal seasons. K-Rod's season has been pretty good but Lee beats him in a straight-up comparison of ERA+. Lee will have pitched 150 more innings and has a better WHIP and a ridiculous winning percentage. If K-Rod wins with his current numbers over Lee, then I would add that vote to the worst of all-time. If K-Rod breaks that record, he could definitely win and that would be unfortunate.

I'll do a similar post for Worst MVP Winners in the next week or two.

Take care!


JM said...

First off, excellent post. Quite an interesting read. It's amazing that voters continue to give so much weight to a stat for which a pitcher is usually less than half responsible.

Regarding K-Rod:

I don't think he's even the best closer in the AL this season. He's well behind Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan in WHIP and ERA+ and he's got more walks (30) than the other three combined (29). He's gonna break the save record mainly because he's had such a ridiculous number of save opportunities.

Jake said...


Thanks for the comments. Cliff Lee has been so good this year—and most importantly over the last month—that I no longer fear K-Rod winning the Cy Young. You are right on about K-Rod’s season. It hasn’t been that good. His ERA+ has been pretty bad all season and, as you mentioned, he’s not even one of the three best closers in the AL, let alone pitchers. Lee’s season has been one of the best of this era. 190 ERA+!!! He should be the unanimous winner.


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