Saturday, December 28, 2013

Questionable Cy Youngs: 2000-2009

Two winters ago I broke down all the MVP votes I had major issues with. Now it's time to look back at where the writers fell short in Cy Young voting.

2001 AL Roger Clemens over everyone else
With two-time defending champ Pedro Martinez making just 18 starts due to injury, the American League Cy Young award was up for grabs. Without a standout candidate, voters were forced to choose from a crowded field and ultimately selected Clemens, who at 38 turned in the best season of his Yankees career. Rocket received his sixth career trophy largely on the strength of his 20-3 record (the best in baseball, though he did not have the most wins) and 213 strikeouts (third most in the AL). Besides winning percentage, Clemens wasn't the league's best pitcher by any metric. Runner-up Mark Mulder was just as good if not better, but I would have gone with Clemens' teammate Mike Mussina, who finished fifth. On top of his 7.1 bWAR, more than any other AL hurler, Moose posted the league's second best ERA, WHIP, and walk rate. He also ranked second in strikeouts, shutouts, ERA+ and K/BB ratio. Those who leave Mussina off their Hall of Fame ballot will likely do so because he never won a Cy Young award, but if he didn't deserve to win in 2001 then he should have at least been a close second.

2002 AL Barry Zito over Pedro Martinez
Zito won 23 games for the Moneyball Oakland A's, most in the American League, but the rest of his numbers can't match Martinez's. Pedro, a 20-game winner himself, took two-thirds of the pitching Triple Crown with 239 strikeouts and a 2.26 ERA. His ERA led all of baseball along with his 202 ERA+, 0.92 WHIP, 6.5 H/9 and .833 winning percentage. Zito did have a 30-inning edge over Martinez that made him slightly more valuable according to bWAR, but Pedro was so much more dominant that the workload discrepancy should have been overlooked. Voters were probably tired of giving the award to Martinez, who won a trio of Cy Youngs in four years from 1997 through 2000, but he deserved a fourth in '02.

2003 NL Eric Gagne over everyone else
Gagne had a tremendous year for a closer, equaling John Smolt's NL saves record of 55 and becoming the first pitcher to record at least 50 saves in multiple seasons. However, one can only have so much of an impact in 82 innings, which barely amounts to nine full games of baseball (less than six percent of the season). Jason Schmidt, the runner-up and ERA champion, was worth three more wins than Gagne.  Schmidt wasn't as good as Mark Prior, though, who placed third but should have finished firt. Prior's 7.4 bWAR was twice that of Gagne's 3.7 and led all National League pitchers. Chicago's young flamethrower also ranked second in strikeouts, K/9, K/BB ratio, ERA+. and wins. Voters love to commemorate record-breaking performances with awards (see Roger Maris beating out Mickey Mantle in 1961, Maury Wills topping Willie Mays the year after, or Miguel Cabrera routing Mike Trout in 2012), and it seems that's what happened in '03. Interestingly enough, Prior, Schmidt and Gagne all broke down shortly after their impressive 2003 campaigns.

2004 NL Roger Clemens over Randy Johnson
After an injury plagued 2003 limited Johnson to just 18 starts of 4.26 ERA ball, the towering southpaw re-established himself as the National League's most dominant pitcher in 2004. Rediscovering the form that helped him win four straight Cy Youngs from 1999 through 2002, the Big Unit topped the big leagues in strikeouts (290) and WHIP (0.90) in addition to leading the NL in ERA+, H/9 and pitching WAR. Granted, Johnson was not quite as good as he was during his four straight Cy campaigns, but he was still easily the league's top pitcher and deserved his fifth Cy Young award in six seasons. But since the Diamondbacks were a terrible team that year (111 losses), Johnson's record was an unimpressive 16-14. Clemens, who went 18-4 for the playoff-bound Astros, had baseball's best winning percentage but lagged behind Johnson in most other meaningful categories, and therefore did not deserve his seventh and final Cy Young. Had they switched teams then Johnson, backed by the Killer Bee's of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran (plus Jeff Kent) would have cleared 20 wins easily and walked away with the award.

2005 AL Bartolo Colon over Johan Santana
Colon  won a league-best 21 games, threw a good amount of innings and had a nice strikeout to walk ratio (3.65), but the rest of his numbers were merely very good. Santana, who finished third behind Colon and Mariano Rivera, led the majors with 238 strikeouts. He also posted the league's best ERA+, WHIP, H/9 and K/9, a dominant performance that made him the Junior Circuit's most valuable pitcher per bWAR. Seeing as how Santana was superior to Colon in virtually every category except wins, it's clear the voters got this one wrong.


  1. Clemens didn't deserve it in '04 but he probably did in '05. He was to Carpenter what Pedro was to Zito in '02.

  2. Ya I gave a lot of thought to that one. Clemens probably suffered because of his 13-8 record which was not as good as Carpenter's 21-5. Also Carpenter threw 30 more innings, had more strikeouts and posted a better K/BB ratio. Tough call.

  3. I think you're a little preoccupied with strikeouts. Not to mention in the National League, you're forgetting pitcher intangibles like hitting and fielding which Glavine was very good at. His intensity and effort always engaged his teammates to play better. I think you might be a little too stat bound. Why not say Sid Fernandez is deserving of a Cy Young, the dude had phenomenal WHIP's but could n't hit, could n't field, always worked high in the zone and therefore had high pitch counts per batter and could never get past the 6th inning, not mention his conditioning was horrible so he was always gassed, working slow and methodical. This put his teammates to sleep on the field and they seemed to consistently offer poor defensive play for him, this passive play often carried over to the offensive side of the field, were the team was criticized for their poor run support. THEY WERE HALF ASLEEP!

  4. I like strikeouts because they're one of the few things pitchers can control, and also they take pressure off the defense. A pitcher's fielding and batting ability is irrelevant to his Cy Young candidacy, which is based entirely off his pitching performance. It is my opinion that awards should be almost entirely stat-driven, as intangibles are impossible to measure (but do matter)