So, you probably know that at the moment Felix Hernandez leads the American League in ERA and strikeouts. Roy Halladay and Adam Wainwright are close to the top in both categories in the NL, but neither is leading and probably neither will lead. So mostly this focuses on King Felix.
Felix may not end up leading the league in either category. Jered Weaver is only three strikeouts behind, and he will pitch Friday. Clay Bucholz is just a few hundredths behind Hernandez in ERA and he’s scheduled to go Saturday. I assume King Felix will pitch the Mariners finale on Sunday, but I guess that hasn’t been announced yet.
Anyway, I was wondering how often a pitcher who led the league in ERA and strikeouts DID NOT win the Cy Young Award. It has happened — more often than I expected to be honest.
From my quick count 19 of the 24 times a pitcher has led his league in strikeouts and ERA since 1966 (the first year they gave out Cy Young Awards to each league), the pitcher did win the Cy Young Award. These would be:
Roger Clemens 4 times (1986, 1991, 1997, 1998)
Randy Johnson 4 times (1995, 1999, 2001, 2002)
Johan Santana 2 times (2004, 2006)
Pedro Martinez 2 times (1999, 2000)
Jake Peavy (2007)
Mike Scott (1986)
Dwight Gooden (1985)
Tom Seaver (1973)
Steve Carlton (1972)
Bob Gibson (1968)
Sandy Koufax (1967)
But that still leaves five pitchers who led their league in ERA and Ks who did not win the Cy Young. See if you can come up with them … I was able to come up with one off the top of my head, and scrambled to come up with another. But I missed the other three. They are:
2002: Pedro Martinez lost the Cy Young to Barry Zito. I eventually remembered this one. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) suggests voters got it right. Zito (6.5 WAR) made five more starts and pitched 30 more innings than Pedro (5.7 WAR).
1987: Nolan Ryan finished fifth in Cy Young voting. This is the one I remembered right off the top of my head … Ryan famously finished 8-16 this year despite leading the league in ERA and strikeouts. The Cy Young choice — Steve Bedrosian — was absolutely brutal, one of the worst choices ever I think. How do you pick for Cy Young a closer with 86 innings pitched and a higher ERA than Ryan had as a starter? Ryan’s WAR (5.5) was more than twice Bedrosian’s (2.6) — simply a swing and a miss by the voters. Then again, Ryan might not have been the best choice either. Orel Hershiser led the league in WAR with a 6.7 — the guy threw 264 innings that year.
1979: J.R. Richard finished third in the Cy Young voting behind Bruce Sutter and Joe NIekro. Sutter really did have a great year as a closer (though not as good a year as he had in 1977, when HE probably had a better year than Cy Young winner Steve Carlton). But Richard also finished behind Joe Niekro? Just weird. That was pure wins talking. The odd thing is the guy who had the highest WAR in the league that year was PHIL Niekro, who went 21-20 and finished 6th in the voting.
1971: Tom Seaver finished second in the Cy Young voting to Ferguson Jenkins. This, at the time, was actually a pretty famous snub. Seaver had a 1.76 ERA, a full run better than Jenkins. But WAR suggests that the voters probably got it right — or anyway it was a toss-up. Jenkins made four more starts, pitched 40 more innings (a staggering 325 innings total) and they had identical WAR totals of 9.2. The feeling seemed to be that Jenkins, who had won 20 the previous four seasons without fanfare, was deserving of recognition, and Jenkins really did have a great year. Of course that feeling may have been influenced by the fact that Jenkins won four more games than Seaver.
1970: Tom Seaver finished seventh int he Cy Young voting. This was a strange year — Seaver led the league in ERA and strikeouts, yes, but he only went 18-12 which doomed his Cy Young chances. And WAR suggests, once more, that the writers got it right. They gave the award to Bob Gibson, who did indeed lead the league in WAR. And second place was Gaylord Perry who was indeed second in the league in WAR. The voters messed up sometimes, yes, but I find it interesting how often their choices match up with WAR even though, obviously, they had no access to the statistic when they were voting.