September 19, 2014

The Most Egregious Cy Young Award Snubs of All Time (at Least on Paper)

July 26, 2011 by · 7 Comments 

I recently listed the most egregious MVP snubs of all time and thought it was time to give the pitchers a little love (although not the ones who were awarded a Cy Young they didn’t deserve based on my WA2RB formula).  Rather than plagiarize myself and explain my thoughts and formula, you should head over to the MVP column and read it (go ahead, I’ll wait).  If you’d rather not, no sweat; the WA2RB is simply an average of Win Shares Above Bench divided by three and WAR.  The numbers I used came from The Baseball Gauge@Seamheads.com (of course) and, as I explained in my MVP article, I realize value isn’t just about numbers, but it’s what I have to work with so I’m going with it.

Before we get to the list of Cy Young Award snubs, let’s take a look at the history of the award and voting patterns of the BBWAA.  Since it debuted in 1956 there have been exactly 100 Cy Young Award winners as of 2010.  The first 11 were given to only one pitcher, regardless of his league, before the “best” hurler in each circuit was awarded a Cy Young starting in 1967, and in 1969 Detroit’s Denny McLain and Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar shared the AL award.  So when Seattle ace Felix Hernandez was named the AL’s Cy Young Award winner in November 2010, he became the 100th recipient of the award, which is ironic considering he also became the first to pitch for a team with 100 losses (the Mariners actually went 61-101), and only the fourth to pitch for a last-place team.

I was curious to see what voters look for in a Cy Young candidate from a team standpoint and the results were less than shocking:

1st Place >.500 .500 <.500 Last Place
57 84 1 15 4

Eighty-four of the 100 recipients pitched for winning teams and one, Cliff Lee in 2008, pitched for a .500 team.  Of those 84, 57 were on first-place teams.  Only 15 pitched for losing teams and only four—Steve Carlton in 1972, Roger Clemens in 1997, Zack Greinke in 2009 and Hernandez last year—-pitched for last-place teams.  Of the 100, 91 have been starters, so it’s pretty clear that to have a chance at a Cy Young Award all you have to do is start for a winning team.  Of course, kicking ass and taking names also helps.  I didn’t check to see how many led their respective leagues in wins, winning percentage, ERA and strikeouts because I plan on using that data in a future article. But I’ll discuss those stats, as well as others, in the rankings below.

So without further ado, here are the 10 most egregious Cy Young Award snubs of all time (at least on paper):

#10. Jack McDowell over Kevin Appier for the 1993 A.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Appier 18  -8 .692 2.56 238.2 183 61 8 81 186 1.106 179 6.6 7.4 7.0 62.4%
McDowell 22-10 .688 3.37 256.2 261 96 20 69 158 1.286 125 4.1 4.3 4.2

“Black Jack” McDowell led the league in wins for a White Sox team that won the American League West division in the last year of the two-division structure, and also handily won the Cy Young Award over runner-up Randy Johnson of the Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals ace Kevin Appier, who finished third.  Again, I didn’t check to see how many Cy Young Award winners led their league in wins, but I’d be willing to bet wins leaders won the Cy Young Award more often than ERA leaders or strikeout kings (someone please correct me if I’m wrong).  Baseball, like all sports, is about wins and a pitcher with more wins than losses is obviously deemed successful, while a pitcher with a lot more wins than losses is considered Cy Young worthy, especially if he plays for a winning team and even more so if his team finishes in first.

Appier had a better win-loss percentage than McDowell for a team that finished third with an 84-78 record, 10 games behind McDowell’s White Sox.  He also led the league in ERA at 2.56 and in ERA+ at 179, and allowed only eight home runs to the 953 batters he faced for a league-leading HR/9 of 0.3.  He allowed fewer hits per 9 innings (6.9 to 9.2), his WHIP was more than 16% better and he fanned one and a half more batters per nine innings than McDowell.  Appier was also better in batting average allowed (.212 to .266), on-base average allowed (.279 to .314) and slugging percentage allowed (.292 to .379).  In fact, it appears that all McDowell did was win mores games and throw more shutouts for a team that won more games.

And that’s okay (what the hell was he supposed to do?) but when Pitcher B is superior in almost every category than Pitcher A (and Pitcher B would have gone 19-7 with average run support, while Pitcher A would have gone “only” 20-12 with a average run support) it’s tough to swallow a vote that gives the award to Pitcher A because he won four more games for a White Sox team that won 10 more games than Appier’s Royals.

Oh by the way, according to WA2RB McDowell wasn’t even the best pitcher on his own team, Alex Fernandez was.  Meanwhile Appier was the best pitcher in the AL in 1993 and deserved the award over McDowell and everyone else.

#9. Steve Stone over Mike Norris for the 1980 A.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Norris 22 -9 .710 2.53 284.1 215 80 18 83 180 1.048 149 5.3 6.4 5.9 65.3%
Stone 25-7 .781 3.23 250.2 224 90 22 101 149 1.297 123 3.8 3.3 3.6

When Billy Martin was in charge of the Oakland A’s in the early ’80s he was known for two things: running Rickey Henderson at every opportunity and running his starting pitchers into the ground.  In his first year at the helm, Martin’s big three of Rick Langford, Mike Norris and Matt Keough combined for 824 1/3 innings—Langford led the AL with 290 and Norris was second with 284 1/3—and 72 complete games, finishing 1-2-3 in that category.  Over the rest of their careers, the three combined for 1,553 1/3 innings and 74 complete games, and were through as effective starters by the time they were 30 (28 in Norris’ case), so it’s unfortunate that Norris didn’t have a Cy Young Award to show for his shredded wing.

He only led the league in one category—H/9 at 6.8—but finished second in wins, ERA, WHIP, innings, strikeouts, complete games, and ERA+, fifth in winning percentage and HR/9, seventh in K/9 and eighth in K/BB ratio (recent sabermetric formulae have him first in five other categories as well).  Stone led the league in wins and winning percentage and was second in games started, but finished seventh in ERA, H/9 and strikeouts, and dished out the second most walks in the American League.  He also pitched for a team that won 100 games, while Norris’ A’s won “only” 83.

The 1980 AL Cy Young vote was clearly a case of the writers being blinded yet again by a gaudy, albeit impressive, win total.  Stone was the beneficiary of a potent Orioles offense that finished fifth in runs per game, tied for fourth in slugging and scored an average of 5.5 runs every time he took the bump.  Norris received 4.7 runs on average from an offense that was below league average in several important categories.  With average run support, Stone would have lost six of his wins and finished at 19-13; Norris would have been only one game worse at 21-10.  No matter how you slice it, except for wins and winning percentage, Norris had the better season in 1980 and, though he finished a close second in the balloting, he should have won the award over Stone.

#8. Sparky Lyle over Jim Palmer for the 1977 A.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Palmer 20-11 .645 2.91 319.0 263 103 24 99 193 1.135 132 6.2 6.3 6.2 66.2%
Lyle 13-5 .722 2.17 137.0 131 33 7 33 68 1.197 183 4.3 3.2 3.8

Prior to 1977 only one relief pitcher—Mike Marshall in 1974—had won a Cy Young Award, and that should have gone to Braves knuckleballer Phil Niekro (at least according to WA2RB).  In fact, the ’74 NL vote ranks as the 14th most egregious snub of all time.  So it’s not all that surprising that the second reliever to win the award also ranks high on the snub list.  Lyle had a very good season, recording 13 wins and 26 saves as the ace of the Yankees’ bullpen.  He also posted a 2.17 ERA for an ERA+ of 183 and led the league in games and games finished.  Some of his wins were impressive, like the 6 2/3 innings of scoreless relief he tossed at the A’s on May 17, but as is typically the case with relievers, most of them were a case of being in the right place at the right time.

Palmer, on the other hand, was the pitcher of record in 31 of his 39 starts because he completed a league-best 22 of them and also tossed a league-high 319 innings.  He paced the loop in wins for the third straight year, finished third in H/9, fourth in strikeouts, fifth in ERA and sixth in WHIP.  On the other hand, like his teammate Steve Stone in 1980, Palmer finished second in walks in 1977 and allowed the fifth most hits.

It’s tough to compare starters to relievers for obvious reasons.  Lyle appeared in almost twice as many games as Palmer; Palmer threw almost two-and-half times more innings.  Palmer won seven more games than Lyle; Lyle had the best ERA among AL hurlers with at least 130 innings (ironically, the only pitcher with a better ERA in baseball was Goose Gossage, who would replace Lyle as the Yankees’ closer only a year later).  Wins are definitely not the best indicator of a pitcher’s talent and the BBWAA has finally grasped that concept, giving three of the last four awards to pitchers who won 16, 15 and 13 games, respectively, but Palmer was the best starting pitcher in 1977 by a hair over Kansas City’s Dennis Leonard and as far as I’m concerned relievers should only win the award when there’s no dominant starter to give it to.

One last side note to mention is that Boston’s Bill Campbell had a WA2RB score of 4.7, making him the best relief pitcher in the AL that year, and he was better than Lyle by more than 25%.  So it’s odd that a dominant starting pitcher who pitched for a 97-win team, and a better closer who also pitched for a 97-win team lost out to a guy who probably won because he pitched well for a 100-win team.  It’s also possible that the writers were tired of giving the award to a guy who’d won it in 1973, ’75 and ’76.

#7. Steve Bedrosian over Orel Hershiser for the 1987 N.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Hershiser 16-16 .500 3.06 264.2 247 90 17 74 190 1.213 131 4.0 5.6 4.8 78.9%
Bedrosian 5-3 .625 2.83 89.0 79 28 11 28 74 1.202 151 3.3 2.1 2.7

Remember when I said relievers should only get the Cy Young Award when there’s no dominant starter to give it to (of course you do, it’s only two paragraphs above)?  Well, even though Hershiser’s WA2RB was 78.9% better than Bedrosian’s, I can’t really fault the BBWAA for picking a reliever in 1987 because there was really no starter that stood out from the rest, at least on the surface.  Cubs ace Rick Sutcliffe led the league in wins with 18 and posted a decent 3.68 ERA, but he also walked 106 batters and none of his numbers really jump off the page.  Regardless, he finished second, only two points behind Bedrosian.  To their credit, the BBWAA gave Pirates/Giants pitcher Rick Reuschel enough votes to finish third even though he won only 13 games, mostly because he led the league in complete games, shutouts and BB/9 and pitched to the fourth best ERA in the league.

That leaves fourth-place finisher Orel Herhiser, who was still a year away from winning his first and only Cy Young Award, but came nowhere near winning it in ’87 despite putting up the best WA2RB, just beating out teammate Bob Welch.  The problem with Hershiser’s case is two-fold: 1) He pitched to a .500 record, finishing at 16-16, and 2) He pitched for a lousy team that went 73-89 and finished in fourth place, 17 games out of first.  Even though he led the league in Wins Above Replacement (for pitchers) and innings pitched, was third in wins and ERA and finished among the top 10 in a handful of other categories, I can understand why the writers would be hesitant to give the award to a .500 pitcher on a losing team.  Never mind that with average run support, Hershiser would have gone 19-13 and been a “sexier” choice.

The fact is he didn’t get average run support and you can’t give out awards based on what might have happened (although I think the team a pitcher throws for needs to be taken into account.  Oftentimes pitchers aren’t as good as their records, nor are they as bad, a fact perfectly illustrated last year by Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who went only 13-12 despite a fantastic 2.27 ERA because he received only three runs of support on average).  So the BBWAA decided to give the Cy to the guy who led the league in saves, Phillies closer Steve Bedrosian, who became only the sixth man to record 40.  Apparently it didn’t matter that he did it with a team that finished fourth with a record of 80-82, and that the previous five 40-save seasons had come in the four seasons prior to 1987—by the time Bedrosian saved 40 it was old hat—and it obviously didn’t matter that the only other category in which he finished in the top 10 was games finished.  The writers had to give the award to somebody and they picked the “best” reliever over the best starter.

Except that Bedrosian wasn’t the best NL reliever that year.  According to WA2RB, Montreal’s Tim Burke was.  In fact, based on that particular metric, there were six NL relievers who were as good if not better than Bedrosian, but none of them led the league in saves, and “Bedrock” did.  Despite his lack of black ink, Burke was scary good in 1987, going 7-0 with a 1.19 ERA and 18 saves, and allowing only 6.3 hits and 1.7 walks per 9 innings for a WHIP of .890.  He surrendered only three homers in 91 innings of work, didn’t hit a batter all season and posted an ERA+ of 356.  Burke’s WA2RB was more than 50% better than Bedrosian’s and he helped the Expos win 91 games.  There were better starters than both Bedrosian and Burke—besides Hershiser, Welch, Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan all scored higher—but if the writers were going to go with a reliever in ’87, it should have been Burke.  And had they gone with a starter, it should have been Hershiser.

#6. Dennis Eckersley over Roger Clemens for the 1992 A.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Clemens 18-11 .621 2.41 246.2 203 66 11 62 208 1.074 176 6.2 7.4 6.8 83.4%
Eckersley 7-1 .875 1.91 80.0 62 17 5 11 93 .913 197 4.2 3.2 3.7

Hmmmm…another closer winning the Cy instead of a starter.  I’m beginning to detect a pattern here.  Unlike previous votes in which a closer took home the hardware, Eckersley was definitely the best reliever in all of baseball in 1992, but was he the best pitcher?  Hardly.  That title belongs to Roger Clemens, who finished third in voting behind Eck and Jack McDowell, which is ludicrous but I’ll get to that in a minute.  Eck had an amazing season, going 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA and .913 WHIP, and he walked only 11 batters all season and six of those were intentional.  He led the league in games finished and saves with 51, becoming only the second pitcher to save as many as 50 in a season.  These days 50 is no longer such a big deal, much like 60 homers isn’t what it used to be, but in 1992 it was.  In fact, it was such a big deal that Eckersley was also named the AL MVP and it wasn’t even close.

Clemens, on the other hand, paced the league in ERA (2.41), shutouts (5), ERA+ (176), K/BB ratio (3.35), WHIP (1.074) and WAR for all players, let alone pitchers, completed 11 of his 32 starts and went 18-11 for a team that won only 73 games, boasted the league’s second worst offense and finished last in the AL East.  With average run support, he would have gone a more impressive 21-8, but would that have swayed the voters?  Probably but I’m guessing not enough.  Clemens received four first place votes, more than any other pitcher except Eckersley, who received 19.  McDowell received only two, but still edged Clemens in votes, 51 to 48.  Why?  Most likely because he won 20 games for a winning team.  He also led the league with 13 complete games and posted some impressive numbers, but not nearly as impressive as Clemens.  In fact, according to WA2RB, McDowell ranked as the ninth best starting pitcher in the American League behind guys like John Smiley and Melido Perez (remember them?).  Had he received average run support, McDowell would have gone a more pedestrian 17-13 and wouldn’t have received the support that he did.

But that still doesn’t account for Clemens being snubbed in favor of Eckersley.  Like I said before, though, there was no starter whose numbers jumped off the page—the three 20-game winners didn’t have outstanding ERAs or strike out a ton of batters; of the three who fanned 200 only Clemens had a winning record; Baltimore’s Mike Mussina had a very good season but led the league in only one category (W-L%) and was more efficient than flashy.  Meanwhile Eckersley had an extraordinary season for a 96-win team that won its division, and those 51 saves definitely jumped off the page.

#5. Gaylord Perry over Phil Niekro for the 1978 N.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Niekro 19-18 .514 2.88 334.1 295 107 16 102 248 1.187 142 6.1 9.4 7.7 90.2%
Perry 21-6 .778 2.73 260.2 241 79 9 66 154 1.178 121 3.3 4.8 4.1

A quick look at the numbers tells you you don’t have to be a genius to figure out why Niekro didn’t win the NL Cy Young Award in 1978.  He just missed 20 wins, finishing third with 19, but also led the league in losses for the second straight year in what would be a run of four straight from 1977-1980.  He also allowed the most hits and earned runs and was second only to J.R. Richard in walks allowed.  But what do you expect from a guy who threw a league-high 334 1/3 innings—that was back when men were men and “Taxi” and “Soap” were the best shows on TV—the sixth highest total in the NL since the end of the Deadball Era?  Guess what the other five have in common with Niekro—other than Sandy Koufax in 1965, they all led the league in hits allowed.  That’s what happens when a pitcher faces a league-high 1,389 batters.

Meanwhile Perry passed the magic number of 20 wins, pacing the loop with 21, and led the league in win-loss percentage.  He finished second in starts (Niekro was first), fourth in innings (Niekro was first), sixth in ERA (Niekro tied for 10th), seventh in batters faced (Niekro was first) and ninth in strikeouts (Niekro was second).  Other than the categories previously mentioned, Niekro also led in complete games and tied for second with four shutouts.  The problem with Phil Niekro isn’t that he didn’t perform well, the problem is he pitched for a horrendous Atlanta Braves team that lost 93 games and scored only 3.6 runs on average with “Knucksie” on the mound, even less than the team average of 3.7.

With just an average offense, Niekro would have gone 24-13 and his dominance would have been much more obvious.  Perry’s Padres were actually worse at scoring runs than the Braves, plating only 3.65 runners on average, but he was the beneficiary of 4.4 runs of support on average.  It was the other poor bastards on the Padres staff that got the shaft.  With average run support, Perry would have been only 16-11.  Not only was Niekro the most dominant hurler in the National League in 1978, according to WA2RB, but he was 60% better than runner-up Vida Blue.  It’s insane that he finished sixth in voting and a shame that he didn’t win the Cy Young Award that season, but those 18 losses killed him.

#4. Bob Turley over Warren Spahn for the 1958 M.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Spahn 22-11 .667 3.07 290.0 257 99 29 76 150 1.148 115 5.6 5.4 5.5 104.9%
Turley 21-7 .750 2.97 245.1 178 81 24 128 168 1.247 119 3.1 2.3 2.7

This one’s interesting, mostly because I can’t use the lack of run support excuse for Spahn, who received 4.44 runs on average and would have gone 18-15 without it.  For the record, Turley’s Yankees supplied him with 5 runs on average and he would have been 17-11 with just average support.  Spahn tied Bob Friend for the major league lead in wins and paced the NL in win-loss%, complete games (23), batters faced and baserunners per nine innings, was second in starts and strikeouts and fourth in ERA and H/9.  Turley led the majors in winning percentage, and the AL in wins, complete games (19) and H/9, was second with six shutouts, third in strikeouts and fourth in innings and K/9.  But he also allowed the most walks in the majors.

Spahn’s Milwaukee Braves went 92-62 and went to the World Series, where they faced Turley’s Yankees, who also went 92-62.  Both were better at home than on the road and both were tough with runners in scoring position.  Frankly, you could flip a coin and not be wrong on this one.  But here’s where it gets sticky and an argument could be made that this snub isn’t even a snub: Spahn was such a great hitter—he batted .333/.381/.463 and drove in 15 runs in 1958—that 1.6 of his WAR and 4.1 of his WSAB came from his bat.  Turley was a typically bad hitting pitcher.  Take away Spahn’s stick and he’s only 52% better than Turley and not among the top 10 snubs.  On the other hand, everyone ranked had offense included so why should Spahn be penalized for being able to hit the ball and help himself out?

Based on pitching alone, I could have knocked this off the list and gone with Johan Santana losing to Bartolo Colon in the 2005 AL vote, and perhaps I should have gone with a list of 11 like I did in my MVP article, but I’m going to give Spahn his props for being able to hit and leave it alone.

#3. Mike McCormick over Jim Bunning for the 1967 N.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Bunning 17-15 .531 2.29 302.1 241 77 18 73 253 1.039 149 4.7 7.9 6.3 109.4%
McCormick 22-10 .688 2.85 262.1 220 83 25 81 150 1.147 118 3.7 2.3 3.0

This was the first year that the BBWAA was instructed to select a pitcher from both leagues and they completely blew the NL voting to the tune of the third most egregious snub of all time (at least on paper), choosing to focus on the outer chocolatey goodness that is wins rather than the gooey but equally important stuff inside, like ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, K/BB ratio and endurance.  It’s not that McCormick didn’t have a good year—he led the league in wins, was second in winning percentage and shutouts, sixth in innings, seventh in starts and ninth in H/9—it’s that he was mostly a product of his team’s success, hence the 22 wins.  The Giants won 91 games and ranked fourth in runs scored per game, and McCormick received 4.3 runs on average.  Bunning’s team, the Phillies, won 82 games, ranked seventh in R/G in a 10-team league and gave him 3.9 runs on average.

I know I’m already sounding like a broken record, but based on run support, put Bunning on the Giants and he would have been 22-10, while McCormick would have gone 18-14 pitching for the Phillies.  Suddenly Bunning’s a no-brainer, what with his strikeout title, leading the league in innings, starts, shutouts and batters faced, coming in second in ERA and baserunners per nine and third in K/BB ratio.  He allowed fewer homers in more innings, had a better WHIP and his ERA+ was 31 points better than McCormick’s.  Hell, McCormick wasn’t even the best pitcher on his own team; according to WA2RB that title belongs to Gaylord Perry, who received no Cy Young support in ’67 because he went 15-17 despite a 2.61 ERA because he received almost a full run less run support than his more fortunate teammate.

That was the closest either hurler ever came to winning a Cy Young Award, and McCormick thrashed both Bunning and Fergie Jenkins in the vote, taking 18 of 20 first place votes all because he led the league in wins.  On the other hand, Bunning is in the Hall of Fame and questionably so, so I guess he got the last laugh.

#2. Pete Vuckovich over anyone else, especially Dave Stieb for the 1982 A.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Stieb 17-14 .548 3.25 288.1 271 104 27 75 141 1.200 138 5.4 5.1 5.2 196.2%
Vuckovich 18-6 .750 3.34 223.2 234 83 14 102 105 1.502 114 2.1 1.4 1.8

If there was ever a time to give the award to a reliever, it would have been in the AL circa 1982.  That’s not to say that there weren’t better starting pitchers, in fact Toronto’s Dave Stieb was the best pitcher in the league that year, but any number of pitchers were more deserving than Pete Vuckovich, one of the worst Cy Young winners of all time (paper or no paper), and 16 of them were relievers.  How bad was this decision?  Where do I begin?  Vuckovich led the league in one whole category, that all-important win-loss%.  Of course he pitched for the best team in baseball, World Series loss not withstanding, and received 5.2 runs per start.  Not to mention he had five “cheap wins,” his bullpen didn’t blow one win when he left the game, Brewers relievers allowed only three of his inherited runners to score and he pitched on more than four days rest 12 times in 30 starts.

One way to check for a pitcher’s true performance is to calculate his ERC (Component ERA), which is based on his peripheral statistics rather than runs allowed and can show how lucky or unlucky a pitcher was.  Vuckovich’s ERC was 4.46 or 1.12 points higher than his actual ERA.  That indicates he was lucky to have an ERA of 3.34, the sixth best mark in the American League.

Stieb, on the other hand, had no such luck.  His ERC of 3.24 is almost identical to the 3.25 he actually posted and he had only one cheap win but three tough losses.  Meanwhile he led the league in innings, complete games, shutouts and batters faced, managed 17 wins for a last-place Blue Jays team that won only 78, and—wait for it—with average run support, would have gone 20-11 and led the league in wins.  With average run support, Vuckovich would have gone 13-11, which is what he would have done had he not pitched for “Harvey’s Wallbangers.”

That he had more hits allowed than innings pitched and walked almost as many batters as he fanned should have eliminated Vuckovich from contention altogether.  Instead, he won the award and won it handily while Stieb finished fourth.  Oh yeah, the Brewers best pitcher that year?  Closer Rollie Fingers.  ‘Nuf Ced.

#1. Bob Welch over Roger Clemens for the 1990 A.L. Cy:

W-L W% ERA IP H ER HR BB K WHIP ERA+ WSAB/3 WAR WA2RB DIFF
Clemens 21-6 .778 1.93 228.1 193 49 7 54 209 1.082 213 7.2 8.0 7.6 210.2%
Welch 27-6 .818 2.95 238.0 214 78 26 77 127 1.223 126 3.7 1.2 2.5

There is no more obvious a case of wins trumping all else than in 1990 when A’s hurler Bob Welch took the AL Cy Young Award over Roger Clemens.  Welch had a very good season and in some categories he was magnificent.  Since the end of the Deadball Era in 1920, only 22 pitchers have won as many as 27 games and when Welch did it, it hadn’t been done since Steve Carlton won the same number in 1972.  In fact, it hasn’t been done since and probably never will be thanks to innings limits and pitch counts.  Throw in a winning percentage of at least .800 and that list of 22 plummets to seven, and only three pitchers in four seasons had as many wins and a better winning percentage than Welch in 1990 (Lefty Grove did it twice).  That’s historic.  And to be fair to Welch, all of the pitchers in that class benefited from excellent run support and had fewer Neutral Wins and more Neutral Losses than actual wins and losses.  Having said that, none benefited as much as Welch.

Welch led the league in two categories, wins and winning percentage, which isn’t surprising considering he pitched for an Oakland A’s juggernaut that won 103 games and ranked third in runs scored, and he finished third in starts, innings pitched and batters faced, and sixth in ERA.  On the flip side, he received 5.03 runs of support on average from a team that typically scored 4.5 runs a game, earned six cheap wins, had only one tough loss, was on the hook for four losses before his team made a comeback and tied the score or took the lead, and his bullpen allowed only three of 18 inherited runners to score.  With average run support, Welch would have been 19-14 and we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Clemens led the league in ERA, ERA+ (a ludicrous 213), shutouts, K/BB ratio and HR/9 (not to mention every sabermetric category in existence), was second in winning percentage and WHIP, third in wins, H/9, BB/9, K/9 and complete games, fourth in strikeouts and sixth in innings pitched.  Yeah, he was pretty good.  How good?  His 213 ERA+ in 1990 ranks 25th all time, just behind Walter Johnson’s 1918 and 1919 seasons.  Clemens received the worst support among Red Sox starters at 4.23 R/G, although he would have gained only one additional win with average support; had only one cheap win, but three tough losses; lost two games that his bullpen blew, but didn’t get saved from any losses by a late comeback by his team, and nine of the 19 runners he left on base when he was pulled from the game came around to score thanks to a lousy bullpen that boasted only one reliever with an ERA below 4.40.   Oh yeah, he also allowed only seven home runs, three of which came at Fenway Park, which had a home run factor of 111 that year.

But that’s not all—oh, yes, there’s more—from July 20 until the end of the season, the A’s never had a lead of less than two games and from August 24 on, it was never less than five.  In fact, the only time they weren’t either tied for first or in first was on April 11 when they lost to fall to 2-1.  Needless to say, Oakland was never really in a pennant race and was able to cruise to a division title through most of August and all of September/October.  From the beginning of June through the end of August, Welch was merely pedestrian, pitching to a 3.90 ERA in 18 starts, which is almost exactly league average, yet he still went 15-3.  He started off hot, going 3-1 with a 1.06 ERA in his first five starts, and ended the season hot, going 5-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his last six starts, but in between he posted a 3.61 ERA in nearly 160 innings, including the aforementioned 3.90 in more than half of his starts.

Boston, on the other hand, never had full control of the AL East race and had to battle the Toronto Blue Jays right to the end.  Granted, the Red Sox had a seemingly comfortable 6 1/2 game lead on August 30, but they stumbled down the stretch before finally clinching the division on the last day of the season.  So how did Clemens respond to the heat of a pennant chase?  In his last 12 starts he allowed only 10 earned runs in 92 2/3 innings for a microscopic 0.97 ERA.  He surrendered only one home run after June 28 and none after the All-Star break; he fanned 4.68 batters for every walk allowed, a better than 36% increase over his first half K/BB ratio; and he was lights out when he most needed to be, not only during the dog days of summer but when his team provided the least amount of support.  In nine of Clemens’ starts, the Red Sox scored two runs or less and “The Rocket” responded with a 1.29 ERA.  The A’s scored two runs or less in only three of Welch’s starts and he went 0-3 with a 4.57 ERA.

So when the Red Sox most needed their ace to pick them up, Clemens responded like a true ace, giving his teammates his best when they couldn’t score and while they were holding off the Blue Jays en route to a division title they barely won.  When the A’s needed Welch to pick them up, he folded like a paper bag, albeit in a small sample, and pitched his best ball when the pennant was already decided and when his team scored at least six runs, which they did in 14 of his starts.

In terms of WA2RB, Welch was the third best pitcher on the A’s behind Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley, and they were almost twice as good, but Stewart finished third in Cy Young voting and Eck fifth.  But here’s the real joke: Clemens was considered the third most valuable player in the league by the same writers who vote for the Cy Young Award; Eckersley was sixth in MVP voting and Stewart finished eighth.  Where did Bob Welch finish?  Ninth.

Wow.

Comments

7 Responses to “The Most Egregious Cy Young Award Snubs of All Time (at Least on Paper)”
  1. Mike says:

    Interesting assessment. However, you’re basing it on stats that MLB doesn’t actually use. They make the rules and the writers do the voting.

  2. Jon smith says:

    27 wins buddy

  3. Eric The Red says:

    Whatever you are smoking I want some of it! Had they not given the CY to Bob Welch in ’92 they might as well have incinerated the thing and never given it out again. Guy was probably the most deserving recipient we have had of the award in the past two decades! Maybe you just have a hard on for the A’s?

  4. Mike Lynch says:

    Welch didn’t win it in ’92. He won it in ’90. Who’s smoking what?

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