The Cy Stiebs
You can't give out awards retroactively. It's funny to lead off this monster post that way since, over the next few thousand words, it will absolutely look like I'm giving out Cy Young awards retroactively.
But I want to explain what I think is a subtle difference.
Awards -- we're talking here about baseball awards, but really this concept refers to all awards, including Nobel Prizes, Oscars, Pulitzers, etc. -- do not just honor the winners. They honor (or, in some cases, dishonor) the time and place they were given.
This is very easily seen in baseball and the Cy Young Awards. Take 1984. When you look back at the American League Cy Young voting that year, it's kind of strange. Willie Hernandez won the award. Dan Quisenberry finished second. Topline starters like our hero Dave Stieb, Bert Blyleven, Doyle Alexander, Mike Boddicker, etc., none of them was really in the picture.
What happened? Well, there was a growing infatuation with relievers and the save. Before 1983, nobody even knew who held the save record -- it was John Hiller with 38, but he'd set the record in 1973, when it was a brand new stat. Suddenly in '83, Quiz had 45 saves, an impressive-sounding number, and the voters absolutely would have given him the Cy Young except that pitcher wins still held great sway, and LaMarr Hoyt won 24 games. So Hoyt won the thing and Quiz finished second.
But the idea of the shutdown reliever was gaining power in the voters' minds. They had given both the Cy Young and MVP award to Rollie Fingers in 1981, given Cy Youngs to Bruce Sutter, Sparky Lyle and Mike Marshall in the 1970s, and it all came to a head in 1984. Hernandez had a long streak without a blown save, Quiz nearly matched his record with 44 saves (Bruce Sutter did match the 45 saves in the NL, and he finished third in the Cy Young voting) and that's why they finished 1-2 in the voting. It's unlikely today that either one would get ANY first- or second-place Cy Young votes.
But that's the point: The 1984 Cy Young Award was a snapshot. It tells us about the winner, sure, but it tells us even more about the game.
You can't go back and change that. You wouldn't want to go back and change that. You can tell a little bit of baseball's story through the Cy Young. In the 1950s and 1960s, people valued pitcher wins -- what could be more important, after all, than winning the game? In the 1970s, wins were still the big thing, but ERA also played a role. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, the save took hold. In the 2000s, there began to be a more holistic view of what makes a Cy Young pitcher (taking into account strikeouts and WHIP and quality of opponent and defense), and in the 2010s WAR and advanced stats like it have become a critical component.
So what is the Cy Stieb then? Well, it's a new award based entirely on a different snapshot. We're giving out the Cy Stieb every year since 1950 based on how we see pitching TODAY.
And here's the final note: We have to realize that we're not anywhere near an endpoint (and never will be, I hope). Jacob deGrom and Blake Snell just won the Cy Young Awards. I think it's not only possible but quite likely that 15-20 years from now, we'll look back on one or both as a bad vote. We will value something different by then, something we probably cannot foresee, and it will be "obvious" to our future selves that, say, Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander or, who knows, Edwin Diaz should have won it.
As you can tell, I named the award after Dave Stieb -- the idea of Stieb came to me when I read Bill James' excellent 13-part series on Deserved Wins (which totally inspired this post). In it, Bill rated Dave Stieb the best pitcher in the American League four years in a row and I thought, "Wow, isn't that interesting. If he had won four Cy Youngs in a row, he would absolutely be in the Hall of Fame."*
*I am NOT saying that Dave Stieb is the best pitcher to never win a Cy Young Award. Going back to 1967, when the Cy Young Award was given to a pitcher in each league, I would roughly say the 10 best non-Cy Young winners are:
With that in mind, I thought -- let's go back 50 years (eventually, I went all the way back to 1950) and give out Cy Stieb awards every year and see how it comes out. This is the year-by-year rundown. Then there will be an essay analyzing the results.
Finally, I want to explain the name. It's the Cy Stieb because it's a little bit of both Cy Young and Dave Stieb. The way I figured it is this: The Cy Young Award winner of each year is the champion. The only way for anyone else to supplant him is to knock him out. If it's close, the Cy Young winner retains the belt and is also the Cy Stieb winner.
Take the AL in 1967 as an example. Jim Lonborg won the Cy Young. You could make a viable argument for any number of American League pitchers that year -- Dean Chance, Jim Kaat, Catfish Hunter, Jim Merritt, etc. But none of them, in my view, had a compelling enough season to overtake Lonborg, who did lead the league in wins and strikeouts and was second in innings pitched and third in fWAR.
It has to be clear cut. There are many close calls in the years ahead, and I'm sure that you will argue vehemently for a different Cy Stieb winner. But, that's half the fun.
And away we go.
1950 (No Cy): Bob Lemon and Jim Konstanty
Cy Stieb: Vic Raschi and Robin Roberts
At first I was only going to go back to 1967, the first year that Cy Youngs were given out in each league. But it turned out to be too much fun, so I went back to 1950. Just remember:
1950-55: No Cy Young given. I will list the top pitchers in each league in the MVP voting.
1956-1966: One Cy Young Award given.
1967-present: One Cy Young Award in each league.
When the Cy Young winner also wins the Cy Stieb, I will generally refrain from comment. When it's someone different, I will write a few words about why I made the choice.
In 1950, Jim Konstantly won the MVP as a reliever, so someone has to knock him out. I think several starters do, including Ewell Blackwell, Warren Spahn and Roberts. I went with Roberts. The AL was a free-for-all, so I threw a dart and came up with Raschi -- he seems as good a choice as any.
1951 (No Cy): Ned Garver and Sal Maglie
Cy Stieb: Garver and Roberts (2)
Garver was an outstanding pitcher for the St. Louis Browns -- so outstanding that he got the same number of first-place votes in the MVP balloting that year as winner Yogi Berra. This is remarkable (and extremely strange) when you consider that the Browns lost 102 games that season. I still don't know how this happened, but it does show you the respect Garver garnered from the writers.
It's worth noting: Garver's great season could never happen today. It's like a museum piece. Garver went 20-12 with a 3.73 ERA, which might happen. But he had just 84 Ks in 246 innings along with 96 walks. It would be impossible for a pitcher to have that sort of success today, I think. It was a different game.
1952 (No Cy): Bobby Shantz and Robin Roberts
Cy Stieb: Shantz and Roberts (3)
Shantz won the AL MVP award.
1953 (No Cy): Virgil Trucks and Warren Spahn
Cy Stieb: Billy Pierce and Roberts (4)
1954 (No Cy): Bob Lemon and Johnny Antonelli
Cy Stieb: Early Wynn and Roberts (5)
As Bill James points out, that season Wynn went 23-11 with a 2.73 ERA.
The rest of the Cleveland pitchers went 88-32 with a 2.79 ERA. In other words, that Cy Stieb Award should just go to the entire Cleveland staff.
You will note that Roberts has won his fifth Cy Stieb in a row -- Johnny Antonelli was close, but Roberts has a WAR advantage and takes the Stieb.
1955 (No Cy): Ray Narleski and Robin Roberts
Cy Stieb: Pierce (2) and Roberts (6)
Make it six in a row for Robin Roberts. Again, this is close, but in a crowded field, Roberts has the best case. No other pitcher since World War II has won the Cy Stieb six years in a row. I think this is a good reminder that Robin Roberts wasn't just a good pitcher, he was legendary, far and away the best of his time, and it's pretty stunning that it took him four years to get into the Hall of Fame.
Narleski was a hard-throwing reliever with a rising fastball that was much admired in his day. He finished sixth in the MVP voting because he went 9-1 and seemed to pitch well in big moments. He wasn't anywhere close to the best pitcher on the Tribe, much less in the league.
1956 (one Cy): Don Newcombe
Cy Stieb: Herb Score and Newcombe
As mentioned, starting in 1956, there was one Cy Young Award given across baseball. Newk's bWAR number isn't super-impressive, and so the Stieb could just as easily go to Antonelli or Bob Friend. But since Newk won the MVP award also and went 27-7, I'm giving him the champion's advantage.
1957 (one Cy): Warren Spahn
Cy Stieb: Pierce (3) and Spahn
Spahn's Fielding Independent Pitching number (FIP) -- and you will see the same thing with Jim Palmer and Catfish Hunter in a couple of decades -- was almost always higher than his ERA. FIP, you will remember, is built around strikeouts, walks and homers. Those three things never quite added up to the performance of Spahn. He also relied on some kind of mysticism to get his outs.
We're taught through experience to be skeptical of mysticism, but Spahn did it for so long that it's absurd to question it. I'm a big believer that pitchers have little control over balls in play, but I do think that some have more control than others. Spahn always said that hitting is about timing and pitching is therefore about upsetting timing. From 1947 to 1963, Spahn allowed a .258 batting average on balls in play, the best for any pitcher with more than 2,000 innings pitched ... and he pitched almost FIVE thousand innings. He was doing something.
And I hope you notice that Billy Pierce quietly has stockpiled three Cy Stieb awards. The 1950s had few celebrated pitchers, and for good reason; there were a lot of GOOD pitchers that decade, but few great ones, particularly in the American League. And I would argue that the Hall of Famers to come from the 1950s, with the exception of Roberts and Spahn -- Early Wynn, Whitey Ford, Bob Lemon -- were not as good as Billy Pierce.
1958 (one Cy): Bob Turley
Cy Stieb: Turley and Sam Jones
Bob Turley had such a strange year in 1958. He went 21-7 with 19 complete games, which is why he won the Cy Young and came pretty close to beating out Jackie Jensen for MVP. He also led the league in walks for the third time in five seasons. He led the league in fewest hits per nine for the fourth time in five seasons. How did he do it?
Turley had impossible Batting Average on Balls in Play numbers:
1958: Led baseball with .225 BABIP
1957: Led baseball with .224 BABIP
1955: Third in baseball with .229 BABIP
1954: Fourth in baseball with .240 BABIP
Because of this, his WAR stinks. He has a combined 9.2 bWAR for those four seasons, despite finishing Top 7 in ERA three times. Much of the credit for his "success" goes to his defense. And in fWAR, which only looks at strikeouts, homers and walks (Turley was famously wild, walking as many as 181 in a season), he does even worse, with a combined 6.7 WAR.
Is this fair to Bob Turley? I don't know. The BABIP concept will come up again and again in the Cy Stieb Award. Maybe Turley's quote-unquote skill for preventing hits was attributable to his great Yankees' defense. But how do you explain 1954, when he played for the Orioles, who had a dreadful defense? Maybe it's just luck, but Turley's luck stayed pretty steady. Turley's WAR suggests that there's no way he'd win the Cy Stieb, but I'm going to give it to him anyway, based on his unicorn gift for getting outs.
Sam Jones didn't pitch with regularity in the big leagues until he was 29 -- he started in the Negro leagues almost a decade before that -- and in his first four years, he led the league in strikeouts and walks three times. He threw hard, and he was wild, much like Turley. He went 14-13 for a bad Cardinals team, but he led the league in fWAR, and I think he takes the Stieb.
1959 (one Cy): Early Wynn
Cy Stieb: Camilo Pascual and Sam Jones (2)
The National League is a mess in 1959. Bill James' Deserved Wins system had Don Drysdale as the best. bWAR has Larry Jackson, Vern Law and Don Newcombe ahead of Drysdale; fWAR had Jackson first and Drysdale second. So, I'm going with Sam Jones, because he had the most visually pleasing year -- 21-9, led the league in shutouts and ERA. There's no right answer there.
1960 (one Cy): Vern Law
Cy Stieb: Jim Bunning and Don Drysdale
Drysdale is second in both WARs but to two different pitchers -- Ernie Broglio in bWAR and Bob Friend in fWAR. I think with his overall case, he wins.
1961 (one Cy): Whitey Ford
Cy Stieb: Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax
Ford's bWAR is shockingly low for the season he had -- he went 25-4, led league in starts, innings and FIP, had a top 10 ERA and finished with a 3.7 WAR? Why? Well, as you will see again and again, when a pitcher has a bWAR that seems a little out-of-whack, it usually comes down to defensive adjustments. The system credits much of Ford's success to the Yankees defense. I'm going to stick with Ford anyway.
Koufax was more of a curiosity than a star in 1961 -- this was before Dodger Stadium and his dominant years. But, you know what? He led the league in strikeouts, FIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio. I have a feeling he would have been a saber darling before he became everyone's favorite pitcher. And I think he takes the Cy Stieb from more celebrated pitchers of the time like Joey Jay and Spahn.
1962 (one Cy): Don Drysdale
Cy Stieb: Pascual (2) and Drysdale (2)
I readily admit that for many of these years, I'm just guessing. It's a bit surprising to me how often no pitcher separates from the pack. Pascual and Drysdale are among many good choices.
1963 (one Cy): Sandy Koufax
Cy Stieb: Gary Peters and Koufax (2)
It's almost a dead heat between Gary Peters and Pascual. Peters looks better in fWAR because he only gave up nine home runs all year, but Pascual led the league in strikeouts and complete -- total toss-up. I'm giving it to Peters, an underrated pitcher who twice led the league in ERA. But I want to say again that few of us have appreciated just how good Camilo Pascual was.
1964 (one Cy): Dean Chance
Cy Stieb: Chance and Drysdale (3)
1965 (one Cy): Koufax (2)
Cy Stieb: Sam McDowell and Koufax (3)
Bill James points this out in his Deserved Wins series: Somehow Juan Marichal has two more wins of bWAR than Koufax this year even though he pitched 40 fewer innings, and Koufax led the league in wins, ERA, strikeouts (140 more Ks than Marichal), FIP, WHIP, and strikeout-to-walk.
You know the reason -- defensive adjustment. Fangraphs, using their three-true-outcome system, had Koufax three wins ahead. Marichal was a wonderful pitcher, but I imagine almost everybody agrees that Koufax was the better pitcher in 1965.
1966 (one Cy): Sandy Koufax
Cy Stieb: Jim Kaat and Koufax (4)
1967: Jim Lonborg and Mike McCormick
Cy Stieb: Lonborg and Jim Bunning
And from now on, we have two Cy Young Award winners to work with. As I said at the top, you could persuasively argue for someone else besides Lonborg in the AL. In the NL, though, Bunning -- despite going 17-15 -- was unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball.
1968: Denny McLain and Bob Gibson
Cy Stieb: McLain and Gibson
Luis Tiant actually might have been a little bit better than McLain, but he certainly didn't get the knockout. The Cy Stieb goes to the 30-game winner.
1969: Mike Cuellar/McLain (2) and Tom Seaver
Cy Stieb: Sam McDowell and Seaver
It was a mess in the American League as the Cy tie suggests. I think McDowell, by leading the league in strikeouts, homers per nine and FIP, would carry the day with modern voters. His 9.4 fWAR blows everyone else away. In the NL, there's an argument to be made for Gibson over Seaver; they both deserve it.
1970: Jim Perry and Gibson (2)
Cy Stieb: McDowell (2) and Gibson (2)
This one is even more straightforward than 1969 for McDowell. He led the league in innings, strikeouts, FIP, and won 20 games. Perry got the Cy Young based entirely on his 24 wins.
1971: Vida Blue and Ferguson Jenkins
Cy Stieb: Blue and Jenkins
1972: Gaylord Perry and Steve Carlton
Cy Stieb: Perry and Carlton
1973: Jim Palmer and Seaver (2)
Cy Stieb: Bert Blyleven and Seaver (2)
Let's talk BABIP again. Jim Palmer was a BABIP pitcher. Year after year after year, his ERA is lower, and often dramatically lower, than his FIP.
1970: FIP 3.22; ERA: 2.71
1971: FIP 3.19; ERA 2.68
1972: FIP 2.83; ERA, 2.07
1973: FIP 3.38; ERA league-leading 2.40
1974: FIP 3.72; ERA 3.27
1975: FIP 2.96; ERA league-leading 2.09
1976: FIP 3.33; ERA 2.51
And so on ... and so on. For his career, Palmer's FIP is 3.50 and his ERA is 2.86. That .64 difference is by far the biggest difference for any pitcher since 1950 with more than 2,000 innings.
Biggest difference between FIP and WAR since 1950:
Jim Palmer, .64
Hoyt Wilhelm, .54
Charlie Hough, .54
Whitey Ford, .51
Mudcat Grant, .51
Palmer's career bWAR (67.5) and especially his fWAR (56.6) seem STAGGERINGLY low considering in his career record of 268-152, his 2.86 ERA over almost 4,000 innings, his multiple Cy Youngs and his near unanimous (92.6%) entry into the Hall of Fame on first ballot. This is because of that difference in BABIP. What do you do with it?
Do you ignore it entirely like fWAR?
Do you give most of the credit for it to the Orioles defense -- a more than defensible position consider that defense had legendary fielders like Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Paul Blair, Bobby Grich, etc.
Or do you realize that this is not a fair question.
I've come around to thinking it might not be a fair question. What are you supposed to do if you are Jim Palmer? He had as good a high fastball as anybody east of Nolan Ryan and could have gone for strikeouts. But he didn't. He realized that it was absurd to go for strikeouts when he had those legendary fielders behind him. He played to his strengths and his team's strengths, and shouldn't a pitcher be celebrated for that? Baseball is an individual sport AND a team sport, and there are times when it's difficult to separate the two, and I think Palmer is a prime example. On another team, in another time, he might have been a very different pitcher.
But his job was to pitch a lot of innings, get a lot of outs, and put his team in position to win a lot of games. The Orioles went 325-196 in Palmer's 521 starts. I don't think he could have done a lot better than that.
All that said, if the vote was held today, Blyleven would win it running away.
1974: Catfish Hunter and Mike Marshall
Cy Stieb: Gaylord Perry (2) and Phil Niekro
OK, take everything I just wrote about Jim Palmer, reduce it maybe 10%, and it's true about Catfish Hunter. When you look at all the pitchers in baseball history who threw at least 3,000 innings, Catfish Hunter has the lowest BABIP of them at, a staggering .246.
Part of this was that he pitched in wonderful home pitching parks -- his career home BABIP is an almost unbelievable .236. In Oakland, it was .232.
Part of this, surely, was great defense played behind him. Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Bill North, these guys were stout defenders.
But we should give him a least some of the Palmer Credit too. He was, as Bill James has written, as efficient as a pitcher can be. He threw strikes and relied on his defense, his ballpark and good luck to carry him through. And it worked for him.
All that said, if the vote was held today, Perry would win it running away.
1975: Palmer (2) and Seaver (3)
Cy Stieb: Palmer and Seaver (3)
1976: Palmer (3) and Randy Jones
Cy Stieb: Mark Fidrych and Seaver (4)
I don't feel good about changing either one of these because that year was a flat out mess -- Palmer, Jones, Blue, Fidrych, Frank Tanana, John Montefusco, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan all have viable Cy Stieb arguments, and I'm not sure that any one of them scores the knockout.
BUT ... Fidrych was the greatest thing in baseball, and I feel sure given the hype and the fact that he led the AL in bWAR that he would have won it. And Seaver was probably the best pitcher that year, and we know 14-11 won-loss record wouldn't hold him back today.
1977: Sparky Lyle and Carlton (2)
Cy Stieb: Tanana and Carlton (2)
The American League was a mess again. Dennis Leonard led in fWAR. Frank Tanana led in bWAR. Nolan Ryan was high in both. Jim Palmer had a typically great season that seems underappreciated. The one thing I feel sure about is that Lyle would not win it, though he had a fine season.
I think in the end, Tanana would carry the day. And though Rick Reuschel has a sizable bWAR lead over Carlton, I don't think it's a knockout.
1978: Ron Guidry and Gaylord Perry (2)
Cy Stieb: Guidry and Niekro (2)
Niekro never won a Cy Young, which is why I don't think he was elected until his fifth (!) ballot despite 300 wins and 100 or so WAR. He wins two Cy Stiebs, which would have corrected that nonsense.
1979: Mike Flanagan and Bruce Sutter
Cy Stieb: Flanagan and J.R. Richard
This is a baffling one. I don't know that Flanagan would win the Cy now -- he basically won it on the strength of a 23-9 record -- but I also don't see a pitcher who clearly knocks him out. Jerry Koosman? Tommy John? Guidry again? As per our agreement, Flanagan keeps the title.
I feel similarly about Sutter. He had an extraordinary season that would make him a viable Cy Young candidate now even though relievers have stopped winning the award. In the end, though, I think Richard's wild season -- 313 strikeouts, league-leading ERA and FIP -- would carry the day.
1980: Steve Stone and Steve Carlton (3)
Cy Stieb: Mike Norris and Carlton (3)
Whew, the American League was a mess for a few years. This is ANOTHER year where nobody really jumped up and grabbed it. The problem is that Steve Stone actually ranked FORTY-SECOND in fWAR, so there's no way he would win it now. Norris actually tied Stone with 13 first-place votes, and while there are others who were roughly as valuable, we give it to Norris.
1981: Rollie Fingers and Fernando Valenzuela
Cy Stieb: Fingers and Valenzuela
It was a strike year, nobody separated themselves enough to change the award.
1982: Pete Vukovich and Carlton (4)
Cy Stieb: Dave Stieb and Mario Soto
Well, here's our first Dave Stieb award ... and it's a runaway. Pete Vukovich would not get a Cy Young vote if it was held today, not even a third-place vote.
The National League vote would be close between Carlton, Steve Rogers and Mario Soto (who did not get a vote in 1982 because of his 14-13 record). In the end, I think Soto's league-leading WHIP, strikeouts-per-nine, strikeout-to-walk ratio and outstanding FIP would make the difference.
1983: Lamarr Hoyt and John Denny
Cy Stieb: Stieb (2) and Denny
This one's close, though Lamarr Hoyt would not be in the mix. There's a good argument for Dan Quisenberry ... his 1.94 ERA and 45 saves hold up, and he pitched 139 innings which makes him sort of a reliever/starter combo. Teams would LOVE to have that guy now. Jack Morris would also have a strong case ... he led the American League in fWAR. But I think Stieb would win in a squeaker.
1984: Willie Hernandez and Rick Sutcliffe
Cy Stieb: Stieb (3) and Sutcliffe
There really is an argument for Willie Hernandez -- it's similar to the Quiz argument from '83 -- but Stieb was much better and takes his third Cy Stieb in a row.
You might remember (if you're old like me) that Sutcliffe was traded to the Cubs in the middle of that year and he went 16-1 and led the Cubs to their first postseason since the 1940s, there was NO WAY he wasn't going to win the Cy Young. He took it unanimously. I think, looking back, Dwight Gooden was clearly better, but voters are not immune to a story like Rick's and therefore he wins the Cy Stieb too.
1985: Bret Saberhagen and Dwight Gooden
Cy Stieb: Saberhagen and Gooden
Stieb had an insanely unlucky year -- Bill goes through it game by game. Stieb left games with a 6-0 lead, a 7-2 lead, a 4-1 lead, a 5-2 lead and a 3-2 lead and didn't win ANY of them -- five wins just stolen by the bullpen. He lost four more games where he went at least eight innings and gave up two earned runs or less. In other words, he could have won 23 games and then CERTAINLY would have won the Cy Young.
Looking back, you could argue Stieb was the best pitcher in the AL in 1985 -- Bill's system says he was -- but it's no knockout. Saberhagen had a higher fWAR and bWAR. I think he retains the award.
1986: Roger Clemens and Mike Scott
Cy Stieb: Clemens and Scott
1987: Clemens (2) and Steve Bedrosian
Cy Stieb: Clemens (2) and Orel Hershiser
Would today's voters have given Nolan Ryan the Cy Young despite an 8-16 record? He did lead the league in ERA, FIP, strikeouts, hits per nine, etc. But I think it's probably a bridge too far, even now. Hershiser only went 16-16, this one is a crazy toss-up ... but it definitely would not be Bedrosian.
1988: Frank Viola and Hershiser
Cy Stieb: Viola and Hershiser (2)
1989: Saberhagen (2) and Mark Davis
Cy Stieb: Saberhagen (2) and Hershiser (3)
Maybe we should have called this award the Cy Hersh. Would Hershiser have been a more viable Hall of Fame candidate if he had won three Cy Youngs in a row? You bet he would have.
1990: Bob Welch and Doug Drabek
Cy Stieb: Clemens (3) and Viola (2)
Lots of choices in the NL this year -- Ramon Martinez, Ed Whitson, Gooden -- but I think in the end, the bulk of the analytics point to Viola, who really was one heck of a pitcher.
1991: Clemens (3) and Tom Glavine
Cy Stieb: Clemens (4) and Glavine
1992: Dennis Eckersley and Greg Maddux
Cy Stieb: Clemens (5) and Maddux
A fascinating part of the Roger Clemens story is how underrated he was in this early part of his career ... and how overrated he was later in his career.
1993: Jack McDowell and Maddux (2)
Cy Stieb: Kevin Appier and Maddux (2)
You look at the right-handed pitchers who won American League Cy Youngs in the 1980s and 1990s because of wins -- Steve Stone, Lamarr Hoyt, Pete Vukovich, Jack McDowell -- and you can see what baseball fans treasured. Righties. Power. Innings. Wins. Is it any wonder, then, that Jack Morris was so beloved by the writers after he retired?
In the National League, Maddux and Jose Rijo each have a good Cy Stieb case, but the tie goes to Maddux.
1994: David Cone and Maddux (3)
Cy Stieb: Cone and Maddux (3)
1995: Randy Johnson and Maddux (4)
Cy Stieb: Johnson and Maddux (4)
1996: Pat Hentgen and John Smoltz
Cy Stieb: Hentgen and Smoltz
There's an argument here for Clemens over Hentgen -- better fWAR -- but we'll stick with the originals in both leagues.
1997: Clemens (4) and Pedro Martinez
Cy Stieb: Clemens (5) and Martinez
1998: Clemens (5) and Glavine (2)
Cy Stieb: Clemens (6) and Kevin Brown
Brown's lead in bWAR and fWAR would make him a slam dunk vote now.
1999: Martinez (2) and Unit (2)
Cy Stieb: Martinez (2) and Unit (2)
2000: Martinez (3) and Unit (3)
Cy Stieb: Martinez (3) and Unit (3)
You are no doubt noticing how we're having fewer and fewer disagreements ... the voting had definitely evolved some. But it's also true that some amazing pitchers like Pedro, Unit, Clemens and Maddux have simply pulled away from the rest of the league.
2001: Clemens (6) and Unit (4)
Cy Stieb: Mike Mussina and Unit (4)
Bill makes this point first: The young Clemens was oddly under-appreciated (because of uninspiring won-loss records) the older Clemens was over-appreciated (because of shiny won-loss records). Clemens went 20-3 in 2001, but he wasn't THAT good. By Fangraphs WAR he was the third-best pitcher on his own staff.
There's a larger story to be told here. The overarching narrative is that Roger Clemens was amazing as a young pitcher in the late 1980s and early 1990s, began to fall off, got traded, went insane with rage, began taking PEDs to prove everyone wrong, became great again somewhat out of nowhere and then stayed impossibly great long after a pitcher should. This story has become the biblical canon of Clemens's career.
But I think you could make a pretty strong case that this is totally wrong. You could tell the story like this: Clemens was amazing as a young pitcher in the late 1980s and early 1990s, REMAINED great but ran into some bad luck with injuries and run support, got healthy and angry after getting traded and built his numbers up again, then pitched well into his 40s but not as well as his won-loss record suggests.
This is not to take a guess about the effects of PEDs on his career, but based on how we look at pitching now, Clemens absolutely should not have won the Cy Young Awards in 2001 or 2004, and maybe people would view his late career different if he had not.
2002: Barry Zito and Unit (5)
Cy Stieb: Martinez (4) and Unit (5)
This was a close one ... Zito fans can argue that this isn't a knockout and so he should retain the title. They might be right. Zito has a slightly better bWAR than Pedro. But there's something about Oakland pitchers and bWAR that doesn't sit well with me. Pedro's fWAR is about three wins higher than Zito, plus Pedro led the league in ERA, FIP, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio. I'm pretty sure Martinez would win it now.
2003: Roy Halladay and Eric Gagne
Cy Stieb: Halladay and Mark Prior
Super close between Halladay and Pedro in the AL but Pedro does not have quite enough overturn the decision. Prior led the league in both bWAR and fWAR and I think would run away with the Cy vote if it was held now. It is worth noting here that Gagne was the last reliever to win a Cy Young, and there doesn't seem much enthusiasm for relievers today.
2004: Johan Santana and Clemens (7)
Cy Stieb: Santana and Unit (6)
Another terrible miss on Clemens ... it again looks like he won it because of a sparkly 18-4 won-loss record. He honestly did not even come CLOSE to Unit's performance. Johnson pitched 30 more innings, walked 35 fewer batters, struck out 72 more, had a 30 point advantage in ERA+ and an enormous edge in FIP. This was just a bad vote (because of Johnson's 16-14 record) and, honestly, it probably hurt Clemens more than it hurt Unit.
2005: Bartolo Colon and Chris Carpenter
Cy Stieb: Santana (2) and Carpenter
I think Colon might have won the last Cy Young vote ever decided by pitcher wins. Santana today win this going away.
One interesting note about the Cy Young: This was the perfect year to give it to Mariano Rivera. He finished second in the voting, his best finish. I don't think he deserved it over Santana, but he deserved it over Colon.
In the NL, this year there IS an argument for Clemens. He led the league in ERA and bWAR. But he trailed Carpenter and Dontrelle Willis in fWAR and I think Carpenter is left standing.
2006: Santana (2) and Brandon Webb
Cy Stieb: Santana (3) and Webb
2007: CC Sabathia and Jake Peavy
Cy Stieb: Sabathia and Peavy
Both were there for the taking -- Sabathia and Peavy did not have especially great years by Cy Young standards. But nobody had a decidedly better year.
2008: Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum
Cy Stieb: Lee and Lincecum
2009: Zack Greinke and Lincecum (2)
Cy Stieb: Greinke and Lincecum (2)
A watershed year with Greinke winning 16 games and Lincecum winning 15.
2010: Felix Hernandez and Halladay (2)
Cy Stieb: Hernandez and Halladay (2)
Have we hit the point where the Cy Young and Cy Stieb will always be the same?
2011: Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw
Cy Stieb: Verlander and Halladay (3)
No, we have not! Halladay led baseball in fWAR and bWAR and I feel quite sure would have won the Cy Young over Kershaw if the vote was retaken.
2012: David Price and R.A. Dickey
Cy Stieb: Verlander (2) and Kershaw (1)
And here are two more disagreements. I feel sure Verlander (with a 1.5 bWAR advantage and a 1.8 fWAR advantage) would win over Price -- he almost did anyway.
I'm not as sure Kershaw should win over Dickey, they are closer and Dickey must get the champion advantage, but because Kershaw is moderately ahead in just about every measure (and he led the league in ERA and WHIP), I think he just barely wins.
2013: Max Scherzer and Kershaw (2)
Cy Stieb: Scherzer and Kershaw (2)
Do you know who led the AL in bWAR? You can have a lot of guesses if you want. It was Hisashi Iwakuma. Why? And, look, he had a fine year.
But anytime you see an outlier like that in bWAR you should know where to look -- DEFENSIVE ADJUSTMENT! Bill James wrote in his Deserved Wins series (and I have written this several times including in my breakdown of Aaron Nola's season) that bWAR's defensive adjustment often strains credulity and credibility. Maybe they're right, they are much smarter than I am. But I often don't buy it. And I don't think I'm alone.
Iwakuma's good season was calculated to be great because the Seattle defense was atrocious. And I have no doubt that the Seattle defense WAS atrocious, but it's hard to see how that hurt him. He had a .252 BABIP, sixth best in baseball. Baseball Reference adds 15 runs above average to his total as a defensive adjustment (giving him 7.2 WAR!) and, like I say, that just seems ridiculous. I don't see how in the world you could calculate a stat that shows Iwakuma was better in 2013 than Scherzer.
By fWAR, by the way, Scherzer had a 2-plus win edge over Iwakuma, which makes a heck of a lot more sense.
2014: Corey Kluber and Kershaw (3)
Cy Stieb: Kluber and Kershaw (3)
2015: Dallas Keuchel and Jake Arrieta
Cy Stieb: Keuchel and Arrieta
The NL vote was one of the great three-pitcher races ever between Arrieta, Greinke and Kershaw. Greinke led in bWAR. Kershaw led in fWAR. It was close between all three. But Arrieta's last 20 or so starts that year are among the greatest in baseball history ... I think he wins again and again, no matter how many times you hold the vote.
2016: Rick Porcello and Scherzer (2)
Cy Stieb: Porcello and Scherzer (2)
We've been over this -- Verlander has an enormous bWAR lead, but it's because of that dubious defensive adjustment. They're virtually tied in fWAR. I have said that I would have voted for Verlander, but Porcello was good enough to retain his title. Scherzer also retains his title, but you can't talk about 2016 without mentioning the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez, who was a real Cy Young candidate that year and had an unlimited future.
2017: Kluber (2) and Scherzer (3)
Cy Stieb: Kluber (2) and Scherzer (3)
2018: Blake Snell and Jacob deGrom
Cy Stieb: Snell and deGrom
Obviously, the Cy Stieb winner of 2018 will also be the Cy Young winner. But as I said at the top, I do wonder if the 2018 vote will hold up well over the long haul. I know the big talk was about deGrom's won-loss record ... but Blake Snell seems even more interesting to me. He pitched 34 fewer innings than Verlander, walked almost twice as many and struck out 69 fewer. Verlander's Fangraphs WAR was more than two wins higher. Snell did lead the league in wins, ERA, and hits per nine, but that was largely because of a supernatural .242 batting average on balls in play, far and away the best in the American League. Was that a sign of his greatness? I don't know.
And that's it. In our next essay, we'll run all of this down and try to see if it means anything.