Cy Young Errors

Haven’t written in a while so, with baseball season upon us and already going through the worst MVP choices more than once, I figured I would go through the Cy Young voting the same way.  It has been said that the Cy Young choices probably don’t have as many bad selections as the MVP vote because for the most part there are only about two or three choices as opposed to seven to ten.


As it turns out, that is correct.  Since 1931 – when the BBWAA first handed out their version of the awards – here are the differences in Win Shares between the winners and the highest total that season:


0 difference:  70 times (40%)

Less than 3:  34 (20%)

4-6 Win Shares:  27 (15%)

7-9 Win Shares:  20 (11%)

More than 10:  24 (14%)


Here’s the same data for the Cy Young Award:


0 difference:  69 times (61%)

Less than 3:  21 (19%)

4-6 Win Shares:  13 (11%)

7-9 Win Shares:  6 (5%)

More than 10:  4 (4%)


That being said, there have still been some bad ones.  Let’s take a look at the ten worst Cy Young selections:


  1. 1993 AL: Jack McDowell over Kevin Appier (6 Win Shares)

This is a pretty simple one to explain.  The White Sox won their first division title in a decade.  Frank Thomas was the unanimous MVP choice (not the best choice, mind you, but unanimous).  And Black Jack McDowell was 22-10 with a 3.37 ERA.  Yep.  His ERA was 11th in the AL.  He led the league in wins you say?  Well, his winning percentage was seventh.  He was 13th in strikeouts, 13th in K/BB, 23rd in K/9, sixth in FIP.  His Win Shares total is nice (21), but Kevin Appier led the league in ERA (2.56) and FIP (2.90), was seventh in K/9, AND had a better winning percentage than McDowell (.692 to .688).  But the Royals were 10 games behind the ChiSox and narratives tell the story sometimes.


  1. 1974 NL: Mike Marshall over Phil Niekro (7 Win Shares)

R.A. Dickey is the only Cy Young winner whose primary pitch was a knuckleball.  Phil Niekro twice lost to relievers while having the best Win Share total in the league.  There are really three reasons for this (two from Bill James)


  1. Style points matter. The voters prefer a fireballer over a junkballer.
  2. Voters veer (not always, but very often) towards winning records; most teams won’t take a chance with a knuckleballer if they are a contender. They will if they have nothing to lose.
  3. Someone does something “historical”.


I throw the third one in because of Mike Marshall and Bruce Sutter.  I also put the quotes there because of the significance.


Mike Marshall was on a division winner and had set the major league record for inning in relief with 208.1.  We’ll ignore that afterwards it took him five years to get within 70 innings of that total again.  And we’ll ignore that he pitched at Dodger Stadium.  Niekro:


  1. Led the league in innings
  2. Led the league in wins
  3. Led in complete games
  4. Had a better ERA than Marshall


Sometimes I just don’t get it.


7 (tie).  1992 AL:  Dennis Eckersley over Roger Clemens, 1983 AL:  LaMarr Hoyt over Dan Quisenberry (8 Win Shares)

How nine – repeat NINE – relievers have won the Cy Young award and Quiz never won one is on the list of reasons I believe I should have a vote over every member of the BBWAA for everything (I’m not saying I should; I’m saying I believe I should, please note the difference).


Both of these simple speak of division winners.  Eckersley is the worst MVP winner ever, but the A’s won for the third time in four years.  Hoyt won 24 games for a team that went to the playoffs for the first time in 24 years.  All Quiz did was set the major league record for saves while averaging more than two innings per outing (I’ll let you guys look at the current numbers for perspective).  He wasn’t a big strikeout guy, but he didn’t walk anyone, he didn’t give up a lot of hits, he didn’t throw wild pitches, he didn’t balk, he was as close to perfect as a pitcher could have been.  It’s a shame the voters never really noticed.


5 (tie).  1970 AL:  Jim Perry over Sam McDowell, 1977 AL:  Sparky Lyle over Jim Palmer (9 Win Shares)

Let’s start with the easy reasoning.  First, Jim Palmer had already won three awards, so what are you supposed to do, just vote him as the best just because he is? (answer:  Yes, but writers aren’t that smart)  Of course, the Yankees won their second straight AL East title, and Sparky Lyle . . . well, he pitched well.  But 137 innings, 26 saves (even then), and a FIP a full run higher than the ERA (and yes, I know we hadn’t developed FIP yet) should not have compared to 20-11, 22 complete games, and 182 more innings.


As for the former vote, also played for a team that played for a team the won their division and he won 24 games.  McDowell won 20 games, but for a team that finished 10 games below .500.  We’ll ignore that McDowell struck out more hitters, completed more games, threw 26 more innings, had a better ERA (2.92 to 3.04), had a better ERA+ (134 to 125), was just plain better.  But writers love their wins and they love their narratives more than they love facts.  Therefore, Perry had to win over Sudden Sam.


  1. (tie). 1958 MLB: Bob Turley over Warren Spahn, 1990 AL:  Bob Welch over Roger Clemens (10 Win Shares)

These are both pretty simple answers.  Well, one is.


Bob Welch was a 25-game winner for the Oakland A’s.  The A’s won their third straight division title.  Meanwhile, Dave Stewart pitched 29 more innings, struck out 39 more hitters, and gave up 10 fewer homeruns.  But you know “Some guys just know how to win!”  Makes one wonder why they don’t spread this knowledge to every teammate.


Bob Turley, wow.  Again, the W-L narrative rules the day.  Again, sports writers are simpletons.  That’s why you hear about “an elite level” without any standards set for “elite” or “you had to see” B.S. that writers use.  The fact of the matter is that writers generally are not numbers guys and numbers guys aren’t exactly good with the written language.  The writers don’t like digging until they wan to prove a narrative, and 21-7 was good enough to prevent digging.  Besides, Spahn won the year before.


1 (tie).  1978 NL:  Gaylor Perry over Phil Niekro and Pete Vuckovich over Dave Stieb (12 Win Shares)

Every witch hunter for all of the alleged “cheaters” over PED’s should be irate that Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame.  Accusations similar, convictions similar, rules different:  What Perry did was actually against the rules, therefore cheating.  But anyway, Perry threw 73 less innings than Niekro, struck out 94 fewer than Niekro, had an ERA+ 21 points worse than Niekro.  But again, 21-6 and “Guys just know how to win” and again, the knuckleball B.S.  Phil Niekro or Adam Wainwright are the two best pitchers never to win the Cy Young.


As for Vuckovich, he played for Harvey’s Wall Bangers, the 1982 Brewers who mashed their way to the pennant.  Vuckovich was the definition of mediocrity for the Cy Young Award.  To put it simply, NO PITCHER has ever had a lower Win Share total than Vuckovich’s 13.  Fernando Valenzuela and Rollie Fingers both had 17, and that was the year before in the strike shortened season.


So if you ask me for a tie breaker, Vuckovich is the worst award selection ever.

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