clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Who are the biggest Cy Young Award snubs?

New, 1 comment

With a tight race for the National League Cy Young Award leaving some feeling like Zack Grienke or Clayton Kershaw got snubbed, let's take a look back at five of the biggest Cy Young Award snubs in history.

Kevin Appier had a funny-looking windup, and should've won the 1993 Cy Young Award.
Kevin Appier had a funny-looking windup, and should've won the 1993 Cy Young Award.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The 2015 National League Cy Young Award race featured three well-deserving and highly-qualified candidates in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs. Heading into the voting, one could make a very good and very legitimate claim that any of the three could deserve the award.

Of course, it was Arrieta who got the most votes. In addition to hitting the traditional plateaus of leading the league in wins (22) and finishing with the second-best ERA (1.77) to only Greinke, he also had one of the most dominating post-All-Star Game stretches that a pitcher has ever had. But while Arrieta without a doubt had a phenomenal season, Grienke could claim the highest bWAR for a pitcher (9.9) since Randy Johnson's 10.2 mark in the 2002 season, and Kershaw had the 14th-best FIP- (54) since the advent of the National Association in 1871.

Again, not to take away from a fantastic season by Arrieta — he posted comparable marks to Greinke (9.0 bWAR) and Kershaw (60 FIP-) in both of those categories, but on a strictly "best pitcher of the year" perspective he fell short of both of the other candidates. Though historic seasons and better statistics were not enough for either of the Dodgers hurlers, it's understandable as to why. Both Greinke (2009, American League) and Kershaw (2011, 2013, and 2014, NL) have won the award before, and Arrieta's Cubs were one of the best feel-good stories of the 2015 season. Fair or not in a "best pitcher" award, those factors undoubtedly came into play with the voters.

While you can't really call Arrieta winning a snub for Kershaw or Greinke, let's take a look back at five of the biggest Cy Young Award snubs in the history of the award which dates back to 1956. In order to qualify as a snub, a player must have appeared on at least one ballot. For example, Whitey Ford won the Cy Young Award in 1961 (when it was one award for all of MLB) but didn't finish in the top 10 for bWAR among pitchers. Unfortunately for Don Cardwell, he didn't appear on any ballots and therefore doesn't qualify for this article's purpose.

5.      American League 1977: Sparky Lyle over Dennis Leonard

Lyle went 13-5 with a 2.17 ERA and 26 saves in 72 games for the World Series champion New York Yankees in 1977. Meanwhile for the Kansas City Royals, Leonard went 20-12 with an ERA of 3.04, but a FIP of 2.76 and an fWAR of 7.9, a full 5.4 wins better than Lyle's number. Leonard's FIP- of 69 trailed only Mark Fidrych and Ron Guidry for the AL lead. I'm not averse to giving the Cy Young Award to a relief pitcher, but this seems like the classic case of a good season for a good team in a big market beating a great season in a small market. The discrepancy between Lyle and Leonard also shrinks when using bWAR as the barometer to a 1.9-win difference still in favor of Leonard, although by that metric Nolan Ryan (7.8) and Jim Palmer (7.5) were large snubs.

4.      National League 1987: Steve Bedrosian over The Field

Again, I have nothing against relief pitchers winning the Cy Young Award if they have a terrific season, but this is just plain screwy. While there are certainly bigger snubs, Bedrosian winning the NL Cy Young Award in 1987 is probably the most inexplicable winner in the 60-year history of the award. The only thing Bedrosian had going for him was he had 40 saves, which was only four more than Lee Smith's 36. It's not like the field was weak - Nolan Ryan had better numbers across the board (except went 8-16); Orel Hershiser, Rick Sutcliffe, and Mike Scott all had good years; and Bob Welch posted 7.1 bWAR for the Dodgers. Take your pick of any of those pitchers along with Rick Reuschel and Dwight Gooden, who appeared on ballots, and you have a more deserving Cy Young Award winner than Bedrosian.

3.   American League 1993: Jack McDowell over Kevin Appier

McDowell had a very solid year for the Chicago White Sox in 1993, and he was the only pitcher in the AL to hit the magical 20-win plateau, going 22-9. He deserved to show up on Cy Young Award ballots, but to be far and away the winner is odd in hindsight. Appier posted a 9.2 bWAR season, while McDowell sported a 4.4 mark, still very respectable. Appier's 68 FIP- was the best in the junior circuit, and again, McDowell's 84 FIP- is respectable. But McDowell led the league in wins, so he got the Cy Young Award. If they re-voted today with pitcher wins having less importance, Appier takes home the hardware and nobody bats an eye.

2.   National League 1978: Gaylord Perry over Phil Niekro

The Perry-Niekro debacle in 1978 is in some ways like McDowell-Appier in 1993. Perry had a solid season and won 21 games. Niekro had 10.0 bWAR to Perry's 4.3, which in fairness to Perry was partially influenced by Niekro throwing 73.2 more innings. Niekro's ERA- and FIP- were both better than Perry's. They had nearly identical WHIPs (1.19 for Niekro, 1.18 for Perry), and Neikro struck out more and had a better K:BB ratio and K%-BB% than Perry did. Despite this Perry finished first on the ballot while Niekro finished sixth![1] Burt Hooton, Vida Blue, J.R. Richard and Kent Tekluve all finished between Perry and Niekro, making this one particularly bad.

1.      American League 1990: Bob Welch over Roger Clemens

Bob Welch won 27 games for the 1990 Oakland Athletics, which is why Bob Welch won the 1990 Cy Young Award. Roger Clemens was the best pitcher in the AL in 1990, and it wasn't particularly close no matter which metric you use. Clemens had 8.6 fWAR, 10.6 bWAR, a 1.93 ERA, a 47 ERA-, and a 55 FIP-. Welch went 1.8, 3.0, 2.95, 79 and 110 in those categories, respectively. The difference between Clemens and Welch's WAR numbers (6.8 and 7.6, respectively) would equate to the second-best pitcher in the AL by both metrics. That's how much better than everyone else Clemens was in 1990. I'm sure Clemens' seven Cy Young Awards don't miss what should've been this eighth trophy, but he just didn't have enough TWTW to record as many wins as Welch.



[1] Probably owing to his 19-18 record.

Joe Vasile is the Assistant General Manager and Voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League. He also broadcasts football and basketball for the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and enjoys medium-length walks on the beach, open bars and Grandma's spaghetti and meatballs.  Follow Joe on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.