Cy Young Award 2017: The BBWAA is getting smarter

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: Max Scherzer /
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Cy Young Award 2017
06 Apr 2002 : Bartolo Colon /

Bad Picks in the Past, which the Cy Young Award 2017 winner an exception. 

In the AL, the last truly awful choice was Bartolo Colon in 2005. That year, Colon was 11th in bWAR and fifth in fWAR. He was worth three fewer wins than the guy who should have won the trophy, Johan Santana.

  • 21-8, 3.48 ERA, 3.78 FIP in 222.7 IP—Bartolo Colon
  • 16-7, 2.87 ERA, 2.80 FIP in 231.7 IP—Johan Santana

The difference was wins. Santana was much better at preventing runs and even pitched more innings than Big Bart, but Colon had five extra wins. At the time, that was enough for the voters to give the award to Colon. I don’t believe that would happen today. Had he won the award that year, Santana would have won three straight Cy Youngs.

In 2004, Roger Clemens (seventh in bWAR, fifth in fWAR) stole one from Randy Johnson (first in both) and once again there was a three-to-four WAR difference between the two hurlers. Clemens was worth 5.5 bWAR and 5.7 fWAR. The Big Unit was worth 8.5 bWAR and 9.6 fWAR. Here are the numbers:

  • 18-4, 2.98 ERA, 3.11 FIP in 214.3 IP—Roger Clemens
  • 16-14, 2.60 ERA, 2.30 FIP in 245.7 IP—Randy Johnson

Johnson pitched more innings and was much better at run prevention, but didn’t have the nice, shiny 18-4 record that Clemens had. On a side note, Johnson also threw a perfect game that year. If Johnson had won that Cy Young, he and Clemens would both have six each. Instead, Clemens has seven and Johnson has five.

Going further back, Bob Welch over Roger Clemens in 1990 was statistically the worst pick in the history of Cy Young voting. Bob Welch won the 1990 AL Cy Young because he won 27 games. That’s the only explanation. Consider the numbers:

  • 27-6, 2.95 ERA, 4.19 FIP in 238 IP—Bob Welch
  • 21-6, 1.93 ERA, 2.18 FIP in 228.3 IP—Roger Clemens

Welch put up his numbers while making 16 of his 35 starts in the best pitcher’s park in baseball and had the offensive support of one of the best hitting teams in the American League. He had a 1.92 ERA at home and 3.94 ERA on the road.

Clemens pitched in one of the worst parks in baseball for pitchers and his team’s offense was in the middle-of-the-pack in the AL. Despite pitching in a tough park for pitchers, he had a 1.53 ERA at home (2.31 on the road).

Welch had six more wins and that was enough for the voters at the time. He received 15 first-place votes out of the 28 votes cast. Clemens was the better pitcher in a more difficult park to pitch in but only received eight first-place votes so he finished second in the voting. This kind of result was much more common before the mid-1990s than it is now.

More from Call to the Pen

The Welch over Clemens vote in 1990 was the worst Cy Young pick ever based on the difference in bWAR between the winner and the guy who should have won. Clemens was worth 10.6 bWAR that year to Welch’s 3.0.

According to bWAR, there were 21 pitchers more valuable than Welch. It was also the worst choice based on fWAR, with Welch being worth 1.8 fWAR to Clemens’ 8.2. Based on fWAR, Welch was the 46th-best pitcher in baseball.

One other big change in Cy Young voting is the rarity over the last 25 years for a reliever to win the award. In the 16 years from 1977 to 1992, four AL relievers and three NL relievers won the Cy Young Award.

No AL reliever has one it since Eckersley in 1992 and only one, Eric Gagne, has won it in the NL since Mark Davis in 1989, with the Cy Young Award 2017 winner being no different.

Next: MLB Free Agents Tracker: Top 25 Pitchers

Voters are getting smarter and using more information, with the Cy Young award 2017 winners as proof. They seem to understand that a pitcher’s wins are dependent on many factors beyond his control and they are rewarding pitchers more for what they are responsible for, rather than factors beyond his control. This is progress.