Big strikeout numbers don't always equate to winning the Cy Young Award

Getting those big strikeout numbers is an enviable accomplishment, but as history (and even last year) shows, it won't always win you the Cy Young Award.

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Three
Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Three / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

Atlanta Braves starter Spencer Strider is the odds-on favorite to win the Cy Young in the National League for 2024, and taking one look at his resume so far, you can see why. He is the Nolan Ryan of the 21st century, striking batters out at a pace not seen since The Ryan Express made his stops in New York, California, and two in Texas. But does this mean that a Cy Young Award is indeed in his future, or is he going to suffer the same fate as Ryan and never win one?

Strider certainly was a curious case last year. He won 20 games, led the league in strikeouts, posted a 1.093 WHIP and yet finished fourth in the ballotting. Why? His ERA was higher than the top three at 3.86, but I thought we didn’t look at ERA anymore? His ERA+ is only 115 and he gave up as many home runs as third-place finisher Zac Gallen. Maybe once you get the bat on the ball, he suffers like Ryan did? Time will tell for his career, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

If history tells you anything, it’s that big strikeout numbers can lead you to the Cy Young, but not that often. Zeroing in on the magic number of 300 strikeouts, there have been 29 instances of a pitcher recording 300 strikeouts in a season since 1967 (using this year as this was the first year the Cy Young was given to a pitcher in each league), but only nine of those hurlers won the Cy Young. Obviously, you'd better have some more going for you than just strikeouts.

Will Braves' Spencer Strider win 2024 Cy Young?

Some interesting facts is there has only been one time in history where BOTH Cy Young Award winners had 300 strikeouts in a season. That was 1999, and that’s when the two premiere strikeout artists in the '90s won: Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the first of his four straight Cy Youngs that year.

On the opposite end, there has been only one starter who didn’t strike out 100 batters in a season, yet won the Cy Young. San Diego Padres pitcher Randy Jones won the National League Cy Young in 1976 while only striking out 93 batters in a whopping 315.1 innings!  Just two years earlier, he struck out 30 more batters in 100 fewer innings during a 8-22 season. Strange indeed.

Now that 2024 is in full swing, we can watch and marvel at the big strikeout guys like Strider, but also watch those true artists who can put it all together and bring home the Cy Young Award despite not throwing it by every batter.