The Cy Young Award, given to the best pitcher since 1956 ( they changed it from the best pitcher overall to one in each league in 1967) has seen some really amazing pitching performances and the players who had those seasons deserved the hardware. Wins have been a huge determining factor in Cy Young votes up until fairly recently (Jacob deGrom anyone?), but has anyone had a losing record and still win? Well, there was only one, but a couple of others came close.
Most recently, Trevor Bauer was only 5-4, but that was a 60-game season. I think Felix Hernandez’s 2010 win was what started the whole “do wins really matter?” discussion when it comes to the voting, since he won with a 14-13 record. C.C. Sabathia led the league with 21 wins, but his ERA was a full run more. The voting looked like they got it right here.
The 1979 NL Cy Young went to Bruce Sutter, and this one jumped out at me. He was 6-6 and led the league in saves, but J.R. Richard was dominant. Yes, he was 18-13 but he won the ERA title and the strikeout title with 313. He finished third. Looks like he split the votes with Joe Niekro … who led the league in wins.
A couple of other relievers have won it and I was 100 percent sure that’s where we are going to find our guy. It isn’t Steve Bedrosian, nor Rollie Fingers, nor Willie Hernandez. No, we won’t have to go far. Let’s go back to 2003.
The only MLB pitcher to win the Cy Young Award with a losing record
That was the year the Cubs almost made it to the World Series (sorry Steve Bartman) on the arms of Kerry Wood and our third-place vote getter Mark Prior. It also showcased Cy Young runner up Jason Schmidt, whom I have discussed in a previous article. Our guy … our winner … even though he lost more than he won, was the great season of Eric Gagne.
Gagne was a below average starter in his first couple of seasons in Los Angeles with the Dodgers, but was converted to closer in 2002. Whomever made that call is a genius because Gagne quickly became not only the best closer in the league, but literally became the best at closing games all time since he went 84 straight save situations without blowing a single one. In 2003, he saved all 55 games he was called in to close, with a 1.20 ERA and 137 strikeouts. In fact, 55 percent of all the batters he retired were via the strikeout. This Cy Young voting wasn’t even close, since he got 28 of 30 first place votes. He did however, have the only Cy Young winning season with a record below .500. He was 2-3.
I don’t think you can blame any voter for voting for him that year. He was truly the best pitcher in the National League in 2003.