Pitchers That Make You Go ‘Hmmm…’

Scott Glab, BaseballEvolution.com



            Whether a pitcher wins a Cy Young award as part of an otherwise pedestrian career or because baseball writers are more fascinated with wins than Tammy Faye is with makeup, the winners of the award are diverse and often undeserving.  Here is a tribute to the 10 most head-scratching, chin-molding of the lot.




10        Roger Clemens   NL 2004                 18-4   2.98   214 IP


            This spot could have gone to a number of pitchers, but as long as it’s fresh in our minds…


            Clemens had a great but not dominant year for a playoff team, while Randy Johnson had one of his most effective years ever for the worst team in baseball.  Oh that Jake Peavy had pitched forty more innings.


                                                                 W-L     IP    ERA   WHIP    SO   1st Place Votes

                Roger Clemens                     18-4    214   2.98    1.157    218                  23

                Randy Johnson                    16-14   246   2.60    0.899    290                   8

                Roy Oswalt                           20-10   237   3.49    1.245    206                   1


            What if Clemens and Oswalt had finished the year with each other’s stats?  I say this becomes a dead heat three person race. 




9          Sparky Lyle   AL 1977                      13-5   2.17   26 sv   137 IP


            This was essentially a four-way race, with Lyle beating three pitchers who hurled over 290 innings each.  Dennis Leonard won 20 games for the first place Royals, Jim Palmer won 20 games for second place Baltimore, and Nolan Ryan won 19 and fanned 341 batters. 


But the Yankees won the AL East, and voters cited 68 strikeouts coupled with a higher WHIP than Leonard or Palmer as the factors that put Albert Walter Lyle over the top.




8            Bob Turley   ML 1958                     21-7   2.97   245.2 IP


The third Cy Young award winner of all-time, Turley’s selection helped pave the way for decent pitchers with gobs of wins to beat out more effective pitchers with lesser records.  In this case, his Yankee teammate Whitey Ford had an ERA almost a full point below Turley’s (2.01).  It’s an irony that Ford, whose record was usually more impressive than his ERA, didn’t get any of the sixteen Cy Young votes cast in what was arguably his most effective year as a pitcher.  But as the bold states…


W-L    IP       ERA  WHIP  ERA+

                                Ford        14-7   219.1   2.01   1.076    176

                        Turley    21-7   245      2.97   1.247    119


            To look for a comparable modern gaffe, compare 1996 winner John Smoltz (24-8, 2.94) to Kevin Brown (17-11, 1.89).  Wins are obviously the goal of the game, but a pitcher’s win-loss record is a by-product of other players to a far, far greater extent than his ERA.  Why award individual honors for a team-dependent stat?




7          Steve Bedrosian   NL 1987               5-3   2.83   40 sv   89 IP


            Awarded simply because only two pitchers had over 16 wins, and they were teammate Shane Rawley (17-11, 4.39) for the fifth place Phillies and Rick Sutcliffe (18-10, 3.68) for the last place Cubs.  Sutcliffe came in second place.  Bedrosian’s ERA was fairly pedestrian for a reliever, as were his peripheral stats. 


            Now you should know that we disagree on many things here at BaseballEvolution.com.  Keith thinks that reliever innings are significantly more valuable than starter innings.  I find them nominally so.  But we can both agree that there are too many instances of relievers with a fabulous number of saves and a miniscule ERA to ever give the award to one without awe-inspiring numbers.


To compound matters, Nolan Ryan produced an enigmatic year within an anomalous career.  He easily led the league with a 2.76 ERA yet somehow finished 8-16!  I’m not such a ‘Figure Philbert’ that I don’t see a plausible argument against giving the award to Ryan, but that still doesn’t excuse the selection of Bedrosian.  


Does Rick Sutcliffe deserve the ‘87 Cy Young more than Andre Dawson deserves the ‘87 MVP?




6          Mike McCormick   NL 1967            22-10   2.85   262 IP


            Every team in the NL is your bitch, and you have no individual stars on your stellar pitching staff…is it 2004 or 1967?  Even with no Cardinals in consideration for the award, it’s hard to see why McCormick dominated the voting 18-1-1.  


                                                                 W-L     IP    ERA   WHIP    SO

                Mike McCormick 22-10   262   2.85    1.148    150

                Jim Bunning                          17-5    302   2.29    1.039    253

                Fergie Jenkins                       20-13   289   2.80    1.082    236


            Is there anyone out there who knows something about this season that might shed light on such a lopsided vote?  Did McCormick beat Bunning and Jenkins three times each?  Did he spearhead a late Giant surge into second place, 10½ games behind the Cardinals?  Let me know at scott@baseballevolution.com




5          La Marr Hoyt  AL 1983                    24-10   3.66   261 IP  


            This was an odd year.  Hoyt was the premier control pitcher in the league, with the most wins and on the most dominant team.  But not all was gravy and cream.  His ERA was unremarkable.  Teammate Rich Dotson (22-7, 3.22) was at least as deserving, and Dan Quisenberry had a monster year for a reliever (5-3, 1.94, 45sv, 139 IP). 


            There were other candidates, too.  But none were as loveable or as devilishly handsome as La Marr.  Did I mention that I look a little like him?




4          Jim Lonborg   AL 1967          22-9   3.16   273 IP


            The bold stats speak volumes:


                                                W-L    IP    ERA   WHIP   team W-L

                Jim Lonborg                          22-9   273   3.16    1.138          1st

                Joe Horlen                             19-7   258   2.06    0.953          4th


            Lonborg’s Red Sox won the AL by one game over Detroit and Minnesota, and by three games over Horlen’s White Sox.  Lonborg won the Cy Young vote 18-2.              His career was marked by plenty of wins and a below average ERA.  Horlen finished just under .500 for his career but had an ERA 10% better than his league.




3          Steve Stone  AL 1980                        25-7   3.23   251 IP


            In terms of enjoyment and information gathering, Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone being replaced by Bob Brenly is the equivalent of John Paul II being replaced as pope by Satan.  Sorry, I just had to get that out of the way.


            In one of the closest races of all time, Stoney edged out Mike Norris of the A’s, although both received 13 first place votes.  Norris (22-9, 2.53) was clearly the more dominant pitcher, but the Orioles won 100 games.  Though they finished bridesmaid to the Yankees, the pennant race clearly helped showcase Stone.


            Incidentally, Stone threw only 63 innings in 1981, then called his career quits.  He’s the first to tell you that his arm was never the same after being run ragged in 1980.  Good luck with your new life, Steve.  Your love of baseball will be missed.




2          Pete Vuckovich  AL 1982                  18-6   3.34   224 IP


            There were no clear cut ace in the league this year.  You’d think a tight pack would force voters to take a closer look at the candidates, but the robots instead gave the nod to Vuckovich, the best pitcher on a pennant winning club.  Vuckovich only ranks #2 on this list because he is probably the worst pitcher to ever win the award.  He had an incredibe 1.502 WHIP!  County Staduim in Milwaukee even played as a pitchers park.  With a mediocre ERA, under 20 wins, and bad peripheral stats under favorable conditions, he oozes fraudulence.




1          Bob Welch   AL 1990                         27-6   2.95   238 IP


            27 wins.  Such a mighty number. Only Welch and Steve Carlton have reached that mark since 1970.  But even mightier was the season that Roger Clemens put together, the second best of his magnificent career:


  W-L     IP   ERA  WHIP   SO    ERA+

                  Bob Welch                            27-6   238   2.95   1.223   127    126

  Roger Clemens                     21-6   228   1.93   1.082   209    211


The AL ERA for the season was 4.07.  Clemens’ 1990 was one of only 34 times in ML history that a starter had an ERA less than half the league ERA. 


As a runner-up usurper, fellow A’s pitcher Dave Stewart (21-11, 2.56, 267 IP) had just won 20 games for the fourth consecutive season.  Consistent success and a glare of steel cemented his huge popularity with fans in Oakland and across the country.  Irrespective of Clemens, think of Welch beating Stewart in terms of Maris beating out Mantle for the 1961 MVP.  Mantle was more productive and popular, but Maris had the biggest Sexy Stat.