The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Cy Young

This is Part 2 of the series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  The object of this series is to revisit players most of us already know something about, then to uncover one fact or statistic about that player that isn’t widely known.

The particular fact I wanted to discover about Cy Young was, how many Cy Young awards would Cy Young have won?

Cy Young.

Cy Young. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cy Young pitched for 22 years, from 1890 to 1911.  Many, perhaps most, baseball fans know that his 511 career wins are the most in baseball history.

Though he is not usually considered the greatest pitcher in history, it is the Cy Young award (and not the Walter Johnson award) which is awarded annually to the best pitcher in each league.

So how often was Cy Young the best pitcher in his league during those 22 years?

Young won at least 20 games in a season 15 times, and he topped 30 wins five times (twice after 1900.)

He led his league in wins five times, in ERA and win-loss percentage twice, in complete games three times, and in shutouts seven times.  Additionally, he paced his league in both strikeouts and ERA+ twice.

Cy Young won 511 games during his career, 94 m...

Cy Young won 511 games during his career, 94 more than second-place Walter Johnson. “Career Leaders & Records for Wins”. Baseball-Reference.com . Sports Reference LLC . . Retrieved March 26, 2010 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As measured by WAR, Young topped all pitchers in his league a remarkable seven times (the same as Roger Clemens; one less than Walter Johnson.)

Certainly, then, a case could be made that Cy Young should have won the award as the best pitcher in his league seven times.

But should have won is not the same as would have won.  No one was measuring a player’s WAR in those days.  Wins would have been the primary stat.  Some combination of ERA, strikeouts, complete games, win-loss percentage and shutouts would have been the secondary stats considered.

Of course, if a pitcher led the league in virtually all or most of those stats, then, as today, he would likely have won his league’s best pitcher award.

There are four seasons that I am confident Cy Young would have been officially recognized as the best pitcher in his league.

In 1892, pitching for Cleveland, Cy Young posted a 36-12 record, a 1.93 ERA, 9 shutouts, and he tossed a career high 48 complete games and 453 innings.  He led the league in wins, win-loss percentage, shutouts, and ERA.

1901:  33 wins, 1.62 ERA, five shutouts, 158 strikeouts.  Each of those stats led the league.  (Young pitched for Boston from 1901-08.)

1902:  32 wins, 43 starts, 41 complete games, and 384 innings pitched, all of which led the league.

1903:  28 wins, .757 win-loss percentage, 34 complete games, 7 shutouts, and 341 innings pitched.  Again, each of those stats led the league.

Young also may have been voted league’s best pitcher in 1895 when, pitching for Cleveland, he led the league in wins (35), lost just ten games, and tossed a league-high four shutouts.

My original question was, “How many Cy Young awards would Cy Young have won?”  The best answer is that he would probably have won four or five awards, about the same number as Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson.

That’s not bad company to keep, especially if you have an award named after you.

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4 thoughts on “Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Cy Young

  1. Kevin Graham on said:

    My guess would be that Cy Young would have won just 1 Cy Young award.When they 1st started handing out the MVP award you were only allowed to win 1x. So I would assume that they would have done the same with a best pitcher award. Heck, Babe Ruth won just 1 MVP award as did Gehrig.
    Nice series Bill, I wish I thought of it.
    Kevin G.

    • Kevin, You make a very good point, and I think you’re probably right. I wonder how many MVP awards Ruth would have won if he’d been allowed to win more? Probably in double digits.
      Thanks for the kind words,
      Bill

  2. The best part of this article was the acknowledgement that Young and his contemporaries would have never heard of WAR or a lot of the modern stats when trying to determine award winners. Great observation and a good new series.
    v

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