20 Seasons of Cy Young

May 18, 2021

I got to thinking that if you took twenty consecutive seasons of the kind of pitching that won a Cy Young Award and called that a career, how good a career would it be? (In the alternative, how many legs does a dog have, Mister Lincoln, if you call a tail a leg? "Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.")  Specifically, would that career, could that career, top Cy Young’s actual career, at least in terms of total victories?

So I picked out two decades of Cy Young magic, and created an Excel table of exactly that. In its first iteration below, I have omitted the names, dates, years, and favorite recipes of the twenty pitcher-years, confident in the knowledge that astute readers will be able to recognize one or two distinctive stats and then fill in the rest, since these are given, not from the start and not up to date, but from twenty consecutive years.

When there were two Cover Your Asses awarded in one season, or when there were ties in the voting, I picked the highest win-totals, which kind of screwed some of my favorite pitchers out of inclusion here. And when the two award-winners tied in win totals, I picked the one with the fewest losses.

This is one hell of a career, would you not agree?

 

W

L

E.R.A.

IP

 K

20

  9

3.08

271.2

120

25

  4

3.21

283

209

25

  9

2.83

314.1

232

25

  5

1.88

311

306

20

  9

1.65

278.1

207

26

  8

2.04

335.2

382

27

  9

1.73

323

317

22

  9

3.16

273.1

246

31

  6

1.96

336

280

25

  7

2.21

273.1

208

24

12

3.04

278.2

168

24

  8

1.82

312

301

27

10

1.97

346.1

310

22

  9

2.40

296.1

158

25

12

2.49

318.1

143

23

11

2.09

323

193

22

13

2.51

315

159

23

10

2.64

283

198

25

  3

1.74

273.2

248

23

  9

3.08

265.2

190

 

 

 

 

 

484

172

2.30

6007.7

4575

 

 

This dude seems to have been used relatively modestly in his first two years, not breaking 30 decisions or 300 IP at first, but then—watch out! He becomes a total monster, averaging 25 wins and well over 300 IP for the next eight years. After his first decade, though, his managers seem to have worked him harder and harder, which added to his loss totals but not particularly to his wins: all his double-digit loss seasons come in the second of his two pitching decades. His strikeouts vary very widely: some years he strikes out hundreds more batters than in other years, seemingly at random, but otherwise he seems to be a pretty effective pitcher.

Here are the same figures, this time with identifying information, as if you really needed it:

 

Yeah?

Who?

Whut?

WAR

W

L

E.R.A.

IP

 K

1960

Vern Law

PIT

4.2

20

9

3.08

271.2

120

1961

Whitey Ford

NYY

3.7

25

4

3.21

283

209

1962

Don Drysdale

LAD

5.4

25

9

2.83

314.1

232

1963

Sandy Koufax

LAD

10.7

25

5

1.88

311

306

1964

Dean Chance

LAA

9.4

20

9

1.65

278.1

207

1965

Sandy Koufax

LAD

8.1

26

8

2.04

335.2

382

1966

Sandy Koufax

LAD

10.3

27

9

1.73

323

317

1967

Jim Lonborg

BOS

4

22

9

3.16

273.1

246

1968

Denny McLain

DET

7.4

31

6

1.96

336

280

1969

Tom Seaver

NYM

7.2

25

7

2.21

273.1

208

1970

Jim Perry

MIN

3.8

24

12

3.04

278.2

168

1971

Vida Blue

OAK

9

24

8

1.82

312

301

1972

Steve Carlton

PHI

12.1

27

10

1.97

346.1

310

1973

Jim Palmer

BAL

6.3

22

9

2.40

296.1

158

1974

Catfish Hunter

OAK

6.9

25

12

2.49

318.1

143

1975

Jim Palmer

BAL

8.4

23

11

2.09

323

193

1976

Jim Palmer

BAL

6.5

22

13

2.51

315

159

1977

Steve Carlton

PHI

5.9

23

10

2.64

283

198

1978

Ron Guidry

NYY

9.6

25

3

1.74

273.2

248

1979

Mike Flanagan

BAL

3.8

23

9

3.08

265.2

190

 

GRAND TOTALS

 

142.7

484

172

2.30

6007.7

4575

 

After I did this, I had some thoughts. Or, less kindly, I figured out a better way to do this.

1)     The actual, factual Cy Young actually played for 22 seasons, not 20, so I should find a way to tack on two extra years to make this a fairer competition, and

2)     As long as I was doing that, I should have found the 22 consecutive CYA seasons that yielded the highest win total.

Elaborating on # 2), it turns out I did very nearly, purely by chance, hit on the 20-highest yielding Wins total. The years I selected happened to be 1960-1979, but if I’da thunk just a wee bit harder, I’d have realized that I couldn’t have gone on much further, because 1981 was the first strike year, so no 20-game winners there, and going even deeper into the 1980s and 1990s was also no go, because of subsequent strike years and fewer starts generally for pitchers as we approach the current Jacob de Grom standard of wins. (As you no doubt are aware, de Grom won 21 games in his Cy Young seasons, though not in each of those seasons—that’s 21 wins in two consecutive years, which would be a pretty sorry total for any one of the above-listed twenty seasons.)

So to do this more nearly correctly, I need to tack on 1980 on one end, and 1959 on the other. That gives us another 47 victories (25 for Steve Stone, 22 for Early Win) for a grand total of 531, easily enough (in the 22nd year) to eclipse Cy Young’s somewhat fantastical total that he achieved by pitching elsewhere than on an Excel sheet.

A few additional notes:

3)     The 2.30 E.R.A. figure is only approximated, by finding the rough median of the twenty seasons rather than computing the precise E.R.A., the prospect of which made my head puff up and explode something like Mount St. Helens, only with less poisonous fumes.

4)     Mount St. Helens blew, btw, on May 18, 1980, the day before Steve Stone won his fifth game of the year, the 511th win of our composite hurler’s career, tying Cy Young’s total. Forty-one years ago, today—I’ve been holding on to this this article for two weeks, just to publish it on this anniversary of the two events.

5)     Note that 20 years of Cy Young Award pitching doesn’t begin to rival Nolan Ryan’s actual strikeout total. Even if we add on Stone’s and Wynn’s seasons, still no cigar.

6)     Contrariwise, Cy Young’s actual IP total (#1 all-time) is over 7,000, way ahead of these pikers. Their 6007 total matches the number-two guy on the all-time IP list (Pud Galvin) almost to the inning.

7)     The four highest WAR totals all belong to lefties, averaging 10.1 WAR. The four lowest average 3.8 WAR (three righties and one lefty). Average WAR is a hair over 7.0. Young himself averaged over 12 WAR in his four top years, throwing enough innings to choke several horses and other livestock, and averaged a shade over 1.0 WAR in his four worst. His total was 165 WAR, compared to 143.7 for the 20-year pitchers, and still topping the full-22-year list, whose total comes to 150.5.

8)     The proportion of Wins to WAR for the twenty pitchers works out to 3.4: 1.  Biggest over-achiever is Whitey Ford who won 6.8 games for each integer of WAR, exactly twice the average, biggest under-achiever is Dean Chance, who won 2.1.

9)     The twenty-year W-L total (484-172) works out to a .738 W-L percentage, nipping Spud Chandler’s .717 but falling short of Al Spalding (the African Explorer) who won nearly 4 out of 5 decisions (.795).

10)  Worst cherrypicked categories: 20-13, 3.21 E.R.A., 265 IP, 120 K

11)  Best cherrypicked categories:  31-3, 1.65 E.R.A., 346.1 IP, 382 K

12)  There is no 12)

13)  There is no 13) either. How long do you suppose I could keep adding to this list in this fashion before you quit reading?  It’s over. I have no more wisdom to impart.

 
 

COMMENTS (4 Comments, most recent shown first)

steve161
Why a duck?
5:04 AM May 19th
 
mrbryan
Hurray for Al Spalding!
1:18 AM May 19th
 
Steven Goldleaf
You could make a pretty good Abbott and Costello routine out of Cy Young's middle name: "What is Cy Young's middle name?" "True." "OK, what is it?" "True.", "I'm not disputing you--but what is his middle name?" "No, Watt is Eddie's last name." etc.
3:23 PM May 18th
 
evanecurb
Cool!

Number 13: Denton T. Young's middle name was True. This was an actual(?) conversation (at least according to one of the participants) of a conversation between 1971 CYA winner Vida Blue and Charles O. Finley.

C.O.F: "I'll pay you a bonus to change your first name to True. Get it? True Blue!"

Vida: "No thanks. But if you'd like to change your name to True O. Finley, please proceed with my blessing."
12:41 PM May 18th
 
 
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