Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards

1 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Yankee pitchers have won the Cy Young Award only five times. But past or future Yankees have won 20 Cy Young Awards.

In other sports, winners of major individual awards often come from championship teams. But that’s less common in baseball, where the writers who decide the award winners have a strong bias against the Yankees, the team that has won the most championships.

In the 60 years that the Cy Young Award has existed, the Yankees have won 11 World Series and eight more American League championships, but only five Cy Youngs. In the 50 years that Cy Youngs have been awarded by league, the Yankees have won seven World Series and four more league championships, but only three Cy Youngs.

By contrast, check out other American League teams’ performance in championships and Cy Young voting:

  • The Red Sox and Orioles each have won three world championships and three more A.L. crowns and six Cy Youngs in that same period.
  • The Tigers have won two World Series, two more A.L. titles and five Cy Youngs.
  • The A’s have won four World Series, two more A.L. championships and five Cy Youngs.
  • The Royals have won one World Series, two more league titles and four Cy Youngs.
  • The Twins have four Cy Youngs, two World Series wins and one other A.L. title.
  • The Indians have won four Cy Youngs despite making it to just two World Series and winning neither.

I suspect this is a result of a combination of factors: anti-Yankee bias by the baseball writers who choose award winners; exaggeration of the importance of starting pitching in winning championships; the fact that the Yankees have tended to be greater at offensive positions than starting pitching; the longtime strength of Yankee bullpens and the fact that relievers seldom win the Cy Young.

Yankees win their Cy Youngs before they don pinstripes or after the Yankees let them get away. Roger Clemens did both, winning three for the Red Sox and two for the Blue Jays before becoming a Yankee and winning another. He won his seventh after leaving the Yankees to become an Astro.

I’ll quickly review the Yankees who have won Cy Youngs for New York or for other teams:

Yankee Cy Young winners

Clemens won the sixth of his seven awards in 2001, going 20-3 and striking out 213 batters. He easily beat out Mark Mulder of the A’s for the award.

Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Yankees won back-to-back Cy Youngs in 1977 and ’78, with Sparky Lyle and Ron Guidry taking the awards as the Yankees won World Series both years.

I provided a detailed analysis of Guidry’s Cy Young year in an earlier post.

Lyle’s amazing 1977 season is difficult to understand in the context of today’s bullpens, with eighth-inning set-up men and one-inning closers who rarely come in without a lead. Lyle saved 26 games, which didn’t even lead the league, but he pitched in 72 games and finished 60, both of which did lead the league. He won 13 games, losing only 5. And he pitched 137 innings, nearly two innings per appearance.

By contrast, Mariano Rivera reached 80 innings only one season after taking over the closer role.

As I noted in an earlier post, Lyle had one of the most amazing post-season runs of any pitcher ever in 1977, winning three straight games in relief, starting with an amazing 5 1/3-inning outing in Game Four of the American League Championship Series with the Royals, an elimination game for the Yankees.

Lyle was a rare Yankee winner of a close Cy Young vote, getting only nine of 28 first-place votes. In 1977, being a reliever was a rare advantage, because there was no starter who stood out from the field. Twenty-game-winners Jim Palmer, Dennis Leonard and Dave Goltz each got first-place votes, as did Nolan Ryan, with 341 strikeouts and 19 wins.

Except that I’m covering Cy Young winners here, Lyle doesn’t really belong in this series on Yankee starting pitchers. He came out of the bullpen for all 899 of his major-league appearances.

One of my prized autographs

One of my prized autographs

Whitey Ford won the Cy Young with a 25-4 season in 1961. That was when baseball gave just one award for the best pitcher in both leagues. I cover Ford’s career in more detail in my post on Yankee pitchers in the Hall of Fame.

Bob Turley was the first Yankee to win the Cy Young, going 21-7 and leading the league in wins, winning percentage and complete games in 1958. He beat out Braves Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette for the award, which then covered both leagues. For good measure, the Yankees beat the Braves in the World Series, with Turley winning two games and the World Series MVP Award. He finished second to Jackie Jensen for the regular-season MVP.

Turley had two other All-Star seasons and a fourth pretty good year, but was mediocre for most of his 13 seasons, finishing 101-85 for his career.

Cy Young winners before becoming Yankees

Next to Clemens, Randy Johnson is the Yankee with the most Cy Young awards, winning one for the Mariners and four for the Diamondbacks before joining the Yankees at age 41 in 2005. He won 17 games each of his two seasons in New York, still good but clearly in decline.

Gaylord Perry was the other multiple Cy Young winner to join the Yankees. He won the awards for Cleveland in 1972 and San Diego in 1978, but was even further in decline when he joined the Yankees at age 41 for just 10 games at the end of the 1980 season.

Perry was the first pitcher to win Cy Youngs in both leagues. He has been joined in that achievement by Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Roy Halladay.

CC Sabathia, this year aside, might be the Yankee who has pitched best in pinstripes after winning just one Cy Young elsewhere (for the Indians in 2007). He finished in the top four for the Cy Young Award from 2009-11 as a Yankee, winning 21 games in 2010 and 19 each of the other years.

I think Sabathia needs another two or three strong years to have a shot at the Hall of Fame. He made 200 wins young enough that I thought he had a shot at 300, which would have put him in Cooperstown for sure. But he slowed down quickly. He ranks 44th on Bleacher Report’s all-time list of starting pitchers, ahead of a bunch of Hall of Famers, but I think he’s not yet a probable Hall of Famer.

Oct. 5 update: Sabathia has checked into alcohol rehabilitation. I wish him well in dealing with his addiction. Age age 35, he is young enough to return to prime form, if his alcoholism was affecting his pitching. A few more prime years could put him in reach of the Hall of Fame. But that pales against the personal challenge he is facing. I wish him well.

If CC isn’t the best Yankee to join the team after a Cy Young, David Cone is. He didn’t win the award for either of his 20-win seasons (one with the Yankees and one with the Mets), but after winning 16 games in the strike-shortened 1994 season (more on that later). Cone finished fourth in the voting (Clemens won) in 1998, going 20-7, his best year as a Yankee.

Mike McCormick won a Cy Young for the Giants in 1967, three years before joining the Yankees. He was 2-0 in just nine games for the Yankees in 1970, his next-to-last year.

At age 24 with the Mets, Dwight Gooden had one of the most dominant years ever by a pitcher, going 24-4 and leading the National League with a 1.54 ERA and 268 strikeouts. He was a unanimous Cy Young winner. (Most important, he also led my Rotisserie League team that year to a league championship.)

Alas, cocaine ruined Gooden’s career and his life. He had decent 11-7 and 9-5 seasons for the 1996-7 Yankees, with a no-hitter (more on that in a later post in this series). But he never again matched the excellence he achieved at age 20 and retired without reaching 200 wins.

Bartolo Colón won his Cy Young Award for the Angels in 2005. He partially tore his rotator cuff in a playoff game against the Yankees that year, and was never as good again. He joined the Yankees in 2011 after sitting out the full 2010 season. He was an unremarkable 8-10. He’s bounced back, though, and is having a strong season for the Mets at age 42.

Jack McDowell won his Cy Young for the White Sox in 1993. He joined the Yankees in 1995 and had a respectable 15-10 season before moving along to Cleveland the next year.

Cy Young winners after leaving the Yankees

LaMarr Hoyt went the opposite direction from McDowell, winning a Cy Young Award for the White Sox in 1983 after leaving the Yankees.

Hoyt never made the majors for the Yankees, but was one of the minor-league players included in the Bucky Dent trade. I’m OK with Bucky’s contributions to the Yankees, so I can live with Hoyt’s Cy Young year (1983).

Guidry perhaps should have won his second Cy Young Award that year. His 21-9 record was not quite as good as Hoyt’s 24-10. But Guidry had a lower ERA (3.42 to 3.66), more strikeouts (156 to 148), complete games (21 to 11) and shutouts (3 vs. 1) in fewer starts (36 vs. 31). I have been scornful of WAR as inaccurately reflecting Guidry’s 1978 performance. But, if you see WAR as a valid stat, Guidry outpaced Hoyt in 1983, 5.3 to 3.7.

I guess I shouldn’t complain about Hoyt getting credit for leading his White Sox to a division title, since I think the Yankees’ championships should count for something in voting for Hall of Fame and annual awards. But Guidry was only fifth in the voting that year, behind reliever Dan Quisenberry and starters Jack Morris and Rich Dotson. Quiz should have won the Cy Young that year (he had an ERA of 1.94, 45 saves and only 11 walks in 139 innings). So I’m OK with Guidry not winning. I’ll just note that he had a better year than the starter who won.

Doug Drabek was the other pitcher to win a Cy Young after being traded by the Yankees early in his career. Unlike Hoyt, Drabek made it to the majors with the Yankees, having a 7-8 rookie season in 1986. In a multiple-player deal, the Yankees traded him to the Pirates for a package that included veteran pitcher Rick Rhoden.

Rhoden had a couple decent seasons for the Yankees, but Drabek pitched six strong years for the Pirates, winning the Cy Young with a sterling 21-6 record in 1990.

An almost-Yankee who won a Cy Young

In one of the most outrageous abuses ever of a commissioner’s power, Bowie Kuhn in 1976 vetoed a purchase of Vida Blue’s contract by the Yankees, as Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley was trying to unload big salaries.

At the time, the Yankees had not been to a World Series in 12 years (they finally made it that year, but were swept by the Reds), and the A’s had swept three World Series 1972-74. So this had nothing to do with keeping the Yankees from stockpiling stars. Finley was just objecting to paying full value for his stars. And Kuhn was objecting to — well, he never made that clear; he just didn’t want the Yankees to get Blue.

Outrageous as that was, I don’t think it made a lot of difference. Blue was an earlier version of Gooden. He won the Cy Young and MVP awards in 1971 at age 21, and had two more 20-win seasons for the A’s. He’d finish 1976 with 18 wins, and had another 18-win season for the Giants in 1978 (a deal Kuhn finally allowed).

But he also sidetracked his career with cocaine, getting caught in the Kansas City Royals’ cocaine scandal of the early 1980s. If he ruined his career on drugs in Kansas City’s night life (or before), it’s not reasonable to think he would have returned to his A’s level of greatness in New York. He won 209 games but lasted just four years on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballot.

A Yankee pitcher who was the MVP

Spud Chandler predates the Cy Young Award, but his 1943 season certainly deserves mention here. He was the MVP with a 20-4 record, leading the league in wins, winning percentage, ERA (1.64), complete games (20) and shutouts (5).

That achievement is widely discounted because so many major leaguers were serving in the military during World War II. Chandler entered the Army at age 36, after just one start in the 1944 season and missed most of that season and the next.

But he returned to his old form in 1946, going 20-8 at age 38. He had his fourth All-Star season his final year, 9-5 and a league-leading 2.46 ERA in just 16 starts in 1947.

His SABR bio by Mark Stewart says Chandler had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow before the 1947. His first game after the All-Star game, Chandler left the game, unable to throw any more. He pitched only two more games that season, plus one in the World Series, but he was essentially finished.

Chandler’s .717 winning percentage is second-best ever, but he didn’t make the big leagues until age 29 and had some injuries early, too. With only 109 wins, he has no shot at the Hall of Fame. But how many pitchers played 11 years without ever reaching double figures in losses?

Yankees who could have won Cy Youngs

Here’s perhaps the best illustration of the bias against Yankees in Cy Young voting. It’s tough to compare relief pitchers’ great seasons with starters’ great seasons, so the selection of relievers as Cy Young winners seems somewhat random. Leaving the Yankees out of it for a moment, how did Quiz not win in 1983 but Willie Hernandez did win in 1984 (with fewer saves, more walks and a nearly identical ERA)?

But here are two clear facts about relief pitchers:

  1. Mariano Rivera is the best ever.
  2. Rivera is not one of the seven relief pitchers who have won Cy Young Awards.

Rivera led his league in saves three times, had 11 seasons with an ERA under 2 and saved 40 or more games nine times. And he finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting only four times. He was second to Colón in 2005, with an ERA that was two runs lower.

Other Yankees got hosed in Cy Young voting (or were pretty even with the winner):

  • Bret Saberhagen's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

    Bret Saberhagen’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

    Guidry bested Bret Saberhagen in 1985 in wins (22 to 20), winning percentage (.786 to .769, and Guidry was the one who didn’t have a division-winning team behind him), complete games (11 to 10) and shutouts (2 to 1). And Guidry won the Gold Glove. Not saying Sabes wasn’t deserving (he had the edge in strikeouts and ERA), but this close call wasn’t a close vote, decided by bias against the Yankee and for the fresh young face. Guidry would be an automatic Hall of Famer if he had three Cy Young Awards instead of just one, and he had a better year than the winner twice. That’s pretty damn close to three Cy Youngs and a ticket to Cooperstown.

  • A close race between Andy Pettitte and Pat Hentgen in 1996 went against the guy who actually helped his team win a division title and against the fresh young face. Pettitte had the better numbers for wins, losses, winning percentage and walks. Hentgen was better in ERA, complete games, shutouts and strikeouts. Tie goes to the non-Yankee.
  • Mike Flanagan and Tommy John were 1-2 in 1979 with closely comparable records. As always happens, when the non-Yankee’s team wins its division, that seems to matter. Or when the non-Yankee has more wins. Flanagan was 23-9, a bit better than John’s 21-9. But John’s ERA was better at ERA, 2.96 to 3.08. Flanagan struck out 190 to 111 for John (never a big strikeout pitcher). But John had a similarly large advantage in homers, giving up only 9 to 23 for Flanagan. John had small advantages in complete games and walks, Flanagan in shutouts and WAR. Guidry was third that year, so the two Yankee standouts might were competing for votes.
  • In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Yankee Jimmy Key bested Royal (and future Yankee) David Cone in wins, losses, winning percentage, homers and walks. Cone had the advantage in ERA, shutouts, strikeouts and WAR. Cone won the Cy Young.
  • In 1975, Yankee Catfish Hunter and Oriole Jim Palmer had closely similar seasons. They tied at 23 wins, but Palmer had slight leads in other statistical measures and won the Cy Young.

My point here is not to suggest that Saberhagen, Hentgen, Flanagan, Cone and Palmer were not worthy Cy Young winners. Most seasons produce multiple worthy winners and present voters with tough choices. Palmer, at least, was a clear winner, even if it was close. In the other cases, it might depend on whether you valued wins, ERA, strikeouts or some other factor as more important. But you can’t see a consistent pattern in that. The only consistent pattern is that Yankee pitchers lose close votes.

Also in this series

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

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19 responses

1 10 2015
Yankee pitchers who are nearly Hall of Famers: Mussina, Pettitte, Cone, Tiant, Kaat | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards. […]

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1 10 2015
Yankee starting pitchers who belong in the Hall of Fame: Reynolds, John and Guidry | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards. […]

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1 10 2015
Catfish Hunter and other Yankee pitchers who made the Hall of Fame primarily for other teams | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards. […]

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1 10 2015
Yankees’ 300-game winners: Clemens, Niekro, Perry, Johnson | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards. […]

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1 10 2015
Yankee starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame: Ford, Gomez, Ruffing, Pennock, Hoyt, Chesbro | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards. […]

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1 10 2015
Yankees among the best almost everywhere but starting pitcher | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards. […]

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2 10 2015
Yankee starters with 200 wins but no shot at the Hall of Fame | Hated Yankees

[…] Allie Reynolds, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Luis Tiant and Jim Kaat. And Wells and CC Sabathia probably will be stronger Hall of Fame candidates than Brown, […]

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12 10 2015
Yankees’ 20-game winners: Mel Stottlemyre, Bob Shawkey, Vic Raschi … | Hated Yankees

[…] make earlier posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers. So these are the ones who never won a Cy Young Award or won 200 career games or deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, […]

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13 10 2015
Yankees who succeeded as starters and relievers | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards […]

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14 10 2015
Yankees who pitched no-hitters: Don Larsen, Allie Reynolds … | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards […]

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15 10 2015
Yankee starting pitchers with family connections in baseball | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards […]

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16 10 2015
Nicknames of Yankee starting pitchers: Catfish, Babe, Gator, Whitey … | Hated Yankees

[…] name Spurgeon Ferdinand Chandler. More on him in the post on Cy Young Award winners (though he won the MVP in the years before the Cy Young Award […]

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17 10 2015
Yankee starting pitchers with the greatest teammates: Bullet Joe Bush and Mike Torrez | Hated Yankees

[…] Bush’s day, and Torrez was teammates with two Hall of Famers, Fingers and Eck, not to mention Sparky Lyle (in his Cy Young year), Jesse Orosco and some other good […]

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18 10 2015
Other notable Yankee starting pitchers: Al Downing, Don Gullett, Jim Beattie … | Hated Yankees

[…] even 200), don’t have a strong case for the Hall of Fame (or even a long shot), didn’t win a Cy Young Award, pitch a no-hitter, win 20 games, have a great nickname or have a relative in the big leagues. But […]

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19 10 2015
The Yankees’ 50 best starting pitchers | Hated Yankees

[…] Spud Chandler […]

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20 10 2015
Comparing Yankees to other teams in starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards […]

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21 10 2015
Does pitching really win championships? Yes, but … | Hated Yankees

[…] pretty good pitchers have been as important to their championship success as their Hall of Famers, Cy Young winners and pitchers who belong in the Hall of […]

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10 01 2016
Yankees have more borderline Hall of Fame contenders than any other team | Hated Yankees

[…] comparable to the borderline contenders I named from other teams: Fielder, Ken Griffey Sr., Lyle, Rogers, Randolph, Murcer, Mel […]

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14 04 2016
The 5 best relief pitchers in Yankee history | Hated Yankees

[…] have written before about Lyle’s post-season dominance that year. It was like Rivera, but with longer […]

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