Friday, November 19, 2010

Winning Isn't Everything

Cy Young
Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners won the Cy Young award despite winning only 13 games and losing 12. The Cy Young Award, voted on by members of the Baseball Writer's Association, is given to the best pitcher in each league.  Cy Young pitched from 1890-1911, and won 511 games, almost a hundred more than anyone else in history (Walter Johnson won 417).  But he also lost 316 games, also more than any other pitcher.  No doubt, Cy Young is one of the all-time greats but he generally is not ranked as the greatest, an honor reserved for Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson or Lefty Grove.  Nevertheless, the prestigious award is given in his name and has often gone to the pitcher with the most wins.

Wins are undoubtedly relevant to a pitcher's performance but they shouldn't be valued above all else.  The number of runs a pitcher's team scores for him, the ability of the defense to prevent the other team from scoring, and the quality of relief pitchers to close out games are all factors in winning games that are beyond the pitcher's control.  For example, this year, Felix Hernandez was dominant in most statistical categories.  His relatively low number of wins was because he had the lowest run support from his team than any other pitcher.

Historically, pitchers have won the award because of high win totals despite other pitchers having better years.  In 2002, Pedro Martinez had a phenomenal year and led the American League in just about every category but wins.  The A's Barry Zito had the most wins and won the Cy Young Award.  In one of the more egregious oversights, Blue Jays pitcher Dave Stieb should have won the award in 1982, but lost out to the less-than-stellar Pete Vuckovich of the White Sox, who had more wins. (Steib probably should have won in 1984 too, but it was given to Tigers relief pitcher Willie Hernandez).  And don't get me started with Ferguson Jenkins and his 24 wins, beating out my beloved Tom Seaver in 1971, despite the fact that Seaver, in arguably his best year, led the league with a 1.76 ERA (an entire run lower than Jenkins) and with 289 strikeouts in 286 innings.

Possibly due to the rise of more accurate statistical measures, the over-emphasis on wins in determining the Cy Young Award winner thankfully seems to be waning.  Last year, Tim Lincecum of the Giants (15 wins) and Zach Greinke of the Royals (16 wins) won the award despite failing to lead their respective leagues in wins.  And now we have Felix Hernandez, with the lowest win total by a starter ever to win the award.  Dave Stieb should be proud.
[Related posts: Fielding Errors]


lonbud said...

Astute analysis written well. Viva Fifi!

Stephen said...

Perhaps baseball should offer a version of the Razzie Awards, Hollywood's recognition for the worst movies of the year, for the worst pitchers of the season.

And the Ollie goes to. . .

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