The Cy Young Award

The Cy Young Award
It’s post-season awards time in baseball, and this week the two Cy Young Awards offered stark contrasts and maybe, in the case of the American League award, just a bit of controversy.

In 1931 the Most Valuable Player award was created by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to honor the players in each league who contributed the most to their team’s success. The winner gets the Kenesaw Mountain Landis trophy, named for MLB’s first commissioner. All players are eligible, and in fact twenty-three pitchers have won the award, fourteen righties and nine lefties. No National League hurler has won the award since Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals won in 1968. Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics was the last AL pitcher to do so, in 1992. Let’s point out that today most of the voters regard starting pitchers as not being MVP candidates because they don’t affect the outcomes of enough games, while relievers (such as Eckersley) may be considered because they’re involved in determining the outcomes of 60, 70 games or more.

In 1955, Denton True (Cy) Young died, the all-time winningest (and losingest) pitcher in MLB history, whose career began in 1890 and ended in 1911. Commissioner Ford Frick established the Cy Young Award in his honor, to recognize the top pitcher in MLB, selected by the BBWAA. When Frick died in 1967, awards were given in each league. Points are awarded for the top five finishers on a 7-4-3-2-1 basis. Two writers per city get to vote, which means 32 voters for the NL, 28 for the AL.

In the NL, Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies was the unanimous choice, no surprise to anyone, as Doc posted a 21-10 record, 250.2 IP, 9 CG, 4 ShO, 219 Ks and a sparkling 1.041 WHIP (Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched). He led the NL in wins, innings, complete games and shutouts, plus he pitched only the 20th Perfect Game in MLB history. It was a classic, by-acclimation choice.

In the American League, the choice was not as clear. There has been a growing tendency to discount wins as a measure of a starting pitcher’s effectiveness, since so many factors outside the pitcher’s control determines the decision. The classic Triple Crown of Pitching (wins, earned-run average, strikeouts) has seen wins largely supplanted by a new element, innings pitched. The new thinking led to pitchers like the San Francisco Giants’ Tim Lincecum winning the 2009 NL Cy Young Award with 15 wins, and the Kansas City Royals’ Zach Greinke winning the 2009 AL Cy Young Award with 16, for a last-place team no less.

So there was some discussion as to whether the last-place Seattle Mariners’ King Felix Hernandez, who posted a puny 13-12 won-loss record, should win the award, especially with impressive totals posted by Tampa Bay’s David Price (19-6) and the New York Yankees C.C. Sabathia (21-7). But 21 of the voters gave King Felix their vote, and it wasn’t that close after all. King Felix did lead the AL in ERA and IP and missed the strikeout crown by one. As such, he is worthy winner.

Of course, King Felix had a terrific 2009, when he went 19-5 and finished second to Greinke, so there may be an after-effect here, sort of like the Denzel Washington won the Oscar for “Training Day” when he didn’t win it for “The Hurricane”, or when Martin Scorsese won for “The Departed” when he didn’t win for “Goodfellas”.

Let me close today by wishing a happy 90th birthday to Stan “The Man” Musial, the best pure hitter I have ever seen. Stan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week, a worthy recognition that was long-overdue. Cardinal’s fans in particular and baseball fans everywhere should join in honoring this great Hall of Famer.

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