Can we really look through the historical legacy of Major League Baseball and say that out of all of the great arms that have stymied hitters for the past century that Cy Young was the greatest of them all? I, personally, don't think so. That is completely up to debate, as is almost all things baseball, and especially the Cy Young award and how it has evolved into the most prestigious pitching award given away in the Major Leagues.
Cy Young had the most wins of any pitcher to have ever played professional baseball in the United States of America. That total would reach a gargantuan, never to be duplicated nor approached, 511. Cy Young also had the most losses of any pitcher to have ever played professional baseball in the United States of America. However, as this year's Cy Young award is heating up to a serious debate, deservedly so, let's look at this a little bit further.
The pitcher with lowest career ERA in baseball's history is Ed Walsh who posted a ridiculous 1.82 career average. To his discredit, he only won 195 games over his 14 seasons - 13 of those played with the White Sox. Addie Joss is second with a 1.88 career ERA that he posted over 9 seasons playing in Cleveland. He only won 160 games.
Now if we were to take this debate a bit further and look at only those pitchers that won 300 plus games and looked at their statistical careers in comparison to that of Cy Young's, we might consider changing the name of the award.
The top 3 positions in wins are Cy Young, Walter Johnson (417), Pete Alexander (373) and Christy Mathewson (373). Before I go further, I am in no way trying to diminish what Cy Young did as a pitcher because it is truly a remarkable thing, and ... I'm biased toward guys who played for Cleveland, anyway. (wink, wink).
However, if we look into this a bit, we find that Cy Young had a career 2.63 ERA. Great by any standard that you can produce because that's still giving up less than 3 runs per game and even some of our contemporary greats were not as brilliant. For instance, Greg Madduxs' career ERA is 3.16; Roger Clemens, 3.12; Tom Glavine, 3.54; Randy Johnson, 3.29. Each of these men, as you know, one over 300 games. So, Cy Young's 2.63 career earned run average is still statistically superior than most.
But, his career ERA is not statistically superior to either Walter Johnson (2.17), Christy Mathewson (2.13), or Pete Alexander (2.54). How about career walk/hits per innings pitched? Cy Young posted a career WHIP of 1.13, higher than Johnson (1.06), Mathewson (1.06) and Alexander (1.12).
Strikeouts? Walter leads all four of these gentlemen with a very respectable 3509, with Cy Young a distant second with 2803. I say a "distant second" because Cy Young pitched 149 more games than Johnson.
Another stat that I think is pretty telling is that Walter Johnson also holds the record for the most career shutouts with 110, directly ahead of Alexander (90), Mathewson (79) and Young (76). Conversely, Walter had the lowest winning percentage of the four (.599), while Mathewson had the highest (.665)
King Felix Hernandez deserves the Cy Young award solely on what he was able to do with limited run support on a Seattle Mariners team that was supposed to be much better than they showed this year. However, let's be clear. Using the criteria that I stated above, the Cy Young award is clearly about winning. Because outside of innings pitched, batters faced, games started and complete games ... Cy Young was statistically inferior to the other aforementioned greats.
We could go throughout history and find many times when pitchers had statistically superior years to pitchers and lost because they did not have as many wins. However, if it is called the Cy Young award then it is clearly about winning because that was the area of his superiority.
This is why CC Sabathia deserves the award. But, not only does he deserve the award because he has the most wins, and good statistics, but he has clearly been the ace and anchor of a pitching staff that has been suspect most of the year in New York. Furthermore, he has pitched in high pressure games in a tight pennant race the entire season, whereas Seattle has just been ... well ... playing.
It does not need to be pointed out that Felix leads in all other categories besides runs, but, the fact remains ... he plays for a really bad team that has not scored runs and it would seem ridiculous to give the award to a guy who may win 13-14 games, instead of a guy who may end up with 21-22 wins, that has pitched well all season.
Also, moving onto the National League, why is Adam Wainwright considered a dark horse candidate to Roy Halladay, when they both have 20 wins, plus very close statistics. Do I sense a little Roy Halladay favoritism? Let's take a look.
Wainwright's statistics: 20-11, 2.42 ERA, 230 innings, 1.05 WHIP, 230 strikeouts, .224 BAA, 5 complete games and 2 shutouts.
Roy Halladay? 20-10, 2.53 ERA, 241.2 innings, 1.07 WHIP, 213 strikeouts, .250 BAA, 8 complete games and 3 shutouts.
I'd say that they are pretty even, but Roy has the one-up on Wainwright in the fact that he threw one of 2 perfect games this season.
Why is all of this important? CC had the most wins in the American League last season, as did Wainwright in the National League. Not only did they have the most wins, they went to the post-season and had solid statistical seasons. But, they lost out to two guys who had better numbers, and less wins (Greinke had 16, while Lincecum had 15).
I like statistics as much as the next guy. I can look at www.baseball-reference.com all day long and get lost in looking at the history of the game and the men that made it great.
But, the fact still remains when it comes to the Cy Young award; it's about winning ... plain and simple.
It is not the Christy Mathewson award, although you could argue for it. It is not the Walter Johnson award, although I would be the guy arguing for that. It is the Cy Young Award, named after the pitcher with the most wins in baseball's lustrous history.
It would be a shame for a 20+ game winner to lose to a guy with less than 15 wins because he had better numbers.