by Jason Brannon
August 27, 2004
In Bill James’ Win Shares there’s an essay titled “Win Shares and MVP Voting,” in which he compares every MVP to that season’s Win Shares leader. Throughout history, the MVP has led the league in Win Shares about 40 percent of the time, and come within 2 Win Shares of the leader about half the time (James considers distinctions of less than three Win Shares to be insignificant). At the end, he writes:
I’m not going to chart out all the Cy Young leaders in this way… you can if you want to. I think we match the Cy Young vote a little better than the MVP vote, just because there tend to be 2 or 3 good candidates for a Cy Young award, and 3 to 5 for the MVP award. But I shouldn’t say that, because I haven’t checked what the match is with the new data.
Well, I decided to do just that — to find out how often the Cy Young Award winner leads the league in Win Shares.
What follows is a listing of the pitching Win Shares leader in each season (I ignored their batting Win Shares), along with the Cy Young award winner (the numbers in parentheses are Win Shares), followed occasionally by my brilliant observations. As to whether or not Win Shares matches the Cy Young vote better than the MVP vote, you’ll have to skip to the end. No, wait! God, what am I saying? Read every word or else the answer won’t actually appear! We have the technology!
The Cy Young Award was introduced following the 1956 season, with one winner for both leagues until 1967, when it was split.
- 1956 ML Shares Cy: Early Wynn (27)
- 1956 ML Actual Cy: Don Newcombe (25)
Newk won the NL MVP, too. He was also the Rookie of the Year in ’49. He’s the only player to win all three awards. Tom Seaver came tantalizingly close to duplicating the feat in ’69, but narrowly lost the MVP to Willie McCovey.
- 1957 ML Shares Cy: Jim Bunning (26)
- 1957 ML Actual Cy: Warren Spahn (22)
Bunning and Spahn had the same ERA (2.69), and Bunning won 21 games to Spahn’s 20, but the Tigers finished 20 games back, while Milwaukee–well, you know what they did.
- 1958 ML Shares Cy: Warren Spahn and Sam Jones (23)
- 1958 ML Actual Cy: Bob Turley (18)
Jones went 14-13, and Spahn had won the previous year. What are you gonna do, give the same guy the award every year? That’s ignorant! (ed.–Turley led American League with 21 wins and 19 complete games, but otherwise his numbers aren’t all that impressive.)
- 1959 ML Shares Cy: Vern Law (24)
- 1959 ML Actual Cy: Early Wynn (21)
Hoyt Wilhelm (23 Win Shares) led the American League in ERA, and went 15-11. This was the last season he was used primarily as a starter. He never finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting in any season. As we’ll see, the voters have never respected the knuckleball.
- 1960 ML Shares Cy: Lindy McDaniel (25)
- 1960 ML Actual Cy: Vern Law (21)
McDaniel was an ace reliever for the Cardinals. When it comes to relievers, the Cy Young voters never quite get it right. They either go crazy for the wrong guy (Eckersley or Steve Bedrosian) or miss a deserving candidate completely (like McDaniel, who received just one first-place vote in ’60).
- 1961 ML Shares Cy: Warren Spahn (23)
- 1961 ML Actual Cy: Whitey Ford (22)
This was the first season Whitey was used in anything like a regular rotation. Casey really did save him for the good teams.
- 1962 ML Shares Cy: Bob Purkey (26)
- 1962 ML Actual Cy: Don Drysdale (24)
Purkey, who was taught how to throw the knuckleball by Branch Rickey, threw several other pitches in addition to the knuckler. But in ’62 he probably threw more knucklers than anything else.
- 1963 ML Shares Cy: Koufax and Dick Ellsworth (32)
- 1963 ML Actual Cy: Sandy Koufax (32)
- 1964 ML Shares Cy: Dean Chance (32)
- 1964 ML Actual Cy: Dean Chance (32)
- 1965 ML Shares Cy: Sandy Koufax (33)
- 1965 ML Actual Cy: Sandy Koufax (33)
- 1966 ML Shares Cy: Sandy Koufax (35)
- 1966 ML Actual Cy: Sandy Koufax (35)
- 1967 NL Shares Cy: Jim Bunning (25)
- 1967 NL Actual Cy: Mike McCormick (20)
Seaver’s Rookie of the Year campaign was just as good as McCormick’s Cy season, but his record wasn’t (16-13 to 21-10).
- 1967 AL Shares Cy: Joe Horlen (23)
- 1967 AL Actual Cy: Jim Lonborg (19)
Horlen finished a distant second in the voting. He had a much better ERA (2.06 to Lonborg’s 3.16), but Boston was the big surprise team, and Lonborg also won three more games than Horlen.
- 1968 NL Shares Cy: Bob Gibson (36)
- 1968 NL Actual Cy: Bob Gibson (36)
- 1968 AL Shares Cy: Denny McLain (33)
- 1968 AL Actual Cy: Denny McLain (33)
- 1969 NL Shares Cy: Seaver and Gibson (32)
- 1969 NL Actual Cy: Tom Seaver (32)
- 1969 AL Shares Cy: Denny McLain (29)
- 1969 AL Actual Cy: Denny McLain (29) and Mike Cuellar (24)
A tie for Cy! Cuellar’s ERA was almost a half-run better, but McLain was pitching in Tiger Stadium and pitched more innings.
- 1970 NL Shares Cy: Bob Gibson (26)
- 1970 NL Actual Cy: Bob Gibson (26)
- 1970 AL Shares Cy: Sam McDowell (30)
- 1970 AL Actual Cy: Jim Perry (21)
- 1971 NL Shares Cy: Fergie Jenkins (35)
- 1971 NL Actual Cy: Fergie Jenkins (35)
- 1971 AL Shares Cy: Wilbur Wood (33)
- 1971 AL Actual Cy: Vida Blue (30)
Another knuckleballer gets screwed. There’s a great essay about this vote (and other knuckleball pitchers who got shafted in Cy Young voting) in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.
- 1972 NL Shares Cy: Steve Carlton (40)
- 1972 NL Actual Cy: Steve Carlton (40)
This was the last time a pitcher led his league in Win Shares. It likely won’t happen again unless there’s a return to the four-man rotation.
- 1972 AL Shares Cy: Gaylord Perry (39)
- 1972 AL Actual Cy: Gaylord Perry (39)
- 1973 NL Shares Cy: Tom Seaver (29)
- 1973 NL Actual Cy: Tom Seaver (29)
- 1973 AL Shares Cy: John Hiller (31)
- 1973 AL Actual Cy: Jim Palmer (28)
Hiller, a great reliever for Detroit, finished fourth in the voting.
- 1974 NL Shares Cy: Phil Niekro (28)
- 1974 NL Actual Cy: Mike Marshall (21)
Reliever beats the knuckleballer. Marshall and Messersmith, who finished ahead of Niekro in the voting, both pitched in Dodger Stadium, while Niekro toiled in Fulton County Stadium (AKA “The Launching Pad”). The writers never pay any attention to ballpark effects.
- 1974 AL Shares Cy: Gaylord Perry (30)
- 1974 AL Actual Cy: Catfish Hunter (27)
Fergie and Tiant were bunched in there, too.
- 1975 NL Shares Cy: Randy Jones (28)
- 1975 NL Actual Cy: Tom Seaver (26)
- 1975 AL Shares Cy: Jim Palmer (31)
- 1975 AL Actual Cy: Jim Palmer (31)
- 1976 NL Shares Cy: Jones, P. Niekro, Rau, and Montefusco (21)
- 1976 NL Actual Cy: Randy Jones (21)
- 1976 AL Shares Cy: Palmer, Fidrych, and Tanana (27)
- 1976 AL Actual Cy: Jim Palmer (27)
- 1977 NL Shares Cy: Bruce Sutter (27)
- 1977 NL Actual Cy: Steve Carlton (25)
This is one of the great seasons by a relief pitcher. Sutter finished a distant sixth in the voting, probably because the Cubs finished 20 games back. But hey, if he was better they would have won more, right?
- 1977 AL Shares Cy: Jim Palmer (29)
- 1977 AL Actual Cy: Sparky Lyle (20)
- 1978 NL Shares Cy: Phil Niekro (30)
- 1978 NL Actual Cy: Gaylord Perry (18)
What’s a knuckleballer gotta do? Niekro paced the league in innings with 334 (the next closest had 275), and his ERA was less than a half run behind the leader. And he was pitching in Atlanta! Criminy!
- 1978 AL Shares Cy: Ron Guidry (31)
- 1978 AL Actual Cy: Ron Guidry (31)
- 1979 NL Shares Cy: Phil Niekro (24)
- 1979 NL Actual Cy: Bruce Sutter (22)
Weird vote. Joe Niekro came in second. Phil pitched 342 innings and led the league in wins, and still finished sixth in the balloting. That’s four times that Phil Niekro was, according to Win Shares, the best pitcher in the league and didn’t win the Cy Young.
- 1979 AL Shares Cy: Jim Kern (25)
- 1979 AL Actual Cy: Mike Flanagan (23)
- 1980 NL Shares Cy: Steve Carlton (29)
- 1980 NL Actual Cy: Steve Carlton (29)
- 1980 AL Shares Cy: Mike Norris (25)
- 1980 AL Actual Cy: Steve Stone (20)
Stoney desperately wanted to win the Cy, and was willing to sacrifice the rest of his career to do it. Pitched only 63 innings in the majors after 1980. Not a great pick, despite the 25 wins.
- 1981 NL Shares Cy: Valenzuela and Seaver (17)
- 1981 NL Actual Cy: Fernando Valenzuela (17)
Fernando! was the first (and thus far only) pitcher to win the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards in the same season. He’s like the Ichiro! (or Fred Lynn) of pitching.
- 1981 AL Shares Cy: Steve McCatty (18)
- 1981 AL Actual Cy: Rollie Fingers (17)
- 1982 NL Shares Cy: Steve Carlton and Joe Niekro (25)
- 1982 NL Actual Cy: Steve Carlton (25)
- 1982 AL Shares Cy: Dave Stieb (25)
- 1982 AL Actual Cy: Pete Vuckovich (13)
This is the worst pick ever, at least in terms of the difference between the Win Shares Leader and the Cy Young Award winner. It’s also the worst Win Shares total ever for a Cy Young . . . including strike seasons.
On the surface, Vuckovich looks like everybody else: his record and ERA are the same as a bunch of other guys, but the writers didn’t bother to look below the surface (and never figured out that County Stadium was, in fact, a pitcher’s park). Vuckovich won because Milwaukee won, and Milwaukee won because of their offense.
From the 1983 Baseball Abstract, James on Vuckovich:
Demolished all the old records for mediocrity by a Cy Young Award winner. The worst ERA by a Cy Young winner used to be 3.23, by Steve Stone in 1980; Vuckovich was 3.33. The worst strikeout-to-walk ratio used to be 1.31-1 by Bob Turley in 1958; Vuckovich wasn’t even close to that (1.03-1). He allowed more hits per innings than any Cy Young winner ever by far (he allowed 9.4 per nine innings; no one else has been over nine), which combined with more than four walks per game gave him a total of 13.56 runners on per nine innings, almost two runners per game over the previous worst (11.65 by Steve Stone). He pitched only 223 innings, 22 less than any other starter to win Cy Young recognition in a full season; his 18 wins are the fewest ever, with the same qualifications.
I think it’s just an incredibly bad selection.
- 1983 NL Shares Cy: Mario Soto (25)
- 1983 NL Actual Cy: John Denny (23)
- 1983 AL Shares Cy: Dan Quisenberry (28)
- 1983 AL Actual Cy: La Marr Hoyt (20)
As Rob recently wrote,
The “record” [for the highest ERA for a Cy Young winner] is held by LaMarr Hoyt, who went 24-10 with a 3.66 ERA for the White Sox in 1983. It was a good season, obviously, but in 1983 a 3.66 ERA wasn’t all that good. And here’s the parallel with 2004 … in 1983, obviously the best pitcher in the American League was Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry. One of the last bullpen aces (as opposed to closers), Quiz saved 45 games and posted a 1.94 ERA. In addition to Hoyt, three other starters won at least 20 games. But none of the 20-game winners had great ERA’s, which left the voters to choose Hoyt and Quisenberry. And they blew it.
- 1984 NL Shares Cy: Bruce Sutter (23)
- 1984 NL Actual Cy: Rick Sutcliffe (18)
Chicago was the story, of course. All but two of Sutcliffe’s Win Shares were earned with the Cubs.
- 1984 AL Shares Cy: Dave Stieb (25)
- 1984 AL Actual Cy: Willie Hernandez (24)
Before I looked up the numbers, I assumed this would be one of the worst picks, but it wasn’t bad at all (it was a bad MVP pick, though).
- 1985 NL Shares Cy: Dwight Gooden (33)
- 1985 NL Actual Cy: Dwight Gooden (33)
- 1985 AL Shares Cy: Saberhagen and Stieb (24)
- 1985 AL Actual Cy: Bret Saberhagen (24)
That’s three for Dave Stieb. He never won more than 18 games in a season, which probably has a lot to do with why he never won the Cy Young.
- 1986 NL Shares Cy: Mike Scott (27)
- 1986 NL Actual Cy: Mike Scott (27)
- 1986 AL Shares Cy: Roger Clemens (29)
- 1986 AL Actual Cy: Roger Clemens (29)
Last starter to win the MVP.
- 1987 NL Shares Cy: Orel Hershiser (21)
- 1987 NL Actual Cy: Steve Bedrosian (16)
They never pick the right reliever.
- 1987 AL Shares Cy: Roger Clemens (28)
- 1987 AL Actual Cy: Roger Clemens (28)
- 1988 NL Shares Cy: Orel Hershiser (25)
- 1988 NL Actual Cy: Orel Hershiser (25)
- 1988 AL Shares Cy: Frank Viola (25)
- 1988 AL Actual Cy: Frank Viola (25)
- 1989 NL Shares Cy: Orel Hershiser (21)
- 1989 NL Actual Cy: Mark Davis (19)
Orel’s not going to get into the Hall of Fame, but I imagine he’d get more support if he’d actually won three Cy Youngs.
- 1989 AL Shares Cy: Bret Saberhagen (28)
- 1989 AL Actual Cy: Bret Saberhagen (28)
- 1990 NL Shares Cy: Drabek and Viola (20)
- 1990 NL Actual Cy: Doug Drabek (20)
- 1990 AL Shares Cy: Roger Clemens (28)
- 1990 AL Actual Cy: Bob Welch (18)
Once again, the writers prove their fealty to the all-important win. Clemens’ ERA was 1.93; Welch’s, 2.95. It’s even worse than that, as Fenway Park was (and still is) a much tougher park for a pitcher than was (and still is) the Coliseum. They pitched about the same number of innings, but Welch won 27 games to Roger’s 21. The votes get much better from here on out.
- 1991 NL Shares Cy: Tom Glavine (23)
- 1991 NL Actual Cy: Tom Glavine (23)
- 1991 AL Shares Cy: Roger Clemens (25)
- 1991 AL Actual Cy: Roger Clemens (25)
- 1992 NL Shares Cy: Greg Maddux (27)
- 1992 NL Actual Cy: Greg Maddux (27)
- 1992 AL Shares Cy: Roger Clemens (26)
- 1992 AL Actual Cy: Dennis Eckersley (18)
(What was I saying?) Pitched 80 innings. Also won the MVP.
- 1993 NL Shares Cy: Rijo and Maddux (25)
- 1993 NL Actual Cy: Greg Maddux (25)
- 1993 AL Shares Cy: Kevin Appier (27)
- 1993 AL Actual Cy: Jack McDowell (21)
The ChiSox won. The Royals didn’t.
- 1994 NL Shares Cy: Greg Maddux (26)
- 1994 NL Actual Cy: Greg Maddux (26)
- 1994 AL Shares Cy: David Cone (20)
1994 AL Actual Cy: David Cone (20)
- 1995 NL Shares Cy: Greg Maddux (30)
- 1995 NL Actual Cy: Greg Maddux (30)
- 1995 AL Shares Cy: Randy Johnson (22)
- 1995 AL Actual Cy: Randy Johnson (22)
- 1996 NL Shares Cy: Smoltz and Brown (26)
- 1996 NL Actual Cy: John Smoltz (26)
This was an interesting race. Smoltz had the wins (24 to 17), but Brown had the ERA (1.89 to 2.94). Win Shares says it’s too close to call. The vote wasn’t close, however, as Smoltz took 26 of 28 first-place votes.
- 1996 AL Shares Cy: Pat Hentgen (24)
- 1996 AL Actual Cy: Pat Hentgen (24)
- 1997 NL Shares Cy: Pedro Martinez (26)
- 1997 NL Actual Cy: Pedro Martinez (26)
- 1997 AL Shares Cy: Roger Clemens (32)
- 1997 AL Actual Cy: Roger Clemens (32)
- 1998 NL Shares Cy: Brown and Maddux (25)
- 1998 NL Actual Cy: Tom Glavine (23)
- 1998 AL Shares Cy: Roger Clemens (25)
- 1998 AL Actual Cy: Roger Clemens (25)
- 1999 NL Shares Cy: Randy Johnson (26)
- 1999 NL Actual Cy: Randy Johnson (26)
- 1999 AL Shares Cy: Pedro Martinez (27)
- 1999 AL Actual Cy: Pedro Martinez (27)
Very controversial MVP race. Pudge Rodriguez won, despite having fewer first-place votes than Pedro. Two writers left Pedro completely off the ballot (for specious reasons, as I recall). I would’ve voted for Alomar.
- 2000 NL Shares Cy: Randy Johnson (26)
- 2000 NL Actual Cy: Randy Johnson (26)
- 2000 AL Shares Cy: Pedro Martinez (29)
- 2000 AL Actual Cy: Pedro Martinez (29)
- 2001 NL Shares Cy: Randy Johnson (26)
- 2001 NL Actual Cy: Randy Johnson (26)
- 2001 AL Shares Cy: Joe Mays (22)
- 2001 AL Actual Cy: Roger Clemens (19)
I guess this makes up for Clemens getting jobbed in ’90 and ’92. Mariano Rivera (19) and Mike Mussina (20), Rocket’s teammates, were just as good. Mays was the Danny Kolb of 2001: all defense, no strikeouts.
- 2002 NL Shares Cy: Randy Johnson (29)
- 2002 NL Actual Cy: Randy Johnson (29)
- 2002 AL Shares Cy: Barry Zito (25)
- 2002 AL Actual Cy: Barry Zito (25)
Pedro (21) is still mad about that one. Derek Lowe (22) was also a candidate.
- 2003 NL Shares Cy: Eric Gagne (25)
- 2003 NL Actual Cy: Eric Gagne (25)
Finally! The voters pick the right reliever.
- 2003 AL Shares Cy: Halladay, Hudson, and Loaiza (23)
- 2003 AL Actual Cy: Roy Halladay (23)
The average number of Win Shares for a Cy Young Award winner is about 25; for the league leader in Win Shares, 27.
So was Bill James right? Do Win Shares match up with Cy Young voting better than MVP voting?
Yes. Throughout history, the Cy Young winner led the league in pitching Win Shares about 58 percent of the time (compared to 41 percent for MVPs), and was within 2 Win Shares of the leader about 72 percent the time (50 percent for MVPs).
I had assumed, before I ran the numbers, that it wouldn’t work out that way, that Cy Young voting would not match up as well with Win Shares as MVP voting. Why? Because the writers love winners. You usually have to lead the league in wins to win the Cy (or just come close if your team wins the division), and often the best pitcher in the league — for reasons beyond his control — doesn’t win the most games. I also suspected that the Win Shares system would see many of the relievers who’ve won the award as undeserving, and that other great relief seasons (like Quisenberry in ’83) would go unrecognized. That’s all true, as far as it goes, but it’s also true that there are usually fewer Cy Young candidates than there are MVP candidates, just as James said. That’s why the writers do a better job with the Cy Young Award than they do with the MVP. Except for a couple of blips, Cy Young voting since the late ’80s has been remarkably good — much better than the MVP voting.
So who will win the Cy Young in 2004? In The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers, the authors introduce an ingenious method (over 80 percent accurate! good enough!) for predicting who will win the award. As of mid-August, the formula tells us that Mariano Rivera and Jason Schmidt are “leading,” which seems pretty reasonable. But both races are fairly close, and the lead could easily change hands before the end of the season. (Click here to see the formula and current leaders.)
Ah, but now you want to know if Rivera and Schmidt are pacing their respective leagues in Win Shares? They are! Sort of! Schmidt is leading the NL in pitching Win Shares and Rivera trails the AL leaders (Mark Mulder and Johan Santana) by a mere three Win Shares. The system works!
Jason Brannon is the author of The Bear Report, a semi-monthly digest of made-up bear news that will soon be syndicated by Knight-Ridder Press.