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American League Cy Young Award trends

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September 26th, 2019

The American League has been honoring its most outstanding pitchers since 1967, when Boston Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg became the inaugural recipient of the AL Cy Young Award. A lot has changed since then, with the introduction of closers, openers and mid-inning specialists, but the allure of the award remains.

Here's everything you wanted to know (but were too afraid to ask) about the Junior Circuit's top pitching prize.

Who votes on the Cy Young Award?

The AL Cy Young winner is selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America, an association of professional sports journalists from all 30 MLB venues. Each voter places a ballot for first, second, third, fourth and fifth place, and the votes are tallied to determine a winner.

Can relievers win the Cy Young award?

Absolutely, but it hasn't happened often. The Cy Young has historically skewed heavily toward starting pitchers, with starters winning the award 92% of the time since since 1967.

The only relievers to win the honor are Sparky Lyle (1977), Rollie Fingers (1981), Willie Hernandez (1984) and Dennis Eckersley (1992). All four members of that exclusive club were closers and two of them were left-handers. Speaking of southpaws...

Lefties vs. righties

Left-handers make up 28% of pitchers, and in an act of serendipity, they've won the AL Cy Young award 28% of the time since 1967. Here are the 15 lefties who have finished first in Cy Young balloting:

Left-handers who have won the AL Cy Young Award

Year(s)PitcherTeam
1969
Mike Cuellar
Baltimore Orioles
1971
Vida Blue
Oakland Athletics
1977
Sparky Lyle
New York Yankees
1978
Ron Guidry
New York Yankees
1979
Mike Flanagan
Mike Flanagan
1984
Willie Hernandez
Detroit Tigers
1988
Frank Viola
Minnesota Twins
1995
Randy Johnson
Seattle Mariners
2002
Barry Zito
Oakland Athletics
2004, 2006
Johan Santana
Minnesota Twins

Which team has won the most AL Cy Young Awards?

TeamCy Young Winners
Boston Red Sox
7
Baltimore Orioles
6
Detroit Tigers
5
Oakland Athletics
5
Cleveland Indians
5
Minnesota Twins
4
Kansas City Royals
4
Toronto Blue Jays
4
New York Yankees
3
Chicago White Sox
2
It seems only fitting that the Red Sox, Cy Young's former team, have produced the most AL Cy Young winners. Jim Lonborg got the party started in 1967 and Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez gave Boston fans plenty to boast about during the 80's and 90's by winning multiple awards each.

Which division has won the most AL Cy Youngs?

DivisionCy Young Award Winners
AL Central
24
AL East
20
AL West
10
That honor belongs to the American League Central. Pitchers from AL Central teams won three-straight Cy Youngs from 1988-1990 and again from 2007-09.

What's the average number of wins among AL Cy Young winners?

Since 1967 AL Cy Young winners have averaged 21 wins. However, it is possible to win the award with considerably fewer victories. Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez set the low-water mark for wins in 2010, when he finished with a 13-12 record. His pedestrian total was offset by the fact that he led the league in innings pitched and ERA and was second in strikeouts.

Does team success matter?

Hernandez is living proof that even a lousy team can produce a Cy Young winner, but he’s the exception rather than the rule. Five of the past 10 Cy Young winners have played on teams that finished first or second in their division. If you eliminate the 61-101 Mariners from the equation, the last eight teams to produce a Cy Young winner have averaged 91 regular-season victories.

What's the average age of an AL Cy Young winner?

YearPlayerTeamAge
2009
Zack Greinke
Royals
25
2010
Felix Hernandez
Mariners
24
2011
Justin Verlander
Tigers
28
2012
David Price
Rays
26
2013
Max Scherzer
Tigers
28
2014
Corey Kluber
Indians
28
2015
Dallas Keuchel
Astros
27
2016
Rick Porcello
Red Sox
27
2017
Corey Kluber
Indians
31
2018
Blake Snell
Rays
25
Over the last 10 years, the average age of the AL Cy Young winner was 27, which makes sense, because the prime for most players is between 26 and 29. The oldest player to win the award was Roger Clemens, who was 42-years-old when he was named the American League's top pitcher in 2001.

It should be noted, however, that Clemens was allegedly using anabolic steroids at the time. It's unlikely we'll see another over-the-hill winner anytime soon, given MLB's aggressive crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs.


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