A look at possible Red Sox Cy Young Award winners of the past
Baseball awards have been handed out for the 2021 season, and the Red Sox came up empty. Robbie Ray won the American League Cy Young Award (CYA), and Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi finished fourth. Ray missed out on being a unanimous selection when one ballot placed him second.
The CYA does have a history. Originally the award was a singular one, but in 1967 it was split into one for each league. The award also has a degree of cross-pollination as a pitcher can be chosen both Most Valuable Player (MVP) and CYA as Roger Clemens was in 1986.
The Most Valuable Player Award had a significantly different history. Initially, the Chalmers Award (1911-1914) and later the League Award (1922-1929) became the recognized brand for the MVP before the Baseball Writers Association of America formalized the process in 1931, allowing a winner in each league.
Was there any Red Sox pitcher who would have won the CYA if it had been present before 1956? In 1901 the Red Sox and the AL were born, and Boston offered a contract to a portly right-hander who was 34-years-old. Cy Young came to the Red Sox, and when Young finally departed, he took 192 wins with him. The 1901 season was typical Young.
He pitched his way to the pitchers Triple Crown in the inaugural season topping the league in wins (33), strikeouts (158) and earned run average (1.62). Young also walked a meager 0.9 per nine innings, had the best WHIP (0.972), a 219 ERA+, and a 2.64 FIP. No wonder he was honored with the awards name.
In 1902 it would have been back-to-back on my fictional ballot. Young again had the best fWAR at 7.7, won 32 games, had 41 complete games, and slipped to a 2.15 ERA. Would a back-to-back-to-back be possible?
In 1903 the Red Sox won it all, and Young led the AL with 28 wins. Again, he topped in complete games (34), shutouts (70, and saves (2). If you worship WAR and all its inconsistencies, Young was second (5.7 fWAR) to enigmatic lefty Rube Waddell (8.0 fWAR).
Walter Johnson won four in a row, and Young would probably be left off my first-place ballot in 1904. The Red Sox won the AL pennant but were denied a World Series by the obstinant Giants manager John McGraw. Still, Young won 26 games, led in shutouts (10), and somehow walked just 28 in 380 innings.
That was it for Young in Boston as neither the team nor Young could be considered winners until 1912 and another CYA winner in absentia. That would be Smoky Joe Wood.
Is Wood better than Walter Johnson? Johnson missed out on the Triple Crown by one win. Wood won 34 games, bagged a league-best ten shutouts, and notched 35 complete games. Their head-to-head duels were legendary, with Wood prevailing.
The 1949 season would see teammates Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder via for the title. Lefty Parnell led the AL with 25 wins, a 2.77 ERA, and 27 complete games. Parnell also finished fourth in the MVP vote. Kinder – a right-hander – finished fifth in the MVP race and led the AL with six shutouts. Parnell had a league-best 6.9 fWAR and probably would have won the award. I would have him securely first on my ballot.
That was it for the Red Sox until the CYA became etched as a regular event. Boston did have outstanding pitching performances such as Babe Ruth in 1916, Tex Hughson and Dave Ferriss in 1946, Parnell close for several seasons, and then Jim Lonborg and the team’s first official winner.
Baseball has made efforts to recognize statistics of players denied access to the MLB platform, most notably the Negro Leagues. Fantasy numbers have been created for mythical legends such as Joe Hardy, Roy Hobbs, and Billy Chapel. I have not discovered any attempts at having a faux ballot initiative for CYA and MVP before their implementation. A good Hot Stove League exercise for fantasy baseball.