November 18, 2011
Courtesy Votes for the Cy Young
Three of Major League Baseball's four major post-season awards were announced this week. On Monday, it was announced that pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Craig Kimbrel were the leagues' top rookies, each beating out free-swinging sluggers in Mark Trumbo and Freddie Freeman for the title. Wednesday saw Arizona's Kirk Gibson and Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon win Manager of the Year awards for leading their teams to better-than-expected records; Milwaukee's Ron Roenicke and Detroit's Jim Leyland were the runners-up in that race. On the mound, Detroit's Justin Verlander won a unanimous Cy Young Award over the Angels' Jered Weaver and the Rays' James Shields. In the National League, it was 23-year-old Clayton Kershaw beating out Philadelphia two aces Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee for the honor. The Most Valuable Player awards will be announced next week.
Overall, it's pretty difficult to argue with the writers' winning picks in any of the categories. There are certainly cases to be made for other players in each of the awards, but each choice is defensible on more than a superficial level which is a nice change of pace. The runner-ups and other down-ballot candidates, however - that's a different story. Trumbo's .291 OBP was worth a second-place finish? Jose Valverde got how many second-place votes? Did the Giants really have four pitchers worthy of Cy Young votes? It's pretty standard stuff, really. There are strange names on the ballots every year.
Don't believe me? How about a look at the last ten Cy Young Award ballots? The Manager of the Year award, after all, is nearly worthless and the Jackie Robinson Award (really, that's it's name - let's actually start calling it that!) forces voters to choose from such a weird pool of players that a down-ballot analysis seems unfair. (For a good look at the oddities of the Jackie Robinson Award pool, check out Sam Miller's look at Mike Trout's 2012 rookie status.) With that in mind, here are a sampling of my favorite down-ballot "courtesy votes" of the last ten years of Cy Young voting:
(It should be noted that, prior to 2010, Cy Young voters had room for only three names on the ballot. It was increased to five in 2010, meaning the list of down-ballot "winners" has nearly doubled these last two years.)
In 2002, Jarrod Washburn received one third-place vote for his 18-6, 3.15 ERA season with the Angels. Barry Zito, Pedro Martinez, and Derek Lowe were the only other pitchers named on ballots in the AL. It was the only vote Washburn ever received. In the National League, a lone voter rewarded Montreal's Bartolo Colon for his 10-4 record (in 17 games) with a third-place vote as well. Colon would go on to win the award three years later.
Johan Santana managed only a single third-place vote in 2003 when he went 12-3 with a 3.07 ERA in 18 games for the Twins. Andy Pettite, with his 4.07 ERA, took home four votes thanks to his 21 victories. The 2004 season had the most single-vote getters (tied with 2007) with five. Three of them were relievers. The most interesting of the quintet, however, was Milwaukee's Ben Sheets, who walked away with only the one third-place vote despite a 231 IP, 264 strikeout, 2.70 ERA performance. Voters couldn't see past his 12-14 record for the 94-loss Brewers. Like Washburn, it was the only Cy Young vote of Sheets' career.
The only single-vote-getter from the 2006 award voting was Takashi Saito, who earned the award thanks to his 24 saves and 107 strikeouts in 78 innings. Current Cy Young winner Justin Verlander made his first appearance at the bottom of these lists in 2006 as well, earning two votes in his Rookie of the Year season (see how easy it is to not use the "Jackie Robinson Award" name?).
Verlander shows up again the next year, receiving only a single third-place vote for a 18-6, 3.66, 183 K performance. He was in good company, though, as Roy Halladay and Johan Santana also managed only single third-place votes that season. Of course, Eric Bedard and Jeff Francis were in the same boat. Bedard had a pretty strong season, with a 3.16 ERA and 221 strikeouts (third in the league), but Francis seems to have only received the vote thanks to his 17-9 record. The 4.22 ERA he put up for the Rockies certainly wasn't the reason.
The 2010 season saw the Cy Young ballot expand, giving rise to many more down-ballot names. It also changed the point values for each vote, making it much harder to distinguish a third-place vote on the leaderboard and, thus, making the down-ballot names fifth-place vote-getters. The newly expanded ballot made room for Francisco Liriano, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Cain, and Verlander (again) to each receive a single vote. The Arroyo vote, with his 3.88 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 215 IP, is easily the most questionable choice there.
And, finally, we have this year's ballot. Of the three single-vote-getters in 2011, two are teammates on the San Francisco Giants: youngsters Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. Bumgarner had the higherERA at 3.15, so it's tough to complain. The final single vote-getter is New York's David Robertson, who dominated out of the pen to the tune of a 1.08 ERA and 100 strikeouts in only 66 innings. You can do worse than that with a fifth-place vote.
The real goldmine of down-ballot goodness is in the MVP awards, when ten players are named on each ballot. That's the kind of situation that sees Jeremy Affeldt get a tenth-place vote just because a beat-writer promised he would. The Cy Young Award has it's fair-share of weird choices at the far reaches of the ballot, though - even if it reaches only three spots.