Saturday, November 21, 2009

Which Team Had the Most Cy Young Winners?

Awards in sports, particularly baseball, can be misleading. They recognize one specific season of outstanding play which may or may not be sustained. Having the former winner of a major award on your team doesn't necessarily mean you have a star. The Cy Young Award has been bestowed upon many all-time greats, including (but certainly not limited to) Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux. Its recipients also include several pitchers who've since taken up residence in obscurity, like Mike McCormick, Pete Vuckovich, John Denny, La Marr Hoyt and Mark Davis.

Many of us probably remember the Braves' seeming monopoly on the Cy Young Award back in the '90s, but with so many forgettable guys winning the award it got me wondering. Could there be a team out there that had even more winners on its roster than those Braves did? It'd be easy for one to slip through the cracks if it included some of these flashes in the pan. To Baseball Reference I went, searching for answers!

As it turns out, there have been four instances of a team having four future or former winners on its roster:

1972 A's (Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Denny McLain)
1993-95 Braves (Steve Bedrosian, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz)
1998 Blue Jays (Chris Carpenter, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Pat Hentgen)
2014 Tigers (Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello)

McLain only pitched five games for the '72 A's. He was washed up by that point and Oakland was able to win the World Series without his services. The Blue Jays are the most interesting to me, as I never would've guessed they'd show up here. Clemens was a superstar, Hentgen was a mid-level starter who had a few big years, and Halladay and Carpenter were both unestablished at that point. I doubt anyone realized at the time what a special group Toronto had.

Steve Bedrosian's three-year career wind-down in Atlanta would have to make the Braves the most impressive entry on this list. Bedrosian was effective for the first two of those three years, and the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz triad was still in its prime. Is it any wonder that pitching staff inspired so much awe?

While Smoltz was considered a great pitcher at the time, he didn't win the Cy Young Award until 1996. That leads us to another question: Which team had the most former winners and which the most future winners? By "future winner," I should clarify, I mean a pitcher who had yet to win the award, not one who had already won it but would later win it again.

Let's start with the former winners. Which staffs had the most previously-recognized greatness?

1980 Rangers (Fergie Jenkins, Sparky Lyle, Gaylord Perry)
1981 Orioles (Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer, Steve Stone)
1997-99, 2001-02 Braves (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz)
1998 Red Sox (Dennis Eckersley, Pedro Martinez, Bret Saberhagen)
2000 Yankees (Roger Clemens, David Cone, Dwight Gooden)
2001 Red Sox (David Cone, Pedro Martinez, Bret Saberhagen)
2009 Giants (Randy Johnson, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito)
2014 Tigers (Justin Verlander, David Price, Max Scherzer)

Most of these groupings weren't especially noteworthy. The '80 Rangers, '00 Yankees, '01 Red Sox and '09 Giants all had at least two of their three pitchers in the decline phases of their careers.

The 1981 Orioles were an unfortunate bunch. All three former Cy Young winners posted an ERA+ below 100. Stone overworked his arm to win the award in 1980, leaving him ineffective for 1981. Palmer was near the end of his playing days, but he turned in one more great season in 1982. Flanagan had an up-and-down career, and this was a down year. The 1998 Red Sox had Martinez in his prime, a still-good Saberhagen who'd flame out due to injuries a few years later and Eckersley in his so-so final season. The Tigers had all three pitchers still in their primes (at least, we hope so as of the 2014-15 offseason), but Verlander suffered a down year.

That leaves us with the Braves once again as the most impressive group on the list. They held onto a core of three former Cy Young winners for an unprecedented six seasons (technically only five where they all played, as Smoltz missed 2000 due to Tommy John surgery). On a personal note, if I'd been older at the time I might've had a greater appreciation for what I was seeing.

What about future winners? Which staffs had the most as-of-yet unfulfilled awardability?

1956 Dodgers (Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe)
1969-71 A's (Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter)
1980-81 Dodgers (Rick Sutcliffe, Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch)
2002 Indians (Bartolo Colon, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia)
2010 Tigers (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello)

The first three groups on this list featured hurlers who won the Cy Young in the final season of the string. 1956 was the first year the award was given out, with Newcombe the inaugural winner. All in all, they each did a good job of stockpiling young pitching talent.

Then you have that other team...the 2002 Indians. None of those three pitchers won the Cy Young until 2005. Lee was acquired in a midseason trade for Colon, so there was never a point where all three were in the organization together. They're the only one on the list that never won a pennant with all these gifted arms. Tribe fans must curse their luck that Lee struggled so badly in 2007.

For curiosity's sake, there are still some others who had three winners but weren't mentioned here:

1975 A's (Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Jim Perry)
1975 Indians (Dennis Eckersley, Gaylord Perry, Jim Perry)
1975-76 Orioles (Mike Cuellar, Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer)
1975-78 Yankees (Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Sparky Lyle)
1978-79 Padres (Rollie Fingers, Randy Jones, Gaylord Perry)
1980-81 Phillies (Steve Carlton, Mark Davis, Sparky Lyle)
1981 Mets (Randy Jones, Mike Marshall, Mike Scott)
1982 Phillies (Steve Carlton, John Denny, Sparky Lyle)
1983-87 Dodgers (Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch)
1983 Phillies (Steve Carlton, John Denny, Willie Hernandez)
1986 Cubs (Dennis Eckersley, Greg Maddux, Rick Sutcliffe)
1986 Giants (Vida Blue, Steve Carlton, Mark Davis)
1988 Braves (Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Bruce Sutter)
1989-91 Mets (David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Frank Viola)
1992 Braves (Mark Davis, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz)
1992 Mets (David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen)
1997 Indians (Bartolo Colon, Orel Hershiser, Jack McDowell)
2008 Diamondbacks (Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb, Max Scherzer)

Who would've guessed that the 1975 Indians, 1978-79 Padres, 1981 Mets, 1986 Cubs or 1986 Giants could make this list? If you ever think about those teams it probably isn't outstanding pitching that comes to mind. You can also see that the Phillies had a knack for finding future winners in the early '80s.

Having written all this, I acknowledge the fact that recent advances in baseball knowledge make it easier to second-guess the voters' past decisions. For instance, Kevin Brown had a much better season than John Smoltz the year Smoltz won the Cy. Had Brown won it in '96 the Braves would look somewhat less impressive by this post's standards. Even so, I think it's safe to say that you have to have a pretty darn good season to win the Cy Young. Being in the discussion for your league's top pitcher is select company regardless of who's truly number one. These groupings may not necessarily represent convergences of men who were once the circuit's top twirler, but they do represent convergences of men who at one point possessed top-level pitching talent. Receiving a trophy recognizing you as the best at your craft is something truly special, and it's not every year you see at least three men who have that experience wear the home team's colors.

Post last updated: November 16, 2016


  1. I was fantasizing today about a Phillies rotation featuring Lee, Halladay, and Pedro and wondered to myself what the precedent was for so many Cy Young winners in a rotation. I searched for about 30 seconds before stumbling upon this gem of an article. Thank you!

  2. Thanks Corinne! I'm glad you liked it!

  3. Nice article! Thanks for including the update for the 2016 Cy Young. I'm wondering if you've ever considered a similar analysis of the team with the most past, current, and future MVP's. How about the team with the most past, current, and future All Stars? Has there ever been a team that could field nine All Stars? Thanks again!