The Cy Young Award has evolved a lot over the last decade. Felix Hernández’s triumph over a 21-win CC Sabathia and 19-win David Price in 2010 feels like a lifetime ago. This was a shock at the time—despite having the lowest ERA in baseball, Hernández had just 13 wins versus 12 losses for a paltry Mariners squad. That race sticks out to me as the moment where public pitching analysis began to modernize.
Using ERA as the primary means for evaluating pitchers seems foolish today, but this was a massive step. Of course, Hernández still checked most of the boxes old-school baseball writers look for when determining awards, such as throwing the most innings in the American League, starting the most games, and being one strikeout off the league lead. Still, the decision marked a philosophical shift that showed run prevention now trumped wins in terms of pitcher evaluations.
There was another surprise in 2018 when Blake Snell outlasted Justin Verlander for the award. Snell was dominant from the get-go, compiling 21 wins, 221 strikeouts, and an astounding 1.89 ERA. The only downside? He pitched just 180 2/3 innings compared to Verlander’s 214. Still, the writers bucked conventional wisdom and narrowly crowned Snell as the Cy Young.
Ironically, Verlander was better than Snell in most aspects of the game. Especially those that we no know are more meaningful in terms of evaluating pitchers.