While Don Newcombe and Warren Spahn won the first Cy Young Awards with ease in 1956 and '57, respectively, the third issuing of the award was a close race. In early days of the voting (from 1956 to 1969), BBWAA members only voted for first-place selections, which made 1958's voting between 20-plus-game winners Bob Turley, Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Bob Friend, a thriller. Spahn just missed a shot to become the first pitcher to win the award in consecutive seasons, as he received four votes and Turley received five. Burdette and Friend were right on their heels with three votes apiece. (*Number in parentheses represents each pitcher's total points received.)
1969 AL: Cuellar (10), McClain (10) *co-winners
1969 marked the first and only tie in Cy Young voting, as Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar and Detroit’s Denny McClain each received 10 first-place votes. Cuellar went 23-11 with a 2.38 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 39 starts (290 2/3 innings pitched) for the Orioles. McClain, on the other hand, went 24-9 with a 2.80 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 41 starts (325 innings) for the Tigers. Voters were torn, and McClain and Cuellar were named co-Cy Young Award winners for the 1969 season. The tie resulted in a change in the voting process the following year, in which each writer would vote for three different pitchers: the first-place vote received five points, the second-place vote received three points, and the third-place vote received one point.
1970 AL: Perry (55), McNally (47), McDowell (45), Cuellar (44)
1970 was an extremely close race between four of the AL's top pitchers. Jim Perry had a phenomenal season for the Twins, posting a 24-12 record with a 3.04 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 40 starts (278 2/3 innings pitched). Two other AL pitchers also recorded 24 wins that year, and they happened to be teammates. Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally both won two dozen games for the Orioles, with Cuellar recording eight losses to McNally’s nine. What might've been even more amazing was Indians pitcher Sam McDowell going 20-12 and racking up 304 strikeouts in 305 innings. The final tally was extremely close: Cuellar finished fourth with a 37-percent award share, McDowell finished third at 38 percent, and McNally finished second at 39 percent. Perry won the award with 46 percent.
1972 AL: Perry (64), Wood (58)
In 1972, six pitchers earned a first-place vote in the American League Cy Young voting, but it was a two-horse race between Gaylord Perry of the Cleveland Indians and Wilbur Wood of the Chicago White Sox. They were both very even record-wise, earning 24 wins a piece, but what separated them was their ERA: Perry owned a 1.92 ERA, while Wood's was 2.51. Even though Wood started 49 games compared to Perry's 40, Perry tossed 29 complete games to lead the AL. Looking back and using wins above replacement, Perry earned 11.0 WAR with Wood earning 10.7.
1977 AL: Lyle (56), Palmer (48), Ryan (46), Leonard (45)
This Cy Young race was a groundbreaking one. Sparky Lyle of the New York Yankees claimed the award, becoming the first full-time reliever to win the Cy Young in AL history. It was a hotly contested race, however, as the top four finishers were separated by just 11 points. Lyle appeared in 72 games, saving 26 of them, while maintaining a 2.17 ERA. Baltimore's Jim Palmer came in second, eight points behind Lyle's 56 in the voting, in what would have been his third-straight Cy Young and fourth in five seasons. California's Nolan Ryan was in third with 46 points; Kansas City's Dennis Leonard came in fourth with 45 points. Looking back, however, it was Frank Tanana of the Angels who led the AL with 8.3 WAR (he was 10th in Cy Young voting) compared to Lyle's 3.7 WAR.
1979 NL: Sutter (72), Niekro (66)
Despite a 21-11 record and a 3.00 ERA, Houston Astros righty Joe Niekro finished the Cy Young voting with 66 points, six fewer points than Bruce Sutter of the Chicago Cubs. Sutter was just the second NL reliever to win the award, amassing an MLB-leading 37 saves and a 2.22 ERA for the fifth-place Cubs. It's possible that Niekro's campaign was weakened because his teammate, third-place finisher J.R. Richard, was just as good or better than Niekro, as Richard held a 2.71 ERA and 18-13 record for the Astros. Interestingly enough, Niekro's brother, Phil, accounted for the most wins above replacement that season with 7.6 WAR with the Braves, though he finished sixth in the voting.
1980 AL: Stone (100), Norris (91)
Overall win-loss records were the key to swaying voters towards Orioles' Steve Stone in the 1980 Cy Young race. Mike Norris, whose career was cut short overall to drug addiction, had the best season of his career, and overall better numbers on paper with a 2.53 ERA, 180 strikeouts along with 24 complete games thrown. Stone, on the other hand, had a 3.23 ERA, 149 strikeouts with just nine complete games. The only stat Stone bested Norris in was his 25-7 record on the season compared to Norris' 22-9 record.
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1981 NL: Valenzuela (70), Seaver (67)
In 1981, Dodgers lefty Fernando Valenzuela became the first pitcher to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards in the same season, and still stands as the only player to achieve the feat. However, he notched history by the skin of his teeth. While he handily won the NL Rookie of the Year over Tim Raines, Valenzuela only exceeded Cy Young runner-up Tom Seaver by three points. Valenzuela and Seaver both garnered eight first-place votes, which led to the score being settled by second- and third-place votes, which were worth three and one point(s), respectively, under the voting format in place from 1970 to 2009 (first-place votes=five points). While Seaver (14-2) had one more win and fewer losses than Valenzuela (13-7), voters were ultimately swayed by Valenzuela's eight shutouts (Seaver had one), and 180 strikeouts (Seaver: 87).
The National League was packed with talented starters in 1987, including Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, and Bob Welch in addition to the runner-up and third-place finisher for the NL Cy Young that year. Thus, it was unexpected that Phillies reliever Steve Bedrosian, who saved 40 games while holding a 2.83 ERA, took home the award. Both Rick Sutcliffe and Rick Reuschel had completed excellent seasons, and Sutcliffe had been considered the frontrunner by many to win the award. Nonetheless, Bedrosian edged out the competition by two points, receiving nine first-place votes. Reuschel actually received eight first-place votes despite a third-place finish, which worsened Sutcliffe's chances of winning the award.
1996 AL: Hentgen (110), Pettitte (104)
In the closest margin of victory for the AL Cy Young award since 1972, Pat Hentgen narrowly edged Andy Pettitte in 1996 as both pitchers had very similar numbers. Despite Pettitte helping lead the New York Yankees to a World Series title that season, Hentgen won over voters with his durability as he led MLB with 10 complete games, while Pettitte often would only last into the seventh or eighth inning before being pulled in favor of the bullpen. Hentgen finished the season with a 3.22 ERA and 177 strikeouts over 265 2/3 innings, while Pettitte had a 3.87 ERA and 162 strikeouts over 221 innings.
1998 NL: Glavine (99), Hoffman (88), Brown (76)
The voting for the 1998 NL CY Young epitomized the division among writers between those who believe the award should favor starters and those open to including relievers in consideration. That schism was evident through lefty starter Tom Glavine and closer Trevor Hoffman, who had notched terrific seasons. Glavine won 20 games and posted a 2.47 ERA, while Hoffman notched 53 saves with a 1.48 ERA. When it came time to vote, 11 writers penciled in Glavine for first place, while 13 did so for Hoffman. Nevertheless, Glavine received more second- and third-place votes and won the award by 11 points. Hoffman's teammate, starter Kevin Brown, didn't fall far behind the pack, receiving eight first-place votes and a total of 76 points.
Tim Lincecum won the NL Cy Young award for a second straight season in 2009, doing so without receiving the most first-place votes. Curiously enough, Adam Wainwright, who ended third in the voting, had the most first-place votes with 12, while Lincecum had 11. Chris Carpenter, who finished second in points, had the least first-place votes with nine. It was only the second time a pitcher had won the Cy Young award without receiving the most first-place votes, as Tom Glavine did so in beating out Trevor Hoffman in 1998. While the voting system displayed its flaws, all three pitchers had the credentials to take home the hardware. Lincecum led the NL in strikeouts with 261; Carpenter led the league with his 2.24 ERA and .810 winning percentage; and Wainwright topped the NL with 19 wins and 233 innings pitched.
2012 AL: Price (153), Verlander (149)
Justin Verlander was narrowly upset in his bid to win the American League Cy Young award for a second-straight season by David Price. While Price had the better record (20-5) and superior ERA of 2.56 -- which led the AL -- Verlander was considered the better pitcher by some in 2012 as he struck out batters a better rate of 9.03 strikeouts per nine innings compared to Price's 8.74, and walked less with 2.27 BB/9 to 2.52. Overall, the numbers were close between the two pitchers and the results could have gone either direction, but Price's second-half surge helped him take the prize as he went 9-1 with a 2.27 ERA after the All-Star break, including a 4-0 stretch with a 2.68 ERA in September as his Rays narrowly missed the playoffs.
2014 AL: Kluber (169), Hernandez (159)
The 2014 AL Cy Young race resulted in a victory for those who don't believe that ERA is a valuable statistic anymore. Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners went 15-6 with a 2.14 ERA and was considered the frontrunner for much of the season, but it was Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians that emerged the victor after going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA. So what tipped the scales in Kluber's favor? Well, his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was 2.35 (compared to Hernandez's 2.56), and he tallied more strikeouts (269 vs. 248), which could have aided him being selected over King Felix.