The Reliever Winning A Cy Young Debate – No Relief For Cy Young Candidates

October 9, 2009

Read the debate intro, Sports Geek’s argument that relievers should NOT win the Cy Young Award, and Bleacher Fan’s argument that relievers should be able to win.



I am almost directly down the middle on this one. As a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, I know the importance of starting pitching – obviously. As everyone knows, starting pitchers essentially carried the Braves through the majority of their 14 consecutive division titles. However, as a Braves fan, I also know the importance of the closer – as the Braves lacked a dominant closer for many of those years.

To recap the two presented arguments about whether a Cy Young winner should be a relief pitcher, Sports Geek argued that relievers should not be eligible for the Cy Young. The point that strengthened the argument the most was the fact that relievers already have the Rolaids Relief Man award (what a great idea by Rolaid’s to sponsor this award?!). If is unfortunate that not everyone is aware of the award. Major League Baseball does a poor job of showcasing this award. Basically, it is for relievers only. Obviously, no starter is eligible to win this award. It is not voted on by anyone, but it is an award that is won based on a points system where eligible pitchers accumulate award points by saves, tough saves, and wins, with points taken away after a loss or a blown save.

Bleacher Fan, on the other hand, argued that relievers should be eligible with a statistical comparison of the 2009 seasons of Royals starting pitcher and Cy Young contender Zach Greinke and New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. He showed that Rivera’s numbers statistically matched up favorably with Greinke’s. I also liked the analogy in the closing of his argument with the analogy of how a starting pitcher is similar to someone at the tee in golf while a closer is similar to someone on the green. In other words, the driver begins the hole but the putter finishes it out. For golf fans, a good analogy is J.B. Holmes starting the hole on the tee with his massive drives and Steve Stricker finishing out the hole on the green with his hot putter (as showcased in the President’s Cup this week).

However, one must make decisions in cases like this… and the decisions are not always popular. Such is the life of Loyal Homer here. Without further adieu, I award the victory to Sports Geek.

What won the debate for Sports Geek was the inclusion of the Rolaids Relief Man award. Relievers essentially have their own award. Leave the Cy Young award alone!! The argument also brought up the pitcher that the award is named after, Cy Young, demonstrating the fact that Cy Young had a whopping 749 complete games!! That is amazing folks. The creators of the award obviously meant for the award to be for a starter, and I agree with them.

As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged and I fully expect feedback from Bleacher Fan.

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The Relief Pitcher as a Cy Young Candidate Debate – Ahhh… Sweet Relief!

October 8, 2009

Read the debate intro and Sports Geek’s argument that a relief pitcher should not be considered for the Cy Young award.

The game of baseball, as it is played today, has evolved into a game of specialization. Nowadays, you have starters, middle-relievers, closers, set-up men, sinker-ballers, and knuckle-ballers. Each pitcher serves a purpose, and each is equally valuable to the organization. With that specialization, the evaluation of pitching success has also evolved, and must provide a fair measure of the game by today’s standards.

It is true that pitchers like Walter Johnson and Cy Young were expected to both start AND finish a game. The expectation at the time was that the best pitchers were those that could start a game and pitch nine innings without allowing runs to cross the plate. This arrangement is no longer the reality of baseball. Today, if a pitcher throws just six innings, it is potentially considered a “quality start.” Based on that fact, relief pitchers (even after a quality start) can still be called upon to pitch for the remaining 33 percent of a game!

Here’s some perspective:

Over the course of any season, the teams in Major League baseball will combine for at least 43,740 total innings of baseball played (that is before extra innings, play-in games, etc.). If a starting pitcher only throws for six innings per game, then relievers will throw for more than 14,580 innings of baseball every year (that is 486 relief innings for EVERY team in the league). That is a lot of pitchers over a lot of innings to exclude from consideration for determining who the best pitcher in the league is, just because they did not pitch in the first inning of the game.

The Cy Young award is supposed to be given to the best pitcher in baseball. It is not for the best starter, or the best pitcher who throws for more than 200 innings in a season. It is simply awarded to the best pitcher.

The candidate that many expect to win the American League award this year is Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals. Greinke definitely had a tremendous 2009 season, but compare his numbers to Mariano Rivera, the closer for the New York Yankees.

The first measure of a pitcher’s success is their ERA. Greinke, in 2009, pitched with an ERA of 2.16, which is extremely impressive. Rivera’s ERA, though, was only 1.76, which is 0.40 runs BETTER than Greinke.

As for the other vital statistics that a pitcher is measured on, compare Greinke and Rivera’s 2009 statistics based on an average of instances per nine innings -

  • Hits per nine innings: Greinke – 7.7; Rivera – 6.5
  • Walks per nine innings: Greinke – 2.0; Rivera – 1.6
  • Strike outs per nine innings: Greinke – 9.5; Rivera – 9.8

When comparing these two pitchers by equal standards Rivera actually has a better ERA, and gives up proportionally fewer hits, fewer walks, and strikes out more batters than does Greinke.

Relief pitchers are the go-to guys. When the starter cannot handle the mess, it is the reliever that is called upon to clean things up. Starting pitchers are like drivers in golf. They exist for a big production early, and hopefully put a golfer on the path towards a successful result. Relievers, on the other hand, come into play on the green. They are the guys who bring everything home. Whether the drive landed in the fairway or the rough, the putter ALWAYS comes out to finish the deal, and as Bobby Locke once said, “You drive for the show, but you putt for the dough.”

In a game that requires so much participation and production from relief pitchers, many of whom are required to perform under moments of extreme pressure, it is unfair to summarily exclude them from consideration when you are trying to evaluate who the best pitcher in the league was.

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The Reliever Winning a Cy Young Debate – Relievers Should NEVER Win the Cy Young Award

October 8, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s argument that a reliever should win the Cy Young award.

No reason to beat around the bush on this topic. A reliever should not be eligible to win the Cy Young award, the award reserved for the best pitcher in baseball every season. While I could write all day about the myriad reasons giving the Cy Young award to a reliever makes no sense, I will try and limit my points to a select, impactful few.

The most important point to consider with this debate topic is the 30,000 foot view of how baseball has evolved in the modern era. Baseball is now a specialized sport. Back in the days of yore (that is a real thing), when pitchers were pitchers and hitters were hitters, the relief pitcher did not exist. Why? Because starting pitchers pitched complete games. Missing out on a complete game was rare, in fact.

Now, before the debate devolves into a, “it is impossible to compare yesteryear’s pitchers to modern pitchers” conversation, consider the Cy Young award’s name. The pitcher, his name was Cy Young (yea, it is a real dude), has an award named after him because he pitched for 22 seasons and recorded a whopping 511 career wins. He made a total of 815 starts, and completed 749 games. Think about that. Let it synch in. It is obvious this player deserved an award – no matter how many games he lost (also an admirable 316). Here is another stats to ponder: Cy Young pitched a total of 7,354 (and two thirds) innings in his career. He was an impressive pitcher by win total, effectiveness (his career ERA is just 2.63), and stamina. The award with his namesake should embody the pitching principles of his career. For that reason, a relief pitcher should not win the Cy Young award.

Relief pitchers toss 65-80 innings per year. Even impressive relief pitchers like Eric Gagne (who WRONGLY won the award in 2003), only pitched 82 and a third innings during the season. His ERA was very impressive (1.20) and his 55 total saves were a record at the time. But Gagne embodies the evolution and specialization in baseball. The game has changed and the pitching staff has been carved up into specialized roles. However, relief pitching specialists, like closers, do not achieve or embody the characteristics Cy Young did. Therefore, relief pitchers should not be allowed to win the Cy Young award. The award is conceived, designed and modeled after a starting pitcher.

Also, there IS an award for relief pitchers. It is called the Rolaid’s Relief Man Award. This award was created based on the changes and natural evolution of baseball. It accommodates specialized roles the closer, a role that has emerged as an official role only in the last 45 years (give or a take a few). Eric Gagne rightly won the award in 2003 – an award specifically designed to appreciate the value of a specialized, role-playing pitcher.

Baseball is a game of history. It is unique among sports in the world because records from the 1800s can be compared with records of the 1900s and 2000s. Baseball is working on its third Century! Over time, the game naturally evolves, and awards and achievements have also. To shoehorn new roles into an old award structure is an affront to baseball, and to history.

Now, a relief pitcher potentially winning the MVP award… that is a completely different debate.

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The Reliever Winning a Cy Young Debate – Two Different Kinds of Dominance

October 8, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument that a reliever should not win the Cy Young Award and Bleacher Fan’s argument that a reliever should win the Cy Young Award.

The Major League Baseball playoffs kicked off yesterday with three games and will continue with three more games today. Hopefully, Tuesday’s scintillating winner take all game between the Twins and Tigers was enough to create excitement for the playoffs. It sure got me pumped! But, while the Sports Debates keeps one eye on the playoffs, we are taking a look at the Cy Young award. As we often say in our production meetings, “we aren’t in the prediction business.” So, TSD is not going to write about who we think will win the Cy Young award. If you want to see who we think is the best pitcher in baseball, please check out a debate we did a couple of weeks ago.

What TSD is going to debate today revolves around the credentials of the Cy Young award. There have been a handful of relievers who have won the award, with Eric Gagne being the most recent in 2003 with his 55 saves. Seemingly, Mariano Rivera is in contention for the American League Cy Young award nearly every year.

The Cy Young award is given to the pitcher who has had the best season in each league, respectively. It can be debated all day long about whether or not a reliever should be eligible to win the award. But, who has time to debate something all day, especially when my colleagues are more than willing to duke it out on this very website!

That leads me to the question: Should a relief pitcher be eligible to win the Cy Young award?

Bleacher Fan will argue that a reliever should be in consideration for the award while Sports Geek will argue that the award should be strictly for starting pitchers.

The ball is yours. Present your cases and the real closer, Loyal Homer, will come in during the ninth inning to decide the outcome of this debate!

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