Tonight, the winner of the 2023 AL Cy Young Award is set to be announced, and it’ll be a chance for a new addition to the Yankees’ hardware case. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole is one of the three finalists and is generally seen as the favorite going into tonight. If Cole is named the winner, he will become the sixth Yankee to ever earn a Cy Young, and the first since Roger Clemens back in 2001.
While that’s still more than some other teams, that does feel like quite a low number for as much success as the Yankees have had. While the Cy Young Awards were only first awarded in 1956 where as some form of the MVP Award dates back to the 1920s, the six Yankee Cy Young is way lower than the 23 MVP winners.
Sure, there have been some Yankees since 1956 that came up short in close or controversial votes, but I’m more interested in the players and the seasons that didn’t even get a chance to be honored. Beyond Cole, what got me thinking about this was my recent Top 100 Yankee piece on pitcher Russ Ford. His 1910 is arguably up there with any Yankee pitching season, but Cy Young himself was still pitching then, so the award bearing his name was still a long time away.
With that in mind, here are five great Yankee pitching season that could very easily have won a Cy Young Award.
(Again, note: this is not about players who had excellent seasons, and just lost out in the voting for whatever reason. Please don’t yell at me about your favorite pitcher from the last 50 years coming in second or third, I’m not talking about them.)
1910: Russ Ford
I mentioned it earlier, but Ford would’ve had a very good case had any pitching award existed in the then Highlanders’ very early days. In 1910, Ford put up a 1.65 ERA (160 ERA+) in 299.2 innings, winning 26 games, all as a rookie. His 11.4 Baseball Reference WAR that season is still the record for any Yankee pitcher, and just edged out Ed Walsh among 1910 leaders. Walsh did have him beat in a bunch of other stats, so it might’ve been close, but Ford definitely would have been an excellent choice.
1904: Jack Chesbro
While we’re back in the very early Highlanders days, here’s another from that period. In terms of some very traditional stats, Chesbro did things that year that we will truly never see again. He started 51 games, appeared in four others, threw 454.2 innings, and won 41 games. He was also very good in that time, putting up a 1.82 ERA (148 ERA+) and a 2.11 FIP. The eccentric Rube Waddell had him beat in stats like ERA, FIP, and WAR, but he also threw nearly 70 fewer innings than Chesbro, who nearly led the Highlanders to the AL pennant that year. The ridiculous 45 win total also may have put him over the top, especially in the ERA 1904 was in.
1943: Spud Chandler
Here’s one I feel very confident would’ve been voted Cy Young, because the MVP award did exist in 1943, and Chandler was voted the winner. While some teams were missing players serving in World War II, Chandler took the bull by the horns and put in a dominant season. Among the stats he led the league in were wins, ERA, complete games, shutouts, FIP, WHIP, and bWAR. His 1.64 ERA equated to a 198 ERA+. While this is not the most scientific way to conclude this, while he won MVP, the next pitcher in the count was Dizzy Trout in 11th, so it’s very likely that Chandler would’ve easily won the award.
1934: Lefty Gomez
You could make the argument that 1934 wasn’t even Gomez’s best season, as his 1937 are rated better by both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs WAR. However, he had some clearly stiffer competition in the latter. He finished third in AL MVP voting that season after leading the league in wins, ERA, and innings pitched, while also topping the tables for bWAR and strikeouts. His third place finish was one ahead of Schoolboy Rowe among pitchers.
1925: Herb Pennock
If you look up a player’s page on Baseball Reference, you may notice some stats boldened. That “black ink” indicates that they led the league in that particular stat that year. For 1925, Pennock led the way in bWAR, innings, and WHIP among other things. He likely would not have won the award considering that he had a losing win-loss record in 1925, but that was more due to the fact that the Yankees struggled that year than Pennock himself. He was not far of the AL leaders in a bunch of the categories he didn’t win, and threw a ridiculous 277 innings.