Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mike Flanagan's Cy Young Season

Mike Flanagan, a fine pitcher and broadcaster who unfortunately passed away yesterday, reached the pinnacle of his career when he won the Cy Young Award in 1979 with the Orioles.  It was by far his best season, and the only season he received a Cy Young vote.  Looking back now, it might look like a typical Cy Young season (23-9, 3.08 ERA, 190 SO), but that might be because that type of season has become more common in recent years. 

23+ W, 3.10 ERA or lower, 190+ SO, .715 W-L%

1913-1984
1963 Jim Maloney
1968 Denny McLain
1971 Vida Blue
1978 Ron Guidry
1979 Mike Flanagan

1985-2010
1985 Dwight Gooden
1986 Roger Clemens
1988 Frank Viola
1989 Bret Saberhagen
1996 John Smoltz
1999 Pedro Martinez
2002 Randy Johnson

The main reason that the 1913-1984 list is so small is that so few pitchers reached 190 strikeouts.  If it had been 100 strikeouts instead of 190, the list would have increased from 5 to 18 pitchers.  Flanagan was not a big strikeout pitcher (1491 SO in 2770 IP), but he did strike out significantly more hitters than other pitchers had in similar seasons from the era. 

It's unlikely that a pitcher like Flanagan could put up those kind of numbers today without being incredible dominant (like Pedro or Randy), because pitchers don't start 38 games a year like Flanagan did in 1979 (no pitcher has started over 37 games since 1987).  His 1979 Cy Young season might not generally be considered one of the greatest ever, but it was somewhat unique and ahead of its time.

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