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A Look Back: The 2005 American League Cy Young

On Tuesday night, Bartolo Colon will take the mound at Target Field for his first start in a large Minnesota Twins uniform. If you’re like me, one of the first things that you thought about when you heard that the Twins signed the 44-year-old right-hander last week was the 2005 American League Cy Young Award.

As you recall, Colon won that award because he went 21-8 for the Angels. He was the only 20-game winner in the league that year. As Twins fans, we thought that Johan Santana was robbed. Yes, Moneyball had already been out for a few years, so we knew that there was much more to illustrating how well a pitcher throws than the almighty pitcher Win.
Image courtesy of Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today
With Colon joining the Twins and making a start tonight, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at that 2005 American League Cy Young vote through the lens of what we now know. Was Johan still robbed?

Of course he was robbed, we’re Twins fans. He absolutely deserved to win it. Santana won the AL Cy Young Award in 2004, and then he again won it in 2006. However, we’ll still contend that he should have won three in a row.


The Vote

I always find it interesting that we think that Johan Santana was robbed. However, we forget that Santana didn’t even finish runner-up in the 2005 American League Cy Young voting. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera finished second in the vote.

Bartolo Colon actually won the vote quite handily. He accumulated 118 points. Mariano Rivera had 68 points, and Johan Santana had 51 points. Colon received 17 of a possible 28 first-place votes. Rivera got eight first-place votes with Santana tallying the other three.


The Numbers

Let’s start with the obvious, the statistics. First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge that all three of these pitchers had tremendous 2005 seasons. I don’t think anyone would or should say anything differently. At the same time, it’s impossible to look at the numbers and not think that Santana was the obvious choice.

Here are some key statistics for your consideration:
  • W-L Record: Colon 21-8; Santana 16-7, Rivera 7-4 (with 43 saves)
  • Innings Pitched: Santana 231.2, Colon 222.2, Rivera 78.1
  • ERA: Rivera 1.38, Santana 2.87, Colon 3.48
  • WHIP: Rivera 0.87, Santana 0.97, Colon 1.16.
  • FIP: Rivera 2.15, Santana 2.80, Colon 3.75
  • K/9: Santana 9.2, Rivera 9.2, Colon 6.3
  • BB/9: Santana 1.7, Colon 1.7, Rivera 2.1
  • bWAR: Santana 7.2, Colon 4.0, Rivera 4.0.
  • fWAR: Santana 7.1, Colon 4.1, Rivera 2.9
  • WPA: Santana 4.16, Rivera 3.15, Colon 2.77
So what does this tell us? Well, that depends on how much you value a closer. Rivera was totally dominant, as he was for most of his Hall of Fame career. But he threw just 78.1 innings compared to over 220 innings for Colon and Santana.

But Rivera was the one that most nationally (and particularly in New York) thought was snubbed. In fact, when asked, Colon thought Rivera had a good chance to win. “"Mariano had a great year," Colon said, thanking Rivera for teaching him how to throw his cut fastball. "I did think about the fact that maybe he was going to come away and be the winner."”

However, if you were to compare just the starting pitchers, there really is no comparison. The only area where Colon had a better number was the wins category. We don’t need to go through the whole discussion about how meaningless that number is.

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) had Santana clearly better. Why? Because Santana struck out 50% more batters than Colon. You can make an argument about a strikeout pitcher needing more pitches.

In an ESPN article back then, “If I can get an out with one or two pitches and use my sinker or my cutter, I'm better off," Colon said through a translator. "I stopped being a village boy, thinking that I can throw any stone, any rock through a wall, and started thinking about being a guy that could last longer, to take some off my fastball and not to depend only on throwing hard.”

Well, that may be fine, but in the same number of starts, Santana threw more innings. He gave up fewer runs, walked the same low number, and Santana had a WHIP under 1.00, which is crazy good for a starter.

So whether you look at the more traditional stats like ERA and WHIP and K/9, Santana was clearly better. If you look at the more advanced stats like FIP, WAR (wins above replacement) or even WPA (win probability added). If wins are your stat of choice for a pitcher, well, then Colon was the rightful winner.

In a New York Times article discussing the 2005 vote, Akron Beacon writer Sheldon Ocker acknowledged that he put Rivera and other relievers into the MVP candidates more than the Cy Young because they are used more often but for a lot less innings. His comment regarding why his ballot went 1.) Bartolo Colon, 2.) Cliff Lee, 3.) Mark Buehrle illustrates the thinking of the writers who voted for these awards just a dozen years ago.

“It's just a whole different animal from starting pitchers," he added. "If the best starting pitcher in the league only won 15 games and Mariano Rivera or someone else saved 45, I'd vote for Rivera. But in a season with a 20-game winner and an 18-game winner, I felt the starters should get my vote.”

Wins. Wins… That’s a pretty direct indictment on how Bartolo Colon won that award over Johan Santana.


How Egregious?

While obviously Twins fans are a bit biased, it’s fun to check out a couple of national sites and blogs and get some other opinions.

Bleacher Report posted an article in which they determined the 10 most undeserving Cy Young Award winners. Bartolo Colon came in at #6. “The more deserving candidate was Johan Santana, who went 16-7, with an ERA of 2.87 and led the league in WAR and ERA-plus with a 6.3 and a 155 respectively. Santana also struck out the most batters by a wide margin and had a ridiculous .97 WHIP.”

Seamheads posted and article called the Most Egregious Cy Young Snubs. Colon/Santana was only mentioned in saying that if they had listed 11 instead of 10, they would have made the list.

So while most thought that Santana should have won it, statistics tell us that the voters got it wrong on several occasions.


Stark Summary

Shortly after Colon was awarded the 2005 AL Cy Young, ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote an article highlighting why Santana, not Colon, deserved to win the award.

Here are a few excerpts from the article:
  • Colon finished strong, going 10-2 in his last 14 starts “for a team that needed every one of his wins to hold off Oakland.”
  • Colon was helped out by his bullpen which blew zero saves for him.
  • Indians hitters averaged 6.02 runs per game when Colon started.
  • “Santana piled up 81 more strikeouts, beat Colon in ERA by 61 points, allowed almost two fewer base runners for every nine innings, and had more innings pitched, complete games and shutouts.”
  • “Hitters who faced Colon had a batting average of .254 against him. The on-base percentage against Santana was .250.”
  • “Colon got a ridiculous 1.32 more runs per game than Santana did. And Santana’s totals in his last three no-decisions tell it all: 23 innings, 9 hits, 3 runs, 0 wins.”
  • “But the history of the award tells us that no starting pitcher has won just 16 games over a full season and won a Cy Young.”
Of course, that has changed some since 2005. In 2009, Zack Greinke (16) and Tim Lincecum (15) were the two Cy Young winners. In 2010, Felix Hernandez won the AL award with a 13-12 record. In 2013, Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young with 16 wins.

So while there are more ways to determine and vote for Best Pitcher, it will continue to be dependent upon the 15 BBWAA writers from each league that cast their vote.

I don’t think anyone is going to expect Bartolo Colon to come to Target Field today and hand over that 2005 Cy Young Award. And frankly, there’s no reason to bring it up.

Instead, let’s cheer on Colon and hope beyond hope that he can be a solid contributor to the Twins for the rest of the season. Or, he’ll be so bad that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will have an easy decision to let him go in the next few weeks. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to watch the oldest pitcher to make a start for the Twins in their 57 seasons in Minnesota.

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21 Comments

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108Stitches
Jul 18 2017 12:42 AM
You missed the most important stat. The only stat that matters: sexiness.
    • Loosey, Siehbiscuit, Taildragger8791 and 3 others like this

I don't care. Can't stand him. Disgusting. Who's next, Dennis Rodman?

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Comrade Bork
Jul 18 2017 06:03 AM

I don't care. Can't stand him. Disgusting. Who's next, Dennis Rodman?


You are just conflicted about your feelings for Big Sexy. It's OK, he loves us all.
    • Seth Stohs, pbrezeasap, h2oface and 3 others like this

Here's why this matters: The Hall. If Santana wins in 2005, he'd be a back-to-back-to-back Cy Young award winner. Every single person with 3+ Cy Youngs has made the Hall or is named Roger Clemens. And three in a row would show a level of dominance that might mitigate the short duration of his awesomeness (though his peak was still longer than Koufax).

 

That's the real issue. Santana is not going to make the Hall but with that Cy Young, he'd have a good chance.

    • Seth Stohs, Steve Lein, Siehbiscuit and 8 others like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Jul 18 2017 06:18 AM
The thinking was so different 12 years ago. I can remember being impressed beyond belief when a guy posted 20 victories. I have to admit that if I hadn't lived in the Twin Cities in 2005 then I most likely would have voted for Colon.
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twinsfanstreif
Jul 18 2017 08:15 AM
I'm so glad we're past the whole "wins are an important stat for pitchers" era. I always thought it was ridiculous and to be honest I kinda wish they would get rid of it, I don't even look at a pitcher's win loss record when I look at their stats anymore because it means nothing
    • Seth Stohs, Danchat and jimmer like this

 

You missed the most important stat. The only stat that matters: sexiness.

IALTO

I always made a point to listen when Johan pitched!!! You always knew that you were going to hear a good ballgame.

    • MN_ExPat likes this

I don't know how you would compare Rivera to those two, but Santana was clearly better than Colon. Pitcher wins were clearly the most important stat back then (gags offscreen).

    • Thrylos likes this

The key stat for the 2005 Cy Young voting is that all the other top 12 Cy Young vote getters (both leagues) are retired!  Bartolo is a fun story, but father time is waiting and will be watching the game.   

Been a long time, but this reminds me a bit of 1987 when the Twins traded for the then 42 year old Steve Carlton and filled the Dome every time he pitched.IIRC his first start was a attendance record for the time. Not that Colon had the career that Carlton had, but his numbers are a lot like Jack Morris's, and he got a late start making his MLB debut at 24. Will be interesting to see if people are going to go to the ballgame just to see him pitch, like they did with Carlton.

 

FWIW Carlton went 1-5 with a 6.70 ERA in 9 games, 7 starts.Hope that Colon's leash is shorter.

 

Re: 2005 Cy Young vote:that was a travesty but back then "wins" was a hard currency among voters (and still is for some reason.)

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MileHighTwinsFan
Jul 18 2017 11:40 AM
I was at the dome the night when Carlton went 8.2 to beat Oakland in August, 1987. The place was packed and crazy. It was one of many magical moments that year. Hoping for a similar result tonight.
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yarnivek1972
Jul 18 2017 11:41 AM

Colon was obviously right about being better off retiring batters quickly.  He's still pitching.  Santana hasn't pitched in the majors in almost 5 years.

 

You are just conflicted about your feelings for Big Sexy. It's OK, he loves us all.

 

Assigning feelings to me. Perhaps projection? I call foul and against the TD rules. :huh:  I don't have to have a reason. I think this makes the Twins a side show, and it sucks.

 

    • jimmer likes this
This vote was so egregious its embarrassing.
Anyone who voted for Colon isn't qualified to cover baseball, IMO.

Willing your team into providing run support isn't a skill, and you shouldn't need any advanced metrics or new way of thinking to realize that.

We looked at that stat differently then is no excuse, IMO.
    • h2oface and jimmer like this
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Captain Hindsight
Jul 18 2017 08:43 PM
Before we laud how far we've come in regards to metrics, remember that Porcello won the Cy Young last year with similar though not quite as pronounced circumstances. He was tied for 4th in bWAR, and Verlander led most categories except wins and BB/9. (Though worth noting that Verlander did get the majority of 1st place votes)

Interesting to also compare Brittons, who took 4th, with Rivera. Britton had a 795 ERA+ last year.
Interestingly, 20 wins is actually a more notable achievement now, with reduced starter workloads.

Still not a great primary Cy Young Award criteria, of course.

 

Interesting to also compare Brittons, who took 4th, with Rivera. Britton had a 795 ERA+ last year.

 

I thought for sure that was a typo, but, sure enough...

    • Captain Hindsight likes this
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JaleelWhite FanClub
Jul 28 2017 03:42 PM

All would be forgotten if this time next year we're talking about Santana making a start for the Twins.

 

Hey, a diehard Johan fan can always dream. Would be great to see him pitch anywhere again.

From May: "Johan Santana Isn't Retired Yet"

http://scout.com/mlb...ed-Yet-74907243
Johan Santana is my favorite Twins pitcher of all time and Radke, who I really liked, is still a distant 2nd.

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