Thursday, November 15, 2012

R.A. Dickey Ties A Mark You May Not Have Known


R.A. Dickey and record-breaking seem to go hand-in-hand these days.  From becoming the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award to being the first Mets pitcher credited with at least 27% of his team's victories (as reported here on Studious Metsimus), Dickey's name has been used in the same sentence as the word "first" quite a bit.

But by winning the Cy Young Award this year, Dickey accomplished another "first", becoming the first player in nearly three decades to attain an obscure mark that you may not have known about.

The 2012 season marked Dickey's tenth year in the big leagues.  The 38-year-old began his career with the Texas Rangers in 2001.  Although Dickey spent the entire season in the minor leagues in 2002, he returned to the Rangers in 2003 and pitched for them through 2006.  Once again, Dickey spent an entire season with being promoted to the majors in 2007, before finally getting a call-up from the Seattle Mariners in 2008.  Dickey then spent the 2009 season with the Minnesota Twins before finally coming to New York to play for the Mets in 2010, where he has remained for the past three seasons.

In his first nine seasons (2001, 2003-06, 2008-11), Dickey never came close to winning the Cy Young Award, combining to go 41-50 with four teams.  Not only did he not sniff the award, he failed to receive a single vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA).  But in 2012, his tenth go-round in the big leagues, Dickey not only received a vote for the first time, but he picked up a total of 209 votes to claim his first Cy Young Award.

How rare is it for a pitcher to win this award without ever garnering a single vote in previous seasons?  Let's look at the past ten winners of the Cy Young Award in each league to get an idea.  (The National League winner is listed first, followed the American League winner.)


2011:
Clayton Kershaw (4th season) - had never received a CYA vote before.
Justin Verlander (7th season) - received CYA votes in four previous seasons.

2010:
Roy Halladay (13th season) - received CYA votes in six previous seasons.
Felix Hernandez (6th season) - received CYA votes in 2009.

2009:
Tim Lincecum (3rd season) - received CYA votes in 2008.
Zack Greinke (6th season) - had never received a CYA vote before.

2008:
Tim Lincecum (2nd season) - had never received a CYA vote before.
Cliff Lee (7th season) - received CYA votes in 2005.

2007:
Jake Peavy (6th season) - had never received a CYA vote before.
CC Sabathia (7th season) - had never received a CYA vote before.

2006:
Brandon Webb (4th season) - had never received a CYA vote before.
Johan Santana (7th season) - received CYA votes in three previous seasons.

2005:
Chris Carpenter (8th season) - had never received a CYA vote before.
Bartolo Colon (9th season) - received CYA votes in two previous seasons.

2004:
Roger Clemens (21st season) - received CYA votes in ten previous seasons.
Johan Santana (5th season) - received CYA votes in 2003.

2003:
Eric Gagne (5th season) - received CYA votes in 2002.
Roy Halladay (6th season) - had never received a CYA vote before.

2002:
Randy Johnson (15th season) - received CYA votes in eight previous seasons.
Barry Zito (3rd season) - had never received a CYA vote before.


Over the past ten seasons prior to 2012, nine pitchers who won the Cy Young Award had never received a single vote for the award prior to winning it.  However, none of the nine award-winning pitchers had been in the big leagues for more than eight seasons prior to taking home the trophy.  Chris Carpenter was the "veteran" of the group, winning the Cy Young Award in his eighth season after never having earned a single vote for the award in any of his previous seven seasons.

Since 1967, when each league started giving out Cy Young Awards (only one award was handed out to the majors' top pitcher from 1956-1966), four men have surpassed Carpenter's mark.  In 1996, John Smoltz of the Atlanta Braves won the Cy Young Award in his ninth major league campaign, after failing to receive a vote in any of his previous eight seasons.  Smoltz became the second ninth-year player to earn his first Cy Young Award votes in the same year he won it, joining San Diego Padres' closer Mark Davis, who accomplished the feat in 1989.  But Smoltz and Davis aren't the record-holders in this category.  That honor is shared by John Denny and Steve Stone.

In 1983, John Denny had a wonderful season for the pennant-winning Phillies, going 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA.  For his efforts, Denny was the recipient of the National League Cy Young Award, earning the hardware in his tenth major league season.  It would also mark the first and last time Denny earned a Cy Young Award vote, as he was out of baseball after the 1986 season at the age of 33.  Similarly, Steve Stone saved his best season in the majors for his tenth, going 25-7 with a 3.23 ERA for the 1980 Baltimore Orioles.  Like Denny before him, Stone was out of baseball by age 33, never receiving another Cy Young Award vote after having never received one prior to his award-winning 1980 campaign.

Editor's note:  In 1967, Mike McCormick of the San Francisco Giants won the National League Cy Young Award in his 12th major league season, after never having received a Cy Young Award vote in any of his previous 11 seasons.  However, as stated before, prior to 1967 only one Cy Young Award was given out to the major league's top pitcher, thereby limiting McCormick's chances to receive a vote.  The same can be said for 1959 Cy Young Award winner Early Wynn, who was in his 19th season the year he won the award.

That brings us back to R.A. Dickey.  In winning the Cy Young Award in his tenth big league season after never having received a single vote in any of his previous nine campaigns, Dickey has tied the mark set by Steve Stone and John Denny in 1980 and 1983, respectively.

Stone and Denny proved to be one-season wonders in their Cy Young campaigns, with both pitchers ending their careers prematurely, but Dickey appears to be in the prime of his knuckleball-twirling career.   At age 38, Dickey has already outlasted Stone and Denny by five years, and as a knuckleballer, he may have at least five more years on his right arm, especially given the longevity of his knuckleball-tossing predecessors, Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield.

R.A. Dickey accomplished many firsts in 2012.  But he also tied a mark you may not have known about.  It took him ten years to get the respect of just one BBWAA voter.  But that one vote turned into 209 votes and earned Dickey his first Cy Young Award.  That's a whole lot of well-earned respect for a first-timer like Dickey.


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