How much does adding a Cy Young winner help a team? Mets, Mariners hoping for turnarounds

The Mets made one of the biggest signings of the offseason to date on Monday, when they signed three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to a three-year deal. Not long after New York’s big signing, the Mariners made a major splash of their own, signing reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to a five-year contract.

One thing in common between the two teams: Both missed the playoffs in 2021. The Mets led the division for much of the season, but dropped to third place and finished 11.5 games behind the eventual World Series-winning Braves in the NL East and 13 games out of the second wild-card spot. The Mariners were in contention until the final day of the regular season, but ultimately came up two games short of the Yankees for the second wild-card and five shy of the American League-pennant winning Astros in the AL West.

There is no question that going out and signing two of the best arms on the market will increase their chances of reaching the playoffs and turning into a better team. But just how much better will these pitchers make their new teams? Sporting News dives into the numbers to find out.

Having a Cy Young winner vs. not having one

Last season, the Mariners were a middle-of-the-road team when it came to pitching success. Their staff had the 15th-highest ERA at 4.30, and the 17th-best Fangraphs WAR at 14.3. Just by very basic addition, Ray adds 3.9 fWAR to the team and brings in a 2.84 ERA. Add that much fWAR and the Mariners are at 18.2, which would have been the eighth-best in baseball.

Of course, it won’t work out that cleanly. The Mariners will have a different pitching staff, Ray will have different results and the overall standard for fWAR will be adjusted based on the new results in the league. Without running player projections for the league, it would be difficult to look at exactly how much value Ray will bring to the Mariners.

However, we can look at how teams have historically fared with having a Cy Young winner on their team versus not having one. Based on data from the Lahman Database, which includes yearly results prior to 2021, teams with at least one Cy Young winner have a .526 winning percentage and reach the playoffs 32 percent of the time. That doesn’t sound overwhelmingly great, but compare it with teams without a Cy Young winner on staff and teams have reached the playoffs just 13.3 percent of the time and have posted a winning percentage of .485.

Even just having one Cy Young winner on the staff makes a resounding difference. Historically, teams that have just one Cy Young winner have reached the playoffs 28.3 percent of the time and have a winning percentage of .522.

And winning a World Series is extra difficult without a Cy Young winner on the staff. Teams that lack a previous Cy Young winner have won a World Series just 1.8 percent of the time. Having even just one pitcher on the team with that previous level of success increases the percentage up to 7.5 percent.

Now, it is important to keep in mind with all those numbers that this is talking about all 30 teams in the league each year. There are only two Cy Youngs handed out each year — one prior to 1967 — so there aren’t many teams that will have Cy Young winners on their roster. There’s also only one World Series winner each year, so each team starts out with a 3.3 percent chance every year.

How about multiple pitchers with Cy Young awards?

Much ado has been made about the super rotations that have been built with multiple Cy Young winners. Last year, Scherzer was acquired by the Dodgers and joined Clayton Kershaw and David Price to form a rotation that featured seven Cy Young Awards. Now, Scherzer and Jacob deGrom mean five total Cy Youngs in the Mets’ rotation.

That sounds like a lot, but how much does it really help? 

Teams that have multiple Cy Young winners on their staff have historically averaged a winning percentage of .538, and have reached the playoffs 43.5 percent of the time. Those teams have also won the World Series 13.6 percent of the time.

CONTRACT DETAILS: Max Scherzer | Corey Seager | Justin Verlander

There are Mets fans excited about the prospect of having five Cy Youngs in the pitching staff. Only 47 teams have boasted a pitching staff that included at least five total Cy Young awards. How have the previous 47 done?

Only three have ever won a World Series: the 1995 Braves, the 1999 Yankees and 2000 Yankees. The 1995 Braves had Greg Maddux’s four Cy Youngs (including the one from 1995), Tom Glavine’s 1991 win and Steve Bedrosian’s from 1987. For both Yankees teams, Roger Clemens accounted for five Cy Youngs. The 2000 Yankees also had Dwight Gooden’s 1985 award. No other team has won the World Series with that many individual pitching trophies.

Don’t be too concerned, Mets’ fans. Again, it is a small sample size and any team that featured Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson in their later years is included in that sample because they had seven and five awards, respectively.

Which teams had the most combined Cy Young awards?

There have been nine teams to feature a pitching staff that contained seven total Cy Young awards at the same time.

As would be expected, two of them are just the Astros with Clemens in his later years.

Here’s a look at how each of those teams performed with all their pitching awards.

Only three of those teams missed the playoffs, and in each example it is because the Cy Young tallies are largely carried by veteran pitchers. Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton were both 41 on that White Sox team. Clemens was 43 on the 2006 Astros. Johnson was 45 with the 2009 Giants.

It is unsurprising to see that stacked rotation of Braves’ pitchers with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz showing up on this list, considering they to this day might still have a case for the greatest rotation of all time.

The 2009 Giants were also an especially fun team because Tim Lincecum went on to win his second straight NL Cy Young that season, meaning that, in a way, that team had the most combined Cy Young awards ever with eight. 

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