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Julio Urías & the history of Dodgers’ 20-game winners in Cy Young Award voting

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How Urías stacks up this year, plus a stroll through Dodgers history

National League Championship Series Game 4: Atlanta Braves v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Every time a Dodgers pitcher led the league in wins, they finished first or second in Cy Young Award voting. That streak will end this year with Julio Urías, who won 20 games and had a tremendous season no matter what metric you use, but faces tough competition for the honor of the National League’s best pitcher.

The Cy Young Award started in 1956, first as a single major league award before splitting off into individual league Cy Young Awards in 1967. Urías with 20 victories in 2021 is the 12th time a Dodgers pitcher led the league in wins. Eight of the previous 11 league leaders in wins won the Cy Young, and the other three finished second.

Dodgers win leaders in Cy Young voting

Pitcher Year Wins CYA finish 1st-place votes
Pitcher Year Wins CYA finish 1st-place votes
Julio Urías 2021 20 TBD TBD
Clayton Kershaw 2017 18 2nd 3 of 30
Clayton Kershaw 2014 21 1st 30 of 30
Clayton Kershaw 2011 21 1st 27 of 32
Orel Hershiser 1988 23 1st 24 of 24
Fernando Valenzuela 1986 21 2nd 9 of 24
Andy Messersmith 1974 20 2nd 5 of 24
Sandy Koufax 1966 27 1st 20 of 20
Sandy Koufax 1965 26 1st 20 of 20
Sandy Koufax 1963 25 1st 20 of 20
Don Drysdale 1962 25 1st 14 of 20
Don Newcombe 1956 27 1st 10 of 16

Pitcher wins isn’t necessarily indicative of a pitcher’s performance, but it does at least tell us something.

“To me, that’s a team number,” Walker Buehler, who won a career-high 16 games in 2021, said in June. “There’s a little bit of pride involved with that, and trying to go and compete and get deep enough that you kind of avoid that kind of stuff. But really, I think it’s a credit to the team and the offense we have.”

The Dodgers offense backed Urías to the tune of 6.2 runs per start, the third-highest run support in the National League, trailing only Chris Paddack and Wade Miley.

Add in pitching well, allowing more than three runs only six times, and lasting reasonably deep, finishing at least five innings in 31 of 32 starts, that’s a recipe that earned Urías his 20 wins, the first National League pitcher to do so since Max Scherzer in 2016.

Win leaders winning Cy Young Award

Decade Win leaders CYA
Decade Win leaders CYA
2020 1 of 2
2010s 15 of 20
2000s 8 of 20
1990s 12 of 20
1980s 11 of 20
1970s 14 of 20
1960s 11 of 13
1956-59 4 for 4
includes Bob Turley (1958 AL wins leader) and Dean Chance (1964 AL wins leader), who won major league Cy Young Awards

Scherzer led the NL in wins that year and won the Cy Young Award, his second of three. He’s a candidate for a fourth award this year.

While it’s safe to say baseball analysis has moved beyond the pitcher win as a performance measure, or at least diminished its importance, the win tends to still be adjacent to pitcher success.

At least one league wins leader has won a Cy Young Award in every season dating back to 2010. In the 65 years of the Cy Young Award’s existence, there have been only eight years when at least one win leader didn’t also win the Cy Young.

The league win leader won the Cy Young 63.9 percent of the time during the award’s existence, and the most recent era (since 2010) has the highest percentage (16 of 22, 72.7 percent) of any decade since the 1960s.

Back to the Dodgers win leaders for a moment, it wasn’t always just wins that earned the pitcher strong Cy Young Award consideration (though looking back to the first award, with Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe winning in 1956, it does seem like his 27 wins carried a lot of the weight). Those pitchers did quite well in other areas, too.

Dodgers win leaders in Cy Young voting (expanded)

Pitcher Year Wins CYA finish 1st-place votes ERA ERA+ Strikeouts Innings
Pitcher Year Wins CYA finish 1st-place votes ERA ERA+ Strikeouts Innings
Julio Urías 2021 20 TBD TBD 2.96 (7th) 138 (9th) 195 (13th) 185⅔ (7th)
Clayton Kershaw 2017 18 2nd 3 of 30 2.31 (1st) 179 (1st) 202 (8th) 175 (22nd)
Clayton Kershaw 2014 21 1st 30 of 30 1.77 (1st) 197 (1st) 239 (3rd) 198⅓ (20th)
Clayton Kershaw 2011 21 1st 27 of 32 2.28 (1st) 161 (2nd) 248 (1st) 233⅓ (3rd)
Orel Hershiser 1988 23 1st 24 of 24 2.26 (3rd) 149 (3rd) 178 (7th) 267 (1st)
Fernando Valenzuela 1986 21 2nd 9 of 24 3.14 (11th) 110 (13th) 242 (2nd) 269⅓ (2nd)
Andy Messersmith 1974 20 2nd 5 of 24 2.59 (5th) 132 (7th) 221 (2nd) 292⅓ (2nd)
Sandy Koufax 1966 27 1st 20 of 20 1.73 (1st) 190 (1st) 317 (1st) 323 (1st)
Sandy Koufax 1965 26 1st 20 of 20 2.04 (1st) 160 (4th) 382 (1st) 335⅔ (1st)
Sandy Koufax 1963 25 1st 20 of 20 1.88 (1st) 159 (2nd) 306 (1st) 311 (3rd)
Don Drysdale 1962 25 1st 14 of 20 2.83 (6th) 128 (13th) 232 (1st) 314⅓ (1st)
Don Newcombe 1956 27 1st 10 of 16 3.06 (8th) 131 (10th) 139 (16th) 268 (7th)
MLB ranks through 1966, NL ranks after

All the Dodgers win leaders who won the Cy Young Award except Newcombe also led the league in at least one of ERA, ERA+, strikeouts, or innings pitched. The three win leaders who finished second (Andy Messersmith, Fernando Valenzuela, Clayton Kershaw) finished either first or second in at least two of those categories.

Urías in 2021 finished seventh in the National League in ERA (2.96), seventh in innings (185⅔), ninth in ERA+ (138), and 13th in strikeouts (195). And first in wins with 20, three more than anyone else.

“I’m still from a school that wins matter. It’s still the object of the game,” manager Dave Roberts said in September. “When Julio takes the mound to go deep enough to get a decision, and more importantly a win, and when you take the mound your team wins, that means something.”

Urías faces stiff competition, not just from Zack Wheeler and various Brewers, but from a pair of Dodgers teammates.

2021 NL Cy Young Award candidates

Pitcher ERA ERA+ FIP IP W K WHIP K-BB% fWAR bWAR
Pitcher ERA ERA+ FIP IP W K WHIP K-BB% fWAR bWAR
Walker Buehler 2.47 (3rd) 165 (4th) 3.16 (7th) 207⅔ (2nd) 16 (3rd) 212 (7th) 0.968 (4th) 19.6% (11th) 5.5 (3rd) 6.7 (2nd)
Corbin Burnes 2.43 (1st) 176 (1st) 1.63 (1st) 167 (20th) 11 (t-15th) 234 (3rd) 0.940 (2nd) 30.4% (1st) 7.5 (1st) 5.6 (t-5th)
Kevin Gausman 2.81 (6th) 145 (t-6th) 3.00 (5th) 192 (5th) 14 (t-5th) 227 (4th) 1.042 (7th) 22.8% (6th) 4.8 (6th) 5.2 (9th)
Max Scherzer 2.46 (2nd) 166 (t-2nd) 2.97 (4th) 179⅓ (7-15th) 15 (4th) 236 (2nd) 0.864 (1st) 28.9% (2nd) 5.4 (4th) 6.0 (3rd)
Julio Urías 2.96 (7th) 138 (9th) 3.13 (6th) 185⅔ (t-7th) 20 (1st) 195 (t-13th) 1.018 (6th) 21.1% (8th) 5.0 (5th) 4.4 (t-12th)
Adam Wainwright 3.05 (10th) 127 (t-14th) 3.66 (14th) 206⅓ (3rd) 17 (2nd) 174 (18th) 1.057 (9th) 15.0% (17th) 3.8 (12th) 3.5 (t-19th)
Zack Wheeler 2.78 (5th) 150 (5th) 2.59 (2nd) 213⅓ (1st) 14 (t-5th) 247 (1st) 1.008 (5th) 23.7% (4th) 7.3 (2nd) 7.6 (1st)
Brandon Woodruff 2.56 (4th) 166 (t-2nd) 2.96 (3rd) 179⅓ (7-15th) 9 (t-26th) 211 (8th) 0.965 (3rd) 23.7% (4th) 4.7 (7th) 5.6 (t-5th)
Stats: Baseball Reference & FanGraphs

It’s very likely Urías finishes third among Dodgers pitchers in NL Cy Young voting, but where he finishes overall will be instructive. We’ll find out on November 17.

All 11 times a Dodgers pitcher led the league in wins, they received at least three first-place votes. But if we expand the list to include all Dodgers 20-game winners, even those who did not lead the league, that might give us a better idea of how Urías might finish in Cy Young voting this year.

Four non-league-leading Dodgers 20-game winners received Cy Young votes — Al Downing (one vote in 1971, third place), Don Sutton (one vote in 1976, third place), Tommy John (three votes in 1977, second place), and Ramón Martínez (one vote in 1990, second place). Four others — Don Drysdale in 1965, Claude Osteen in 1969 and 1972, and Bill Singer in 1969 — received no votes, with the caveat that the Cy Young was one vote only until 1970, when the ballot expanded to first-, second-, and third-place votes.

Since 2010, Cy Young Award ballots run five deep, which increases the chances of Urías getting some consideration, at least further down the ballot.