1. Mickey Lolich 1971 Cy Young
Winner: Vida Blue
Our fellow contributor Sebastian Oslund did a great job of highlighting Lolich’s 1971 season. Out of the shadow of Denny McLain, Lolich put up one of the best seasons in Detroit Tigers history and cemented him as one of the best left-handed pitchers to put on the uniform.
Lolich under manager Billy Martin would start in 45 games. When you hear that now, it is a bit of a “wow” moment but of course. different era of baseball. With his new cutter to add to his pitching arsenal, Lolich would go 25-14 and with an ERA of 2.92, pitch 376 innings, and strikeout 308 batters. His 376 innings were the most by any pitcher since Glover Cleveland Alexander in 1917.
What is even more interesting it started a trend of four straight seasons in which he threw over 300 innings. Numbers-wise, he had more strikeouts and wins that Vida Blue did. (Blue had 24 wins and struck out 301 in 312 IP) Wins carried a lot more clout then but it was not the case in 1971. Voting wise, Lolich only received 9 first-place votes to Blue’s 14. As Sebastian wrote in his piece, Blue even thought that Lolich deserved the award.
Another number that stands out to me is how many batters Lolich faced that season. He faced 1,538 batters! Oddly enough, when the Oakland A’s and the Tigers played against each in the 1972 ALCS, Blue was pitching out of the bullpen while Lolich was starting so we never got to see these two titans face off against each other in the post-season.
Overall, it was perhaps the rise of Oakland as a powerhouse in the AL that may have played a factor for Blue to win the Cy Young over Lolich.