Is Cy Young the Best Pitcher Ever?

Cy Young has come to be associated with the best pitchers in baseball. Despite retiring more than a century ago in 1911, Young is still a household name today because the annual award for the best pitcher in each league is named after him. But how good of a pitcher was Young?

Was he the best pitcher in Major League Baseball history? He’s probably in that conversation, but it takes a lot to be the No. 1 all-time. Does Young meet the requirements? Let’s explore his career to find out.

Cy Young’s career stats

Young had a 22-year career in the majors, pitching in 906 games, including 815 starts. He ended up with a career record of 511-315 and threw 7,356 innings over his career. Young posted a 2.63 ERA with 2,803 career strikeouts. He threw 749 complete games, with 76 shutouts.

Young won more than 30 games four times in his career, and he averaged a 20-12 record in his lengthy career. He won the ERA title twice — once in the National League and once in the American League — and he was a World Series champion in 1903 as a member of the then-Boston Americans team (the present-day Red Sox) that won the title that season.

Young even earned the pitching Triple Crown in 1901, leading the American League in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his second year on the ballot in 1937 — and the second-ever class in the Hall — earning 76.1% of the vote.

MLB records

Cy Young warming up before a game
Cy Young | Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

As you might expect given his career numbers, Young set numerous records during his time in the majors, many of which still stand nearly 110 years after he retired — and are unlikely to ever be broken.

He was the true definition of a workhouse, which is evident by the fact that he is the all-time leader in games started, innings pitched, and complete games. His 511 wins are also the most in MLB history. He faced 29,565 batters in his career, which is another record as you would imagine given all of the innings he pitched.

Young has also set the mark for assists as a pitcher, with 2,014. Young even excels when you calculate advanced stats based on his career numbers. WAR is a relatively recent statistical category in baseball, but when applied retroactively, Young has a career WAR of 165.7, which is the highest ever for a pitcher.

Is Cy Young the best pitcher in MLB history?

Which brings us to the question of whether Young is the best pitcher to ever step on a major league mound? That’s not an easy question to answer given all of the terrific pitchers who have played in the majors over the years — but he’s certainly among the greatest.

It’s hard to compare Young to pitchers in the current era because modern-day baseball is so much different than in Young’s era, especially when it comes to how pitchers are used. It is rare for pitchers to throw complete games and shutouts today, so no one will ever come close to Young’s numbers in those categories, or his 511 wins or his innings pitched totals.

But there are pitchers who have been more complete pitchers than Young. Many of his top numbers are in counting stats, where the longer you play the better your numbers look. If you look at his ratio stats like ERA and WHIP, which don’t automatically improve with his inning you throw, Young’s numbers don’t look as impressive.

His ERA is 61st all-time, and his 1.130 WHIP ranks 45th on the all-time list. He also has a .619 win percentage, which is just 82nd best among all pitchers despite having almost 100 more wins than any other pitcher in MLB history. Taking all of this into consideration, Young probably isn’t the best pitcher in MLB history.