These pitchers won back-to-back Cy Young Awards

November 9th, 2021

Finishing the season as the best pitcher in your league is an incredible achievement. But doing so in back-to-back years? That puts an ace in inner-circle company.

As a group, these 11 hurlers represent some of the finest to ever grace a Major League mound. Here’s a look at each of their dominant runs.

, Mets (2018-19)
Felix Hernandez changed Cy Young voting when he claimed the award after winning just 13 games for the 2010 Mariners, but deGrom took that to another level while picking up 21 combined wins across his repeat seasons. But who needs wins when a pitcher was as dominant as deGrom?

In ‘18, deGrom’s 1.70 ERA was more than a half-run better than any other qualified NL starter, and the sixth-best in baseball since MLB lowered the pitcher’s mound to its current height in 1969. He also notched a Major League-record 29 straight outings of three runs or fewer, helping him overcome his 10-9 record and blowout Nationals ace Max Scherzer by 84 points.

deGrom’s ‘19 follow-up got off to a rockier start as he suffered a three-start stretch in April in which he allowed at least three earned runs (a barrage by his standards). But the Mets righty made the necessary adjustments, permitting two runs or fewer in 22 of his final 27 starts and finishing with an NL-best 255 strikeouts. That was enough for deGrom to earn all but one of the first-place votes for a second straight year, topping Dodgers southpaw by 119 points.

, Nationals (2016-17)
Entering the 2016 season, Scherzer was already one of the premier starting pitchers in the game. But then he took it to another level. In his second season with the Nationals after winning an American League Cy Young Award with the Tigers in ‘13, Scherzer posted a 2.96 ERA and led the Majors with 284 strikeouts while leading the National League with 228 1/3 innings pitched and a 0.97 WHIP. He cruised to his first NL Cy Young honor by a margin of 192 votes to 102 over

The next season, Scherzer was even better, finishing with a 2.51 ERA over 200 2/3 innings, striking out 268 to lead the NL, representing a higher strikeout rate (34 percent) than the prior season (31 percent). He also led the league with a 0.90 WHIP and the Majors with the fewest hits allowed per nine innings, at 5.7. His margin of victory in NL Cy Young Award voting this time was also wide, 201-126 over Clayton Kershaw.

, Dodgers (2013-14)

Though injuries and a diminishing fastball velocity having taken their toll on Kershaw in recent years, he was at his legendary peak from 2013-14. In ‘13, he posted a Major League-best 1.83 ERA over 236 innings, also leading MLB in WHIP (0.92) and ERA+ (194), and leading the NL in strikeouts (232) to capture his second career NL Cy Young Award by a wide margin -- he received 207 points, with second-place receiving 86.

That incredible campaign didn’t remain Kershaw’s most dominant for long. The following year, he turned in a 1.77 ERA and 1.81 FIP, striking out 239 and walking only 31 in 198 1/3 innings, a performance which also earned him an NL MVP Award. In addition to the incredible ERA and FIP, his 0.86 WHIP, 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings, six complete games and 197 ERA+ all led the Majors. Kershaw won his third Cy Young Award by nearly the same margin as the prior year, with 210 points to runner-up 's 112.

Tim Lincecum, Giants (2008-09)
The diminutive Giants right-hander with the big fastball burst onto the Major League scene in 2007, making his debut in May of that season. It didn’t take long for him to become the most dominant pitcher in the NL, leading the Majors with a 2.62 FIP (2.62 ERA), a 168 ERA+ and 265 strikeouts to claim the NL Cy Young Award in his first full season. He received 137 points, with runner-up Brandon Webb receiving 73.

Lincecum made it two straight with another stellar season in ‘09, when he narrowly defeated Chris Carpenter for the Cy Young Award, 100 points to 94. Carpenter’s teammate, Wainwright, was right behind him at 90 points. Lincecum was actually better in ‘09, posting a 2.48 ERA (171 ERA+) while leading the NL in strikeouts for the second straight year, fanning 261. He also led the league with a 2.34 FIP and led the Majors with 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

Randy Johnson, D-backs (1999-2002)
With an AL Cy Young Award on his trophy shelf from his time with the Mariners, Johnson wasted no time in dominating the NL when he joined the D-backs in 1999, to the tune of four consecutive Cy Young Awards. The Big Unit led the Majors in strikeouts in each of those years, with 364 in ‘99, 347 in 2000, 372 in ‘01 and 334 in ‘02. He also led the league in ERA+ in each of those seasons, at 184, 181, 188 (MLB-best) and 195, respectively. 

In ‘99, Johnson narrowly defeated Mike Hampton by 24 points. In 2000, he won handily, 133-64 over Tom Glavine. He won by a 58-point margin over teammate Curt Schilling in ‘01, the season the pair were co-MVPs of the World Series in a seven-game victory over the Yankees. And in ‘02, Johnson won by 70 points, again over Schilling.

Pedro Martinez, Red Sox (1999-2000)
In the high run-scoring environment that was the late 1990s into the early 2000s, Martinez was nearly unhittable. After winning his first Cy Young Award in the NL with the Expos in 1997, the right-hander won back-to-back awards in the AL with the Red Sox. In 1999, he led baseball with a 2.07 ERA, 243 ERA+, 1.39 FIP, 0.92 WHIP, 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 8.5 strikeouts per walk.

He was even better in 2000, setting a Major League record with a 291 ERA+ (1.74 ERA). He also led MLB in FIP (2.17), WHIP (0.74) and strikeouts per walk (8.9). Martinez’s historic performance those two years resulted in him winning the AL Cy Young Award easily each time, by a margin of 86 points over Mike Mussina in ‘99, and the exact same margin over Tim Hudson in 2000.

Roger Clemens, Red Sox/Blue Jays (1986-87, ‘97-98)
Clemens’ career was one of several peaks, the first one coming in 1986 when he went 24-4, struck out 20 Mariners in late April and paced the AL with a 2.48 ERA to earn both a unanimous AL Cy Young Award and the AL MVP. The Boston right-hander followed up with another 20 wins, 256 strikeouts and a Major League-most seven shutouts in ‘87, helping him top Toronto’s Jimmy Key by 60 points.

Clemens’ double dip with the Red Sox was the progression of a young ace, but his second repeat was far less expected. He appeared to be winding down after going 10-13 in his age-33 season with the Red Sox, but signed a four-year, $40 million contract with Boston’s division rival and took off once again. Clemens’ 1997 Blue Jays debut (21-7, 2.05 ERA, 292 strikeouts) remains one of the most valuable pitching seasons ever by both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs’ WAR valuations, and it was plenty to best then-Mariner Randy Johnson for the AL Cy Young. Clemens followed up with the fifth of his seven career Cy Young Awards in ‘98, leading the Junior Circuit again with 20 wins and a 2.65 ERA to make him a unanimous selection.

Greg Maddux, Cubs/Braves (1992-95)
Cubs uniform or Braves uniform, it didn’t matter; Maddux was the game’s preeminent pitcher in the early 1990s. He had already logged four straight 15-win seasons by the time he “broke out” with the Cubs in 1992, leading the NL with 20 wins while recording a 2.18 ERA to top future teammate Tom Glavine by 34 points for his first Cy Young. 

Maddux signed a free-agent contract with the Braves in December 1992 and kept on rolling, pacing the NL with a 2.36 ERA in ‘93, and then becoming the first pitcher to win three straight Cy Young Awards after he finished with a microscopic 1.56 ERA in ‘94. Just to prove that figure wasn’t a strike-shortened fluke, Maddux followed with a 1.63 ERA in ‘95 to capture Cy Young No. 4. “The Professor” was never seriously challenged in NL Cy Young voting from ‘93-95, with his 58-point margin of victory over Giants righty Bill Swift in ‘93 representing the closest race in that span.

Jim Palmer, Orioles (1975-76)

Palmer burst onto the scene when he outdueled Sandy Koufax in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series, but by ‘75 he was already a Cy Young winner and established as one of the sport’s top arms. The righty bounced back from elbow issues in ‘74 and dominated again in ‘75, pacing the Majors with 23 wins, 10 shutouts and a 2.09 ERA. Palmer completed 25 starts and even saved a game in July, proving to be a top-notch workhorse as he beat Yankees ace Catfish Hunter by 24 points in AL Cy Young voting.

Palmer wasn’t quite as dominant in ‘76 (22 wins, 2.51 ERA, six shutouts), and Tigers sensation Mark Fidrych outranked him by both Baseball-Reference’s and FanGraphs’ versions of pitcher WAR. But it was Palmer who walked away with his third and final Cy Young, besting Fidrych by 57 points.

Denny McLain, Tigers (1968-69)
McLain remains an icon from 1968, better known as the “Year of the Pitcher,” when he became the Majors’ first 30-game winner since Dizzy Dean in 1934. No pitcher has won that many games in a season since. McLain’s 31-6 record and 1.96 ERA made him the unanimous AL Cy Young and AL MVP, and while his ‘69 follow-up wasn’t quite as dominant (24-9, 2.80 ERA across 325 innings), it was enough to earn McLain a share of that year’s AL Cy Young alongside Orioles southpaw Mike Cuellar.

Sandy Koufax, Dodgers (1965-66)
Cy Young voters submit their ballots before the start of postseason play, so Koufax’s 1965 World Series heroics -- in which he allowed two runs over three starts against the Twins and pitched shutouts in Games 5 and 7 -- weren’t even considered. They didn’t need to be. Koufax was the unanimous selection in both seasons during a time when the Cy Young was awarded to just one pitcher across the entire Major Leagues. The southpaw struck out a then-record 382 hitters, won the pitching Triple Crown and twirled a perfect game en route to his second career Cy Young in ‘65, and then struck out another 317 while recording a 1.73 ERA the following year for Cy No. 3 -- all while pitching through intense arm pain that forced his early retirement after the ‘66 campaign.