When I noticed that the Mariners had recalled Erasmo Ramirez to pitch Wednesday against the Rangers, I realized that Jordan Zimmermann would be facing the likely AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez tonight. With a trip to Los Angeles right after the Seattle series, there’s a remote chance that Zimmermann would also pitch against the likely NL Cy Young winner as well. That Clayton Kershaw is schedule to pitch next Tuesday night against Doug Fister1 didn’t make me stop wondering how often a pitcher has started against both Cy Young winners during the same season and how did the poor sap fair?
Limiting my search from 2013 through 1997 (the first year of interleague play) I quickly found out that a pitcher starting against both Cy Young winners was uncommon but not exactly rare. In the past 17 years, there have been exactly 24 times when a pitcher started against both award winners (with an additional six in 2003 when a starter appeared in a game featuring either Roy Halladay or closer Eric Gagne). Filed under crummy luck, Jarrod Washburn, Livan Hernandez, and Ryan Dempster have each had it happen during two different seasons, but both Washburn and Hernandez pulled off the trick in 2003 with Gagne and Halladay. In 2012, we had the only occurrence during this time when both eventual Cy winners started against one another when R.A. Dickey tossed a complete game 1-hitter against David Price and the Rays. Price lasted just five innings that game, allowing seven earned.
Below is a table with the years and number of times it’s happened:
Occurrences Pitcher Faced Both Cy Young Winners
Not surprisingly, the record when facing both award representatives isn’t all that encouraging. I didn’t include 2003 since the starters didn’t really face off against Gagne and since closers shouldn’t win the Cy Young because, well, they’re closers. I’ll just pretend that year never happened. It was a different time then, and Gagne saved 55 games with 137 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings.
For all non-Gagne closed seasons, the starters were a combined 10-25 with 14 no decisions. Collectively, their ERA was 4.17 while they allowed 299 hits in 304 2/3 innings.
Out of all the starters listed above, Mike Thurman faired the best. He went 2-0 in 1999 against both Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, scattering 10 hits across 14 1/3 innings while allowing just two earned runs. That year, Johnson and Martinez had a combined record of 40-13 with 677 strikeouts between them. Defeating just one of them is impressive enough (Johnson was in the midst of winning four Cy Young awards in a row and 1999 was definitely the least impressive of those seasons. Of course, if you consider a 17-9 record and 364 strikeouts unimpressive then I have nothing else for you), but to defeat both of them in the same season deserves a mention in Cooperstown right next to their plaques.2
Nobody actually pitched against both pitchers in back-to-back starts. Chien-Ming Wang and Cole Hamels in 2012 and Russ Ortiz in 2009 faced off against each in two of three starts. Jered Weaver in 2011 had the pleasure of pitching against Kershaw in back-to-back starts, going 1-0 with a no decision.
Good luck to Zimmermann if he should be fortunate enough to pitch against both in the Nats next two series. He’s going to need it.