Greatest pitchers to never win a Cy Young Award

There are many great pitchers in baseball history who were so dominant that it comes as a shock to learn that they never won the most prestigious individual honor a pitcher can receive: the Cy Young Award.

From the time the award was established in 1956, through the present day, the list of pitchers who never won it includes many Hall of Famers and All-Stars who put together some of the finest careers in Major League history.

See the full list below, from the legends who pitched before the award was introduced, to the all-time greats who had a chance but never won, to the active aces like Zack Wheeler who have come close but haven’t been able to seal the deal.

(Pitchers in each category listed in order by bWAR)

The best Modern Era (since 1900) pitchers who played before the advent of the Cy Young Award, not including the award’s namesake.

Walter Johnson, 1907-27 (164.5 bWAR)

If there was an award for the best pitcher in Johnson’s time, “The Big Train” — and not Young — might have racked up more than anyone else. Johnson led the American League in ERA five times, in wins six times and in strikeouts a whopping 12 times. He also won the pitching Triple Crown three times and was a two-time AL MVP, in the days before the modern MVP Award when repeat winners were rare. All time, Johnson ranks second in bWAR (164.5) and wins (417), is tied for seventh (min. 1,000 innings) in ERA+ (147) and is ninth in strikeouts (3,509).

Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1911-30 (119 bWAR)

While Johnson dominated the AL from 1907-27, “Old Pete” was arguably the best the NL had to offer for much of that time. Like Johnson, Alexander led his league in ERA five times and in wins six times, and he won three pitching Triple Crowns. In terms of ERA+, his best season came in 1915, as the righty went 31-10 with a 1.22 ERA (225 ERA+), a 0.84 WHIP and 241 K’s over 376 1/3 innings for the Phillies. Alexander finished his 20-year career with 373 wins (tied for third all time) and 119 bWAR (15th).

Lefty Grove, 1925-41 (106.7 bWAR)

Grove’s success was virtually unrivaled in the first two decades of the live ball era, which began in 1920. As offense exploded around baseball, Grove led his league in ERA an MLB-record nine times, winning the Triple Crown in two of those years. Grove was named AL MVP in 1931, as he went 31-4 with a 2.06 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 288 2/3 innings, notching one of just four 30-win seasons since the beginning of the live ball era. The southpaw’s lifetime 148 ERA+ is the third best in history among pitchers with at least 2,000 frames.

Christy Mathewson, 1900-16 (106 bWAR)

Mathewson first arrived on the scene in 1900 and pitched for 17 years, going 373-188 with a 2.13 ERA over 636 games. Spending nearly his entire career with the Giants, the righty led the NL in ERA five times and in wins four times, winning the Triple Crown twice. When the very first Hall of Fame class was inducted in 1936, Mathewson was enshrined alongside the likes of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Johnson.

Carl Hubbell, 1928-43 (68.2 bWAR)

There’s a case to be made for several others in this fifth spot, but we’ll go with Hubbell. The left-hander is perhaps most famous for striking out five future Hall of Famers in succession during the 1934 All-Star Game, but he was also a two-time NL MVP and a three-time league ERA champion. In his first MVP season in 1933, Hubbell led the NL in ERA (1.66), WHIP (0.98), innings (308 2/3) and wins (23).

Others: Robin Roberts*, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser, Mordecai Brown, Rube Waddell

*Note: Roberts pitched for 11 years after the Cy Young Award was established, but his best seasons were mostly before that point, and his last year (1966) came before the award was given to the best pitcher in each league (rather than to one pitcher representing all of MLB).

The best retired pitchers who played after 1956 and never won a Cy Young.

Bert Blyleven, 1970-92 (94.5 bWAR)
Closest calls: AL 3rd place; 1984, ’85

Despite recording 287 wins, a 3.31 ERA and 3,701 strikeouts over 22 seasons in the Majors, Blyleven lasted on the Hall of Fame ballot for more than a decade before finally getting elected in his 14th year of eligibility. If he had won a Cy Young Award or two, it might not have taken him so long. Blyleven’s best season was undoubtedly 1973, as he won 20 games and posted a 2.52 ERA with 258 strikeouts in 325 innings. But his best chance of actually winning the Cy Young was arguably 1984 (19-7, 2.87 ERA), when he finished in third place behind two relievers — Willie Hernandez and Dan Quisenberry.

Mike Mussina, 1991-2008 (82.8 bWAR)
Closest call: AL 2nd place, 1999

Mussina had an ERA+ of 125 or better in 12 different seasons, but he was never quite the best pitcher in the league, at least in the eyes of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Part of the problem was that Mussina’s AL contemporaries were some of the greatest pitchers ever, including Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. That said, Mussina did top Clemens in ERA, WHIP, bWAR, innings and strikeouts in 2001, when Clemens won the AL Cy Young Award on the strength of his 20-3 record. Mussina, who went 17-11, finished fifth.

Nolan Ryan, 1966-93 (81.3 bWAR)
Closest call: AL 2nd place, 1973

You may be surprised to learn that Ryan never claimed a Cy Young Award, as his name is practically synonymous with the type of hard-throwing, fire-breathing aces that so often win. The closest Ryan got was 1973, the year he went 21-16 with a 2.87 ERA and 383 strikeouts — a single-season record in the modern era. In a close race, Ryan came in second behind Jim Palmer (22-9, 2.40 ERA, 158 K’s), whose Orioles went 97-65 while Ryan’s Angels went 79-83. Ryan finished his career with 5,714 strikeouts, which ranks first all time.

Curt Schilling, 1988-2007 (79.5 bWAR)
Closest calls: NL 2nd place; 2001, ’02, ’04

There have been only five instances in MLB history of teammates finishing first and second in the Cy Young Award voting; Randy Johnson and Schilling were involved in two of them with the D-backs, and Schilling was second both times. Schilling also had an outstanding 2004 season (21-6, 3.26 ERA, 203 K’s) after being traded to the Red Sox, but once again came in second, as Johan Santana took the top spot with a 20-6 record, a 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts.

Juan Marichal, 1960-1975 (62.9 bWAR)
Closest call: NL 8th place, 1971

With his signature leg kick and deep arsenal, Marichal had nine All-Star seasons (10 selections overall) from 1962-71, notching a 2.65 ERA with 1,940 strikeouts and 531 walks in 2,805 innings for the Giants during that stretch. Unfortunately for the Dominican Dandy, only one Cy Young Award was given out until 1967, and some of his contemporaries in the NL included Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton. As a result, 1971 was the only year he received any recognition from Cy Young voters.

Others: Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Luis Tiant, Kevin Brown, Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Dave Stieb, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright

If it hasn’t happened by now …

The best active pitchers who haven’t won a Cy Young Award and are unlikely to do so at this point in their careers.

Chris Sale, 2010-present (47.2 bWAR)
Closest call: AL 2nd place, 2017

It’s truly shocking that Sale hasn’t won a Cy Young. His lifetime 140 ERA+ is the 20th best in history, and his 5.3 K/BB ratio ranks first (min. 1,000 innings). The left-hander was a top-six finisher in the AL every year from 2012-18, and he placed no lower than fourth in four of those seasons. The closest he got was 2017 (2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 308 K’s), when he was edged out by an exceptional Corey Kluber (2.25 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 265 K’s). Injuries have limited Sale to just 56 starts since the beginning of 2019, and he has registered a 4.16 ERA in that span.

Madison Bumgarner, 2009-present (37.3 bWAR)
Closest calls: NL 4th place; 2014, ’16

While his postseason dominance is well documented, Bumgarner was a terrific regular-season pitcher in his heyday as well, recording a 3.00 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and a 9.1 K/9 mark during a run of six straight 200-inning campaigns that began in 2011. However, the left-hander hasn’t received a Cy Young vote since that streak ended, and he owns a 5.23 ERA over 69 starts since he left the Giants to sign a free-agent deal with the D-backs. Bumgarner was released by Arizona after just four starts in 2023 and didn’t catch on with another team for the rest of the season.

Johnny Cueto, 2008-present (36.4 bWAR)
Closest call: NL 2nd place, 2014

Among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings from 2011-16, only Kershaw had a better ERA+ than Cueto (145), who also found himself behind the lefty in the 2014 NL Cy Young race. Cueto delivered his best season as a big leaguer that year, going 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and a league-leading 242 strikeouts, but Kershaw was better (21-3, 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 239 K’s) and earned NL MVP honors in addition to the Cy Young Award. Cueto, who will be 38 years old on Opening Day in 2024, posted a 6.02 ERA for the Marlins in 2023 and owns a 4.25 ERA since the beginning of 2017.

Lance Lynn, 2011-present (29.8 bWAR)
Closest call: AL 3rd place, 2021

Lynn was a perennial Cy Young Award candidate in 2019-21, finishing fifth in 2019 and sixth in 2020 before placing third in the 2021 vote behind Robbie Ray and Gerrit Cole. In that span, the right-hander registered a 3.26 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP, ranking fifth in the Majors in innings (449 1/3), seventh (min. 200 innings) in ERA+ (145) and eighth in K’s (511). However, he slipped to a 3.99 ERA over 21 starts in 2022 and finished ’23 with a 5.73 ERA while leading the Majors in home runs allowed (44).

Hyun Jin Ryu, 2013-present (20.1 bWAR)
Closest call: NL 2nd place, 2019

It wasn’t too long ago that Ryu logged consecutive Top 3 finishes in his league’s Cy Young Award voting, placing second in the NL race in 2019 and third in the AL the following year. However, the left-hander underwent his second Tommy John surgery in 2022 and will be 37 years old on Opening Day in 2024, which makes him a poor bet to contend for a Cy Young Award in the future.

Others: Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Carrasco, Charlie Morton

The best active pitchers with at least 1,000 innings who haven’t won a Cy Young Award but still have a reasonable chance to do it.

Aaron Nola, 2015-present (31.7 bWAR)
Closest call: NL 3rd place, 2018

One of baseball’s most durable pitchers, Nola struck out more than 220 batters four times from 2018-22, throwing at least 200 innings in three of those years. The right-hander turned in one of his best seasons in 2022, leading MLB with an 8.1 K/BB ratio and recording a 3.25 ERA with a 0.96 WHIP and 235 K’s over 205 frames. Though his performance slipped a bit in 2023 (4.46 ERA), he still threw 193 2/3 innings, fanned 202 batters and notched a 1.15 WHIP.

Yu Darvish, 2012-present (31.0 bWAR)
Closest call: AL 2nd place, 2013

Darvish placed second in the 2020 NL Cy race and was a candidate to win in 2021 before struggling in the second half and finishing with a 4.22 ERA. He rebounded to post a 3.10 ERA over 30 starts in 2022, but slipped to a 4.56 ERA over 24 starts during an injury-shortened 2023 season. With a diverse arsenal that has helped him register one of the highest lifetime K/9 marks (10.7) in MLB history, Darvish might still have what it takes to go Cy hunting. But the 37-year-old is running out of time.

Zack Wheeler, 2013-present (29.4 bWAR)
Closest call: NL 2nd place, 2021

Wheeler fell just short of the NL Cy Young Award in 2021, splitting first-place votes with winner Corbin Burnes and finishing 10 vote points behind the Brewers right-hander. His final numbers that year were brilliant, as he led MLB in innings (213 1/3) and the NL in K’s (247) while recording a 2.78 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. Wheeler has posted a 3.06 ERA, a 9.7 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9 in his first four seasons with the Phillies after inking a five-year, $118 million deal.

Kevin Gausman, 2013-present (23.0 bWAR)
Closest call: AL finalist, 2023

While Gausman was selected fourth overall in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Orioles and made his MLB debut less than a year later, he didn’t receive a Cy Young vote for the first time until 2021, when he was on his fourth team. The late-blooming righty finished sixth in the NL voting that year and ninth in the AL in ‘22 before earning a place among the AL finalists in ‘23, when he led the league in strikeouts (237) and notched a 3.16 ERA over 185 innings.

Luis Castillo, 2017-present (21.8 bWAR)
Closest call: Has never earned a Cy Young vote

Castillo has earned two straight All-Star selections and will likely receive Cy Young votes for the first time in his career in 2023 after posting a 3.34 ERA with 219 strikeouts and a 1.10 WHIP over 197 innings for the Mariners. The right-hander was a bit wild earlier in his career (3.3 BB/9 from 2017-21), but he has showed better control over the past two years (2.6 BB/9), and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him one day hoist the Cy Young Award.

Others: Sonny Gray, Nathan Eovaldi