The exploits of Cy Young are immortalized in the annual award bearing his name. Each year, the top hurlers in both leagues are given this award, but not without some controversy over the merits of one pitcher versus another.
“Pitcher A had more wins than Pitcher B. But pitcher C had more strikeouts and less run support. Pitcher D played for a pennant-winner, but he pitched half his games in a canyon of a ballpark, while Pitcher E has the lowest ERA of them all and pitched half his games in a bandbox.” Its enough to make a sabermetrician’s/fan’s/award voter’s head explode.
I’m here to offer a simpler prize for pitchers. Its the “π Young Award”, to be given to the moundsman whose season ERA is closest to π. In case you need a refresher, π is:
“a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any circle‘s circumference to its diameter; this is the same value as the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius. π is approximately equal to 3.14159 in the usual decimal positional notation.”
Why choose “π” as the basis for an award? Well, I believe that “3.14” is a wonderful constant that SHOULD be celebrated whenever and wherever possible. And of course, you can’t spell “pitching” without “pi”.
In terms of baseball measures, 3.14 lends itself well to ratios and some percentages. It is in fact a horrible WHIP, to which Tim Byrdak can attest (2006). On a happier note, a pitcher would love to have a K/BB ratio of 3.14, and pitchers as famous as Nolan Ryan (and as ho-hum as Pat Jarvis) have nailed that ratio in a given year. But ERA is the measure that has stood the test of time, and for better or worse, its the barometer on which the valuation of a pitcher is quite often based.
Though it is a constant, a pitcher’s getting to there is a journey of randomness due to the myriad combinations of innings pitched and earned runs that are possible. That would build a little excitement for the award, as pitchers cross over and under the magic 3.14 number throughout each season, like a mathematical version of a Star Trek “Neutral Zone”. Can’t you just see the folks at MLB Network playing it up? “Who will get the ‘π Young Award’ in 2011? If Roy Halladay gives up 27 runs in his next 2 innings, he’d be at 3.12 for the year! But if Rick Porcello can somehow give up only 2 runs in his next 27 innings, then he’ll be in the hunt too! Stay tuned folks.”
While compiling a 3.14 ERA may not seem that special (the last time it would have led either league? The American League in 1950), it would have placed you in the top 10 in most years, especially during the DH/steroids era. It turns out that an approximate 3.14 ERA can be most easily achieved by pitching some multiple of 14⅓ innings while allowing an equal multiple of five earned runs (it calculates to approximately 3.13953488445106 if you really need to know, and if you’ve read this far, you do), yielding the following table:
Most pitchers (and managers) would sign up for that.
Thanks to the wonderful Baseball Reference.com Play Index, I can tell you that there have been 81 pitcher-seasons ending with a 3.14 ERA (regardless of innings pitched). For those of you who love decimal places, this group includes anyone who ended up with ERAs between 3.1350 and 3.1449 (as rounding would bring them up and down, respectively, to the magical 3.14).
Houston’s Bob Knepper achieved “π nirvana” twice within a three-year period, pulling off 3.14 ERAs in 1986 and 1988 while Mel Parnell (1948), Paul Foytack (1957) and Jerry Koosman (1970) came closest to π (to six decimal places) when each yielded 74 earned runs over 212 innings, for an ERA of 3.141509.
At this point, it must be stated that it is extremely unlikely that any pitcher will amass just the right number of innings pitched and earned runs allowed to really nail the π ERA down even further than Parnell, Foytack and Koosman did. Here are the ten closest combinations to 3.14159265 (which is as far as I’m willing to take π without getting to know it better, meeting its parents, etc.):
At this point, you may be wondering … have there been pitchers whose entire careers have come very close to “π-dom”. Why yes, and as with the single season list, we are considering those with ERAs between 3.135 and 3.145):
Cory Luebke is the absolute closest to the 3.14159265 magic number, but given his active status, that is bound to change both very, very soon and very, very often. The next closest, in an amusing coincidence, is the 1974 NL Cy Young Award winner (and the first reliever to win the award) Mike Marshall. Finally, former Baltimore Oriole Mike Cuellar amassed the most innings of “π ball”.
Now it wouldn’t be a VORG post without a statistical cherry on the top (mmm . . . statistical cherries …..). The first Cy Young Award was given in 1956 to Don Newcombe. So, lets retroactively bestow the 1956-2010 “π Young” honors to those players whose ERA ended up closest to 3.14:
So, let’s get the bandwagon started for the newest pitching award . . . The “π Young”.