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Looking back a the tight race for the 2007 Cy Young

The playoffs told a different story, but during the 2007 regular season, it was difficult to tell who was better between Beckett and Sabathia.

ALCS: Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians - Game 5 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Josh Beckett wasn’t always an ace for the Red Sox and by the time he left, he had worn out his welcome to some. He fluctuated between All-Star and roughly league average pitcher from year-to-year, and by the time he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012, he had produced an ERA+ of 109 across 1,240 innings of work.

Despite his flaws, Beckett’s peak with the Sox was something to behold. The right-handed flamethrower from Spring, Texas first made a name for himself by slaying the York Yankees in the 2003 World Series with the Marlins and just a few years later, he was traded to Boston along with Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota. His first year in Boston was iffy. He posted a 5.01 ERA, 5.12 FIP and both his ERA+ (95) and ERA- (106) showed that he was below league average.

He turned the page in a major way in 2007 en route to not only the best single season of his time with the Red Sox but the best single season of his career overall. He might have had a lower ERA in 2011 and struck out more batters in 2009, but 2007 was his crown jewel from top to bottom. It was far more than his MLB-leading 20 wins as well. Beckett produced a 3.27 ERA and struck out 194 batters across 200 23 innings. His ERA actually makes him look worse than he was because his FIP was down at 3.08 and was the top mark among all pitchers in the American League.

If there was ever a year when Beckett should have won a Cy Young award, 2007 was that year. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Instead, the trophy went to Cleveland’s CC Sabathia.

The left-hander who would go on to pitch for the Brewers and Yankees was in his first home at that point and had already built himself quite a career. Sabathia had posted an ERA+ above 100 every year since getting called up during his age-20 season in 2001. He first entered the ace discussion in 2006 (3.22 ERA in 192 23 innings) but like Beckett, 2007 was a coronation of sorts, as he went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA across an MLB-high 241 innings.

With both pitchers delivering at such a high level, choosing the AL Cy Young award winner was no easy task.

As I mentioned before, Beckett had the top FIP in the AL. Sabathia wasn’t far behind (3.14), but he was behind all the same. Beckett also inched past Sabathia in bWAR (6.5 vs. 6.3), which was another category in which he led the league. The list goes on from there, with Beckett taking the advantage in ERA+ (145 vs. 141), ERA- (70 vs. 73). and strikeout rate (23.6 percent vs. 21.4 percent).

ALCS: Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians - Game 5 Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Of course, there was still a legitimate case for Sabathia, who certainly ended up having the better overall career between the two, and topped Beckett in some important categories in 2007 as well. Sabathia had a lower ERA (3.21 vs. 3.27) and led all of baseball in innings pitched (241), fWAR (6.4 vs. 5.7) and strikeout per walk ratio (5.649).

As far as award competitions go, it would be difficult to find one with a more razor-thin difference. The voting wasn’t as close, with Sabathia taking home 19 first-place votes to Beckett’s eight, but in terms of the actual stats, they were in a dead heat.

I’ll admit, this piece started as an argument for why Beckett was robbed of the 2007 Cy Young award and for this admittedly biased writer’s money, it still feels like he should have claimed it. However, digging into the numbers made me realize that instead of worrying about who won, I should have really taken the time to appreciate just how evenly matched and competitive Beckett and Sabathia were.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to say that 13 years later with a bit more wisdom in my bones. It also helps that even though Beckett didn’t win the award, he certainly ended up having the last laugh.

Performance in the playoffs doesn’t count for regular season award voting for obvious reasons, but if it had, the Cy Young would have gone to Beckett in a landslide decision. He was absolutely incredible during the Red Sox’s run to the 2007 World Series title, including two spectacular outings in the ALCS against Cleveland and Sabathia. The two squared off in Games One and Five of that series, and Beckett came out on top both times and by a wide margin.

In Game One, Beckett allowed two runs and struck out seven over six innings while Sabathia didn’t make it out of the fifth inning after giving up eight runs in what turned into a 10-3 win for Boston. Cleveland won the next three games, but Beckett began the Red Sox’s rally in Game Five with a performance for the ages. He struck out 11 batters and allowed just one run across eight innings, helping the Red Sox to claim a 7-1 victory. Sabathia was on the other side of that game and took the loss, yielding 10 hits and four runs over six innings.

From there, the Red Sox went on to win games six and seven and then swept the Colorado Rockies in the World Series. Beckett pitched great in his lone start of that series as well and for those in the Beckett-should-have-won-in-2007 camp both then and now, that’s all the vindication you need.