These pitchers reigned in 2020

Shane Bieber takes two of our awards, while Kyle Hendricks gets the third

Major League Baseball devoted two weeks to unveiling its award winners for the truncated 2020 season.

Well, I can go one better than that. I’m taking three weeks.

Today is the day to reveal the winners of a trio of pitching awards, following these half-dozen batting titlists who were announced on the past two Tuesdays:

Ted Williams Award (overall batting): Juan Soto, Nationals

Lou Gehrig Award (scoring): Freddie Freeman, Braves

Babe Ruth Award (power): Juan Soto, Nationals

Nellie Fox Award (contact): Tommy La Stella, Angels-Athletics

Rickey Henderson Award (batting eye): Aaron Hicks, Yankees

Willie Mays Award (fielding-batting combination): Mookie Betts, Dodgers

The concept is the same for pitchers, with each award carrying the name of a Hall of Famer who epitomized a specific skill. Today’s honors are limited to starters who met this year’s qualification standard of 60 innings, essentially foreclosing relievers from consideration. We’ll deal with them another time.

Juan Marichal Award (overall pitching)

I have already introduced BPO (bases per out) as the ideal measure of a batter’s skill. (Click here to learn how it’s calculated.)

Juan Soto topped the majors this year with a truly amazing BPO of 1.505, the equivalent of a base and a half attained for every out the Nationals outfielder made. Typical batters don’t do even half as well. The average BPOs this year were .716 in the National League and .698 in the American League.

It stands to reason that BPO can also be used to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness. Juan Marichal, the great Giants righthander, posted the best BPO of any postwar Hall of Fame pitcher who recorded at least 10,000 outs. He surrendered only 5,764 bases while piling up 10,622 outs, which translates to a microscopic career BPO of .543. That’s why the pitcher with each season’s lowest BPO wins the Juan Marichal Award.

Shane Bieber of the Indians was representative this year of Marichal at his best. Bieber gave up only 97 bases while recording 235 outs. His resulting BPO of .413 was easily the best among all pitchers who worked at least 60 innings in 2020. Here are the top 10:

Randy Johnson Award (strikeouts)

There were several logical candidates for the name of this award. Sandy Koufax, for example. Or Nolan Ryan. Or, if we wanted to go way back in history, Walter Johnson, the Big Train himself.

But Randy Johnson accomplished something that none of those fireballers — or, for that matter, no pitcher in baseball history — could match. He recorded more than 250 strikeouts in nine separate seasons. Ryan came close with eight. The others finished well behind.

So this is the Randy Johnson Award, though it comes with an unusual twist for somebody who wrapped up precisely 100 complete games during his 22-year career. This honor is given to the leader in strikeouts per six innings, not nine, because let’s face it, pitchers hardly ever go nine innings these days.

The winner, once again, is Shane Bieber, who racked up 122 strikeouts in 77 and one-third innings, equaling 9.47 every six innings.

The Indians righthander, to be fair, did exceed that rate on several occasions. His best performance of 2020 was 14 strikeouts against the Royals on opening day, July 24, when he worked — yes — precisely six innings.

Here are this year’s 10 leaders in strikeouts per six innings (again limited to those who met the qualification standard):

Warren Spahn Award (durability)

If you look at the all-time rankings for complete games, you’ll find a familiar name at the top — Cy Young — followed by dozens of his fellow old-old-old-timers. Baseball was a different game a century ago.

But one postwar star shines on this list of ancient names. Warren Spahn piled up 382 complete games between 1942 and 1965. That’s roughly half as many as Young, and it’s only 21st in the historical rankings, but it’s 77 complete games more than anybody else in the past 80 seasons. That’s durability.

The Warren Spahn Award isn’t given for complete games — there were only 29 of those throughout the majors in 2020 (including seven-inning doubleheader contests) — but for the average number of innings pitched per appearance.

The winner isn’t some beefy flamethrower, but Kyle Hendricks, the lanky Cubs righthander. He pitched 81 and one-third innings in 12 starts. That works out to 6.78 innings per appearance, which topped the majors and won him the Spahn.

Here are the top 10 contenders for the award: