Imagine if MLB's Cy Young voters decided no pitcher was worthy of the award one year, and declined to hand it out. It would be pretty unthinkable, right? Well, that is exactly what happened in Japan's Nippon Pro Baseball this season.
According to Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times, NPB officials declined to give out the Sawamura Award, their equivalent of the Cy Young, citing a lack of worthy candidates. From Coskrey:
"This year, we had an unusually long debate and everyone was able to respectfully give their opinion," said former pitcher Tsuneo Horiuchi, who served as chairman of the five-man committee of retired pitchers who voted on the honor this year. "After talking about various things, we decided there was no winner."
Former pitchers Masaji Hiramatsu, Manabu Kitabeppu, Choji Murata and Hisashi Yamada also served on the committee, which was unchanged from last year.
This is the fifth time the Sawamura Award was not given out since the award was established in 1947. The award was also not given out in 1971, 1980, 1984, and 2000. Horiuchi said the committee debated between Yomiuri Giants righty Shun Yamaguchi and Nippon Ham Fighters righty Kohei Arihara for the award, but decided neither deserved it.
Sawamura Award candidates are evaluated using seven statistical benchmarks -- 25 starts, 10 complete games, 15 wins, .600 winning percentage, 200 innings, 150 strikeouts, 2.50 ERA or lower -- and Yamaguchi and Arihara each hit four of the benchmarks:
Coskrey notes several other pitchers hit three of the seven benchmarks around the league this year. No pitcher in Japan threw more than 180 1/3 innings this past season and the league leader had six complete games. Much like MLB, starting pitcher workloads are being scaled back in Japan as bullpens get more involved.
Here's more from Horiuchi:
"We want as many players as possible to earn the experience of winning the Sawamura Award when they put up the numbers. But it's still insufficient, and we don't want the level of the Sawamura Award to drop. So the five of us came up with this decision."
Yomiuri Giants righty Tomoyuki Sugano won the Sawamura Award in 2017 and 2018. Koji Uehara (1999, 2002), Yu Darvish (2007), Masahiro Tanaka (2011, 2013), and Kenta Maeda (2015) won the Sawamura Award before coming to MLB.
Mets righty Jacob deGrom and Astros righty Justin Verlander were named the 2019 Cy Young winners last week.