Inspired by a similar list the Ringer did about the Champioship Belt of QBs, I decided to make one for starting pitchers, beginning in 1900. Now the list is not just "who had the best year", that would be boring. It's more of a "who would the average fan think was the best pitcher in baseball at any given time." There will be long reigns by all time great pitchers, short one year runs where there just were no really great pitchers operating in their prime and there will be times where you had two great pitchers both pitching great at the same time and they could trade the belt back and forth for a few years. Having said that. Here is the first part.
1900-1904: Cy Young
No one else could possibly have this title other than the man the awards are named after. He was the best pitcher of the 1890's and he carried that into the first years of the 20th century. His reputation from prior to 1900 definitely plays a role here but he was still great, leading his league in wins 3 straight years from 1901-03. The main contender was probably Giants pitcher Joe McGinity.
1905-1911: Christy Mathewson
One of the fun yet hard things about doing this is deciding one one pitcher surpasses another, especially when it's a couple true all time greats. Just when Mathewson passed Young is hard to say. He was probably just as good, if not better, than Young in 03 and 04 yet Cy was still great and his reputation so strong that I feel he held of “Big Six”. In 1905 Mathewson took the title though, going 31-9 with a 1.28 ERA, also his team won the World Series. Young was still a top pitcher, also posting an ERA under 2.00 but he was under .500 and Mathewson was just so great he takes the belt. He would hold on to it for 7 years as he had nothing even resembling a bad year in that span.
1912-1916: Walter Johnson
A similar question to the previous title change, when did Johnson surpass Mathewson? In 1911 the two men were both great but like Young's rep kept the title on Mathewson for a year or so after Christy became great the same applies here. In 1912 Johnson was 33-12, 1.39. Mathewson was a still excellent 23-12 2.12 but just not enough to hold off “The Big Train” who would hold the belt for 5 straight seasons until someone was able to take it for a brief stint.
1917: Grover Cleveland Alexander
Alexander was the NL's best pitcher during the period where Johnson dominated the AL but he couldn't quite take the title away from him, however in 1917 he surpassed him just enough to steal the belt for a year. Alexander went 30-13, 1.83 (which really wasn't even his best year) but Johnson “fell off” to 23-16 2.21. Considering Alexander was already not far off from Johnson this allows Alexander to snag a short lived title reign here.
1918-1919: Walter Johnson
Ours first two time Champion! Johnson had brilliant years in 18 and 19, leading his league in ERA both years. His main competition for the belt, Alexander, only made three starts in 1918, allowing Johnson to reclaim his belt.
1920: Grover Cleveland Alexander
Johnson stayed a good pitcher into the 1920s but his days as a contender for the title were done by 1920. Alexander had the injury riddled 1918 but bounced back with a strong 1919, just not quite strong enough to dethrone Johnson again. However in 1920 Alexander won 27 games with a 1.91 ERA while Johnson went 8-10 allowing Alexander to retake the title.
1921-1922: Red Faber
Much like Johnson, Alexander stayed a good pitcher into the 20's but not good enough to be the champ. Up until this point the title has only been held by immortals, not quite the case here. Faber had a very good career, although not in the same sense that Young, Mathewson, Johnson and Alexander did. However the early 1920s didn't have that kind of super star pitcher in their prime. Faber won 46 games and led the AL in ERA in both 1921 and 22 which gives him a nice 2 year run as Champion.
1923: Dolf Luque
Probably even less of a big name than Faber and one of the least accomplished guys who will make this list. Faber fell off in 1923 and there were not any great, established pitchers having great years. Luque did have a great year though, going 27-8 with a 1.93 ERA. He had a short, one year reign as the greatest pitcher in the world.
1924-1925: Dazzy Vance
Vance had a weird career with odd arm injuries early in his career. His major league career didn't really get started in any meaningful way until he was past 30. In 1924 and 25 he was just brilliant though going a combined 50-15. He led the NL in Ks his first seven years in the league.
1926: Geore Uhle
We are in a bit of an odd run here between the great pitchers of the very early century and the next great pitcher which has lead to some not all time greats getting some time with the belt, this happens a couple times. Vance went 9-10 in 1926 which left the door open for someone to steal a year. Uhle did just that going 27-11.
1927: Grover Cleveland Alexander
Ahhh the old man came back for one last title run, ala George Foreman. Alexander was known as a hard drinker. This title reign actually really began in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series when Alexander came in from the pen (legend has it drunk or hangover). The Yanks had the bases loaded and 2 outs in the 7th inning. Alexander struck out future HOFer Tony Lazzeri and then pitched 2 more scoreless to save the game. He'd follow up that with one last gasp of greatness in 1927 going 21-10, 2.52 to get one last run as Champ. This would be the last of these short title reigns for a bit as the next great pitcher was about to claim the belt for his own starting in 1928.