The Baseball Writers Association of America is off to a solid start this awards season, having chosen Hudson Street and Ryan Howard, two deserving candidates, as the Rookie of the Year in the AL and NL respectively. Of course, one need look no further than the second place finishers to see that those selections are not necessarily evidence of sound objective analysis throughout the BBWAA. Today, the American League Cy Young Award will be announced. So, before our ink and paper friends give us something to complain about, let’s take a good look at the candidates.
Looking at the traditional “triple crown” statistics (wins, strikeouts, ERA), as many writers are sure to do, there is no clear favorite in the American League. The league’s only 20-game winner, Bartolo Colon (21-8) struck out just 157 and posted a less-than-exciting 3.48 ERA. ERA leader Kevin Millwood (2.86) actually posted a losing record (9-11) for the 93-69 Cleveland Indians. Meanwhile, strikeout leader Johan Santana won a “mere” 16 games.
Santana’s win total is significant because no starting pitcher has ever won a Cy Young Award in a non-strike year with fewer than 17 wins, and only Randy Johnson in 1999 and Pedro Martinez in 1997, both in the NL, ever won the award with as few as 17 wins. In those two cases, Martinez struck out more than 300 with an ERA below 2.00, while Johnson struck out 364 men, 126 more than Santana did this year (238), with an ERA almost a half-run better than Santana’s 2.87.
History aside, Santana, who won the award last year with a 20-6 record, was once again easily the best pitcher in the American League in 2005. Here’s a look at Santana and his five closest competitors:
Perhaps the saddest thing about this year’s AL Cy Young race is not that the most deserving pitcher might not win it because his team’s league-worst offense couldn’t scratch out two more wins for him, but that the one pitcher who might have actually deserved to win the award over Santana, Roy Halladay, had his leg broken by a line drive just before the All-Star Game and didn’t pitch at all in the second half.
Here’s a look at Santana and Halladay together:
If the writers do indeed refuse to give the award to the 16-win Santana, they just might decide to bestow the award upon a reliever. It’s generally true that a secondary requirement for relief pitchers to win the Cy Young (the first, of course, is having an outstanding season), is a year in which there is no clear choice for the award among the starting pitchers. Ignoring for the moment the fact that Santana actually is a clear choice, the relief candidates are easily boiled down to two, future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera and 2005 AL Rookie of the Year Huston Street:
Aside from Street’s slight lead in VORP, Rivera pretty much wipes the floor with the rookie. But, given the gaps in innings and thus VORP and RSAA, Santana is still the clear choice over Rivera:
Some writers might choose to place Mo first on their ballots by the logic that the selection would serve as some sort of lifetime achievement award for Rivera. This, of course, perverts the purpose of the award, but I can’t honestly say that, as a fan of both Rivera and the Yankees, it would upset me very much to see Rivera win. After all, these awards are ultimately meaningless, arbitrary and, though they need not be, extremely subjective. Still, if the writers do the right thing, they’ll choose Santana.
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Update: Colon wins, Mo finishes second, Santana third. Clearly it’s still all about wins. Cliff Lee, who went 18-5, but didn’t have sufficient peripheral or advanced stats to even warrant a mention in the above post finished fourth. Sigh.
For what it’s worth, here’s Lee’s line:
He was followed by Buehrle, Garland and Millwood.