Archive for the 'Awards' Category

The NL Cy Young and the fallacy of wins

The Baseball Gods have long enjoyed playing games with the Cy Young Award, and this year is no different.

In 2001, Roger Clemens undeservingly won the Cy Young Award because he had a 20-3 record. This season, Roger Clemens won’t win the Cy Young Award he deserves because of won-loss record.

Four years ago, when Clemens was pitching on the Yankees and was just 38 years old, he went 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA. He struck out 213 in 220.1 innings en route to what was then his sixth Cy Young Award.

While these numbers placed Clemens in the top ten of nearly every pitching category, the general consensus that year seemed to be that Clemens’ teammate Mike Mussina would have been a better choice for the Cy Young Award. Mussina’s 3.15 ERA was good for second in the league, just 0.10 runs behind Freddy Garcia. Mussina recorded one fewer strike out that Clemens, had a better walk ratio than the Rocket, and threw three shut outs and four complete games while Roger managed goose eggs in both of those categories.

Yet, the Baseball Writers Association of America loved the gaudy 20-3 record and the fact that Clemens had managed to win 20 games at age 38. He won the Cy Young in a season during which Yankee fans didn’t even regard him as the best pitching on their team let alone the entire American League.

Of course, baseball always takes back those generous gifts, it seems, and this year, Clemens will be denied his Cy Young.

It’s hard to argue with Clemens’ numbers. He’s doing something no one his age (currently 43, but who’s counting?) has ever done. In 192.1 innings, Clemens is throwing to an ERA of 1.78. Opponents are hitting .188 against him with a .251 on-base percentage and a .272 slugging. He’s allowed 129 hits or 63 fewer hits than innings pitched while striking out 171.

Even more impressive are the Rocket’s home-road splits. After last night’s disastrous outing in Milwaukee during which Clemens gave up five earned runs in three innings, his road ERA clocks in at an even 1.00. He’s thrown 90 innings on the road while giving up just 10 earned runs and striking out 81. The baseball world rarely witnesses pitchers this dominant anymore, and Clemens is doing this at age at which nearly every player except for Julio Franco has already hung up their spikes.

The only problem is that the Astros have delivered just 11 wins so far for Roger Clemens. Sometimes the offense is shut out; sometimes the bullpen has blown games. Either way, Clemens, with just four or five starts left, has a shot at winning 15 games. But he can’t come close to Chris Carpenter’s lofty 21 wins and counting.

While I believe that Clemens deserves the recognition simply because he’s pitching an outstanding season at age 43, Clemens’ main competition has nearly outpitched him and is equally deserving of the Cy Young Award. The Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter – the true ace that should deliver his team a World Series championship this year – has 21 wins and 4 losses. His ERA is 2.21, now just 0.40 runs higher than Clemens’. Opponents are hitting .213/.256/.322 against him. He has 198 strike outs in 220 innings, four shut outs and seven complete games.

At this point in the season, many baseball writers on the Internet have long conceded the Cy Young to Carpenter. His win total which could top out at 25 and the rest of his impressive numbers are too hard to ignore even in light of Clemens’ accomplishments this year. But this debate underscores the fallacy of the won-loss record.

In 2001, Clemens won the Cy Young because he had an .870 winning percentage. He wasn’t as good that year for the Yankees as he is this year for the Astros. But this year, his team hasn’t won with him on the mound. Winning, then, is not at all a decent indication of how a pitcher has performed. Winning is one way of interpreting a pitcher’s success. But as Clemens has shown, a pitcher can be downright dominant without reeling in the wins if the offense behind him or the bullpen backing him up can’t emerge victorious after the ninth inning ends.

Both Clemens and Chris Carpenter deserve major recognition for outpitching the league mean ERA by over 2.00 runs a game. But in the end, Carpenter will walk away with the award because he won more games. Whether or not he’s more deserving than Clemens is impossible to tell. I would want both of them on my hypothetical team. But this debate just shows that sometimes it’s hard to let go of the so-called traditional stats well after they’ve been proven obsolete time and time again.

Rivera deserves the AL Cy Young

These days in the Bronx, winning isn’t coming easy to baseball’s highest-paid players. With a pitching staff in tatters, getting a night with the lead hasn’t become easy for the game’s most potent offense.

Yet, this year, Yankee games are only 8 innings long, for when Metallica’s “Enter Sandman? starts thumping from the PA system at the Stadium and Number 42, Mariano Rivera, Number 42, comes trotting out of the bullpen, it’s all over.

For Rivera, this is nothing new. During his career, Rivera has saved 367 games, good for fifth all time. His postseason resume – 32 saves and a 0.75 ERA in 108.6 innings – is without comparison in the game’s history.

Now, it’s time for Rivera to earn one award that has long alluded him: the Cy Young. In a wide-open race in the American League, Rivera truly has been the best pitcher and the most important cog in the stumbling Yankee juggernaut.

No matter how they’re spun, Rivera’s numbers are astounding. First, Rivera’s recorded 31 saves this year and all of them in a row. His two blown saves against the Red Sox in early April seem a distant memory. During the 2005 campaign, Rivera has been in 48 games. He’s thrown 52.1 innings, and he’s given up a meager six earned runs for a 1.03 ERA.

But wait, it gets even better. In those 52.1 innings, Rivera has allowed just 27 hits. That’s one hit nearly every two innings. He’s walked 11 and struck out 59. Opponents are hitting a whopping .148 off of him with a .202 slugging and a .199 on-base percentage. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Except that it does. Discounting those two disastrous games against the Red Sox in April, Rivera’s numbers are even more unbelievable. Since April 7, Rivera has been in 46 games. He’s thrown 50.2 innings with an ERA of 0.71. He’s walked eight while striking out 56 and hasn’t surrendered a home run. He’s also given up just 22 hits in that span.

Rivera’s dominance is unprecedented in recent times, and there is no reason why he should not win the Cy Young. Rivera, though, will face an uphill battle. The BBWAA voters are often loathe to give the Cy Young out to a reliever. They seem to feel that guys who go every five days contribute more to the overall success of a team than a closer. While Eric Gagne won the 2003 Cy Young during his record-setting run of consecutive saves, Dennis Eckersley was the only relieve to win the Cy Young during the 1990s. Of the 50 Cy Young Awards given up in the NL and AL combined since 1980, only five of them have gone to relievers.

Despite this inherent bias, it will be tough to deny Rivera his rightful award simply because the American League has not produced a clear-cut starting pitcher who deserves this award. Looking at the win and ERA leaders, two popular categories among the BBWAA voters, a few names jump out. Roy Halladay, Mark Buerhle, and Jon Garland are on the list. Yet the three of them have hardly been overwhelming pitchers.

While he has won 16 games, Garland has managed just 72 strike outs in 152 innings. Opponents are hitting a fairly pedestrian .255 against him. At 13-5 and with a 2.99 ERA, Buerhle seems to be a legitimate contender. Yet, his July ERA was 5.01, and he was shelled by the Red Sox tonight. Roy Halladay is out indefinitely, and his 19 starts wouldn’t qualify him in the eyes of the voters.

On the West Coast, there are two other candidates worth considering: Rich Harden and Barry Zito. Zito’s season numbers aren’t remarkable. He’s 11-8 with a 3.62 ERA and 117 strike outs in 164 innings. Yet, opponents are hitting just .217 off of him, and he’s given up 35 fewer hits than innings pitched. Zito also has a winning streak that has propelled the A’s to the top of the West going for him. Since June 18, Zito is 8-0 with a 2.27 ERA. If he continues to drive the A’s toward the playoffs, he will emerge once again as a serious Cy Young contender.

Then finally, there is Rich Harden, a 23-year-old phenom for the A’s. Due to injuries, Harden is just a few innings short of qualifying for the ERA leaderboard. He is 9-5 with a 2.99 ERA. In 108.2 innings, he has 99 strike outs. Opponents are hitting .214 off of him. But he too will suffer from a lack of wins by the season’s end. Harden has around eight starts left. For him to earn serious consideration, he’ll have to win seven of those while keeping his ERA down and his strike outs up.

With this weak field, there’s no reason for anyone to deny Mariano Rivera what is rightfully his. If this seriously flawed Yankee team makes it to the playoffs, it will be as a result of Rivera’s pitching. If they fail, it will be in spite of a phenomenal campaign by the 35-year-old reliever. The 2005 Cy Young Award should simply be another part of Rivera’s resume as he builds his portfolio on the way to Cooperstown.


RSS River Ave. Blues

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