Monday, September 19, 2005

The 2005 Cy Young - A Two-Man Race

At times it has seemed like, despite the excellent year that Johan Santana has had, he has been pushed out of the AL Cy Young conversation thanks to the astonishing lack of run support from the Twins' paltry offense. However, unextraordinary performances from other starters in the league and phenomenal start last Saturday from Johan have put him right back atop the list. In fact, there is no other starting pitcher in the league that should be considered in the Cy Young talks. The only other contender, and one who should win it if Santana does not, is Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. A look at those two.

Johan Santana - MIN
14-7, 3.05 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 220 K, .214 OBA
I have heard some pretty creative arguments for why Santana should not win the award. For instance, in an article on Twins Territory, the typically argumentative David Wintheiser makes the contention that since Santana's first two months were not spectacular, he is undeserving of the reward. That, of course, is hogwash. Most all pitchers have bad starts benched together, I know that I would rather have my ace pitching his best in the second half of the season than in the first half. Furthermore, despite his lack of wins, Santana's peripheral numbers are FAR AND AWAY better than any other starter in the league. His .214 opponents' batting average, .99 WHIP and (Major League leading) 220 strikeouts are incredible, and his 3.05 ERA leads the AL. The 14 wins is a reflection of the fact that he plays for a bad team, and seeing as how the Cy Young is meant to reward the league's best pitcher, so punishing him for playing for a team with a miserable offense seems wrong.

Still, wins undeniably play a big role in the Cy Young voting, fair or not. Typically a guy has to win 20 games to gain consideration from the award, and Johan is far from that number. The last time an AL pitcher with fewer than 18 wins won the award was 1994, when David Cone did it for the Royals with a 2.94 ERA. Since then, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez have done with 18 wins, but both had absolutely incredible stats (Martinez had a 1.74 ERA). While Santana is certainly not on that level, the lack of credible competition puts him in the lead, at least among starters. If we're talking about the American League's best PITCHER, however, another name enters the conversation.

Mariano Rivera - NYY
6-4, 40/44 SV, 1.38 ERA, .85 WHIP, 74 K, .174 OBA
At age 35, the first-ballot Hall of Famer is having the best season of his career. His terrific .174 opponents' batting average is the best of any season in his career,and he's allowed only two home runs in 72 innings. Rivera is one of the best closers in Major League history, and it would be more than justifiable to reward this amazing season with a Cy Young, despite the fact that the award is traditionally reserved for starters. Interestingly, while Mariano is having his best year, it will likely be the first time in his career that he won't be in the playoffs, which is where he's at his best.

And now a quick glance through the other "contenders" for the award, and why they won't - or at least shouldn't - win the award.

Bartolo Colon - LAA
19-7, 3.46 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 145 K, .251 OBA
Because he's likely to win 20 games and his team might make the playoffs, Colon is a popular pick to win this award. However, looking past those superficial numbers, one can quickly dismiss Colon as a good but not great pitcher. Colon has hardly been dominant, striking out only 6.35 per 9 IP, and his ERA and WHIP are nice but not jaw-dropping. Colon will probably win 20 games, and that's nice, but his argument stops there. Santana has clearly been the better starter.

Mark Buehrle - CWS
15-8, 3.21 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 132 K, .269 OBA
Buehrle was racking up wins and had a sub-3 ERA for the first couple months of the season, but since then he has been rather mediocre, taking a tailspin along with his team. He has a 4.66 ERA and only one win in September, and that final month tends to leave a lasting impression on voters. Buehrle is worse than Colon in all major categories other than ERA, and even there he's well behind Johan. The same arguments remain true.

Jon Garland - CWS
17-9, 3.41 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 100 K, .256 OBA
Garland has a lot of wins, but won't reach 20. He had a nice start and has been solid all year, but hasn't been dominant by any means, striking out less than half the number Santana has. Much like his counterpart Buehrle, Garland hasn't pitched particularly well since the break and has contributed to the decline of play for the Sox.

Roy Halladay - TOR
12-4, 2.41 ERA, .96 WHIP, 108 K, .225 OBA
Halladay had a phenomenal four months but then got hurt and missed the rest of the season. If we were rewarding which pitcher had the best 4 months of the season, as Wintheiser suggests, Halladay would be the runaway winner. However, that won't happen. A guy who missed nearly half the season will not win this award, and that is a plain and simple fact. With that in mind, we won't go any further in discussing the merits of his case.

Cliff Lee - CLE
17-4, 3.75 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 136 K, .247 OBA
Lee has stepped up big for the Indians this year, rising up from being a fifth starter to providing consistent good starts and playing a big part in the Indians push to overtake the White Sox in the AL Central, shriking a seemingly untouchable deficit. That's nice and all, but his stats just aren't Cy Young material. Aside from the wins, nothing here stands out.

Notice that I did ignore a lot of the more hardcore SABR stats, but the ones listed above are the ones that Cy Young voters will be looking at most. So as long as their eyes move past that column they will see that Johan Santana is undeniably the best starting pitcher in the league. And if their eyes move past the SP category they will see that Mariano Rivera is the only other pitcher deserving. I would have no problem with Rivera winning the award, but if Colon wins it, it will be an absolute travesty and a serious mark against the legitimacy of this legendary award.