08 November 2002

So Far, So Good...

Well, the BBWAA has managed not to royally screw up any of the 2002 season awards yet. They've named:

- Tony LaRussa and Mike Sciocia Managers of the Year, in the NL and AL, respectively. You could have guessed this one, given the Cardinals' success in the face of tremendous adversity and the Angels' success in the face of...well, being the Angels. During the Cardinals' NLCS loss to the Giants, LaRussa proved almost unquestionably that if he ever was a genious, he isn't any longer, but the playoffs aren't considered in the evaluation, so he won the Award anyway, his fourth.

- Jason Jennings and Eric Hinske the NL and AL Rookies of the Year, both deservingly so. Jason Jennings managed to win nine games at Coors Field and another seven on the road, toughing it out to a 9-4 record at home despite a 5.65 ERA. If he doesn't get the RoY award, he ought to at least get a Medal of Honor. No, not the one from Congress.

- Barry Zito the AL Cy Young Award winner, after going 23-5, 2.75, becoming the first AL pitcher not named Clemens or Martinez to win it since 1996. He paced in the Junior Circuit in starts and wins, was third in ERA and Strikeouts, and fifth in innings and walks allowed, but he made up for the walks by allowing only a .218 opponent batting average, fourth in the AL. Frankly Pedro Martinez was better in almost every respect when he pitched, but injuries and selfishness prevented him from racking up a fourth CYA. Five extra starts, 30+ inninings pitched and three wins are kinda hard to ignore when you're making this decision. A good choice, if I do say so myself.

And, in a surprising development, the BBWAA "made it anonymous" and picked:

- Randy Johnson as the NL Cy Young winner. This is no real surprise, except that he got all 32 first place votes. I figured at least some idiot would ignore the last three weeks of the season and pick Curt Schilling as #1, but alas, no one did. This is The Big Unit's fifth Cy Young, and fourth in a row, joining him with Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux as the only other member in those respective clubs. This, however, does not begin to describe how dominant El Rando has been over the last decade or so.

With the noted exception of missing most of 1996 with a back injury, RJ has essentially kicked ass at an almost unfathomable pace since 1992.

*He hes been the quintissential workhorse: Pitching 200+ innings and/or among the top 10 in the league in innings pitched every year. He has also led his league in IP and shutouts twice, Starts and Complete Games three times each.

*He has been the quintissential power pitcher: Pacing the Majors in strikeouts every year since 1992, except 1997, when The Rocket beat him by one measley K. Oh, but it took Roger fifty-one more innings to get that one. He led the majors in Strikeouts/9 IP every healthy year since 1992 (10 of 11 years), and he was second in the AL in 1991, with 13 fewer than Clemens, who pitched 70 more innings that year.

*He has piled up the wins, but not as quickly as you might think. Amazingly enough though, this is the first time in Johnson's career that he has ever led a league in wins. At the age of 39, he was by far the oldest first-time Major league leader in wins in the history of baseball.

While searching BaseballReference.com's database to verify this, I found that most of the first-time ML leaders in wins were right around 30 or 31, and that occasionally there was a 33 or 35 year old, but no one older than 36, until Johnson. This is mostly a confluence of circumstances, much like John Smoltz's success as a closer or Keanu Reeves' success as an 'actor': A pitcher who is very good at a somewhat old age, with great run support, while having been surrounded by pitchers on other teams who pitched better and/or got better run support than he did for the first 15 years of his career. I don't usually place too much stock in such things, as it makes it too easy to establish an argument that a player is/is not more wonderful/fantastic/smarter/faster/taller/a better cook than anyone ever has been before. For example, if you go to GodoftheMachine.com (a new link on your right that I meant to add a month ago and forgot about) and search for pitchers who threw less than 200 innings ina season and won more than 19 games, you'd find one: Bob Grim. Most of you are saying, "Who the hell is Bob Grim?" and you're right to question. He's nobody. A flash-in-the-pan who never won as many games or pitched as many innings again as he did in his rookie year, 1954.

The point of all this is: Friends, not only do we have the pleasure of being able to go to the park and see any of at least four different future Hall of Famers, two of whom can make pretty convincing arguments for themselves as the greatest pitchers of all time, but we now have pitchers who can give us that pleasure for longer than we are accustomed to seeing such excellence. Everyone keeps waiting for the other cleat to drop with RJ, and it just never does. He's fourth on the career strikeout list, and could end up in second or third place, depending on how long Roger Clemens hangs on.

It's unlikely that he'll derail the Ryan Express, as he'd hafta strikeout 300 batters/year until the end of the 2009 season. In other words, there's no room for him to slow down, if he wants that record. But he could possibly get to 300 wins, with continued success at pitching and run support, though he'd need almost 20 W's/year for the next four years or more, and I doubt that he'll still be pitching at 45. So let's enjoy him while we can.

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