09 November 2004

Boy of Summer 2004 NL Cy Young Award

This race is easily the toughest to call. Roger Clemens came out of retirement, granted, a retirement that lasted only slightly longer than some episodes of the Simpsons, to post an 18-4 record for the NL Wild Card Houston Astros. He put up a 2.98 ERA and 218 strikeouts, both of which were his best numbers since his 1998 Cy Young Award Season in Toronto. But Clemens' ERA and strikeouts were both "only" 5th in the NL, and the man didn't complete a start all year. Call me kooky, but I think if we're going to say that a starting pitcher was the best in the league, he ought to be able to finish the job once in a while.

If you're into guys who finish the job, maybe Livan Hernandez is your guy. Don't laugh. He led the majors in innings (255) and complete games (9, including two shutouts), placed in the top ten in the NL in strikeouts, and had a pretty good 3.60 ERA, winning eleven games for the lousy Montreal Expos. Of course, he also lost 15 games, and walked more batters than only six other National League pitchers, so maybe he's not such a good choice.

Jason Schmidt had three shutouts, leading the majors, struck out more batters (251) and pitched more innings than Clemens, with only a slightly higher ERA (3.20) and just as many wins. But his excellent season was bracketed by two months (April and September, silly) in which he had an ERA over 5.50. Not exactly the model of consistency. Speaking of consistency, maybe Roy Oswalt is a better choice. He won 20 games to pace the Senior Circuit, with a very good 3.49 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 237 innings. Of course, it sure helped that the Astros scored over six runs per game when Oswalt pitched, so it's hard to give him an award for what they did.

The Brewers' Ben Sheets pitched 237 innings as well, striking out 264 batters while walking only 32 (!). Talk about a control freak. Sheets had horrendous luck, though, getting less run support than all but two qualified pitchers in the majors, making it tough to muster up a vote for his lackluster 12-14 record, even though it comes with those gaudy strikeout/walk totals. Which brings us to...

...Randy Johnson. Johnson pitched for the worst team in the majors, the 111-loss Diamondbacks, and got the fifth worst run-support in the national League, and yet still managed to win 16 games, though he also lost 14. His ERA may have been second to Jake Peavey, but Peavey barely qualified for the ERA title, with 166 innings under his belt, while Johnson trailed only Livan Hernandez in that department. He led the majors in strikeouts with 290, a healthy margin over his closest competitors, and led the NL in WHIP, opponent batting, and numerous other categories.

A pitcher's job is to pitch, not to hit. Nobody expects them so score or drive in runs. It's nice when you get a Mike Hampton or a Jason Marquis. A pitcher who can hit is like a firstbaseman who can play defense or a toy in the Cracker-Jack box: it's a nice little bonus, but it's not the main reason you got it. ANd Johnson accomplished that main reason like nobody else in the National League in 2004, in spite of the Eight Stooges playing along side him.

If I have my way (not that I ever do), The Big Unit will have to clear some space on The Big Wall Unit for another Cy Young trophy.

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