12 November 2004

Curse of the AL Cy Young

Minnesota Twins' left-hander Johan Santana won the American League Cy Young Award for 2004.

Should the Twins be worried?

Specifically, should Santana, the Twins and Minnesota fans be worried that Santana will see a significant drop in performance next year?

In a word? You bet your bippy!

Let me introduce you to a couple of friends of mine:

CYA 33 6 236 189 16 63 248 21 6 2.67
Johan 34 1 228 156 24 54 265 20 6 2.61
CYA+1 27 3 181 152 16 58 173 13 7 3.33

CYA is an average of the last nine American League Cy Young Award winners, from 1995 to 2003, a line almost eerily similar to Santana's performance this year, which is the second line. The third line, CYA+1, is the average performance of these 1995-2003 AL Cy Young Award winners in the year immediately after they won the award. Fewer starts, fewer innings, fewer wins, a higher ERA, a lower strikeout rate and higher walk and home-run rates. Not a terrible line, by any means, but a huge drop in performance, on average.

I only used the 1995-2003 seasons because the severely-strike-shortened 1994 season would have thrown things off a bit. But if you look back at the half-dozen or so AL Cy Young winners before 1994, many of them exhibited a marked drop in performance the next year as well. Jack McDowell, Bob Welch, Bret Saberhagen, Frank Viola, LaMarr Hoyt and others have all had a pretty tough time following up their own acts. I only used the American League because the National League Cy Young Award winners have not shown the same drop off, most of them repeating as winners at least once (Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson). I also stayed away from the NL because a relief pitcher screws up the averages a lot too, even a relief pitcher who strikes out 137 batters.

What's it all mean? (Surprise!) I don't really know. A lot of it is probably just a simple regression to the mean. In other words, what goes up must come down, or in the case of ERA, the reverse. But it's troubling. Mostly, it's troubling because even though Santana doesn't pitch for my favorite team, it's still a lot of fun to watch him make mincemeat out of his opposition, and I'd hate to think that he's doomed to something like a 13-8 record with an ERA around 4.00 next year.

Furthermore, at least since the three-division format started, only two teams boasting a Cy Young winner in one season have made the playoffs the following year with that pitcher on the roster. One was Roger Clemens, who won the Award in 2001 with New York, and the other was Barry Zito, whose A's teammates won their division in 2003 even though he won only 14 games in his encore to his 23-win 2002 season.

Randy Johnson won the Award in 1995, and the Mariners missed the playoffs in '96 as the Big Unit pitched only 61 innings. Toronto had three straight Cy Young Awards from 1996-1998, but still hasn't seen postseason play since they won it all in 1993. Roger Clemens, the recipient of the 1998 award, had to change teams to get to the postseason, which he did with the Yankees in 1999, winning his forst World Series. This remains the only AL team to win it all with a reigning Cy Young winner on the roster. Pedro Martinez won it in 1999 and 2000, but the Red Sox missed the playoffs in both 2000 and 2001. Roy Halladay won it last year, and the Blew Jays did just that as they finished dead last in the AL East in 2004, worse than the Devil Rays! For shame!

Thankfully we've seen a lot of trends bucked this year:

*The Red Sox' World Series drought,
*That Washington Redskins-losing/incumbent-political-party-losing thing,
*Hollywood finally dropping the sequel/remake crap and going back to making good, original films

...wait a minute, I may have dreamed that last one. Anyway, we now know that History doesn't always dictate the future, and that those pitchers' declining performances were actually caused by a gnome or small dwarf living in their stomachs. No, wait, that was just Kevin Brown.

So let's all hope that Johan Santana can excise his demons, or gnomes, and beat the Curse of the AL Cy Young.

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10 November 2004

Boy of Summer 2004 AL Cy Young Award

In 2003, Johan Santana finally escaped the Twins' bullpen and showed the baseball world what he could do. An off-season elbow cleanup left him a little tentative for a couple of months to start the 2004 season, but as he settled in, around mid-June, Santana made sure that American League hitters never would settle in against him.

Surely, a batter needs to be on his toes against a lefty who throws a 95 mph heater, a knee-buckling curve and a change-up that, if you saw it in a video game, you'd write to the game's creators and tell them to fix it because of the lack of realism. His last four months look like some of the best work Sandy Koufax ever performed, and Koufax had the help of a pitcher's park in a pitcher's era.

Santana faced one of the most prolific run-scoring leagues in history and made them look like fools. He led the AL in strikeouts, WHIP, and ERA, all by substantial margins. His 20 wins fell one short of Curt Schilling for the AL lead, but it should also be noted that Schilling had a LOT of help, as the Red Sox scored over 7.5 runs per game with him pitching, easily the best in the majors. Schilling's postseason heroics, magnificent though they were, cannot be considered in this race, as regular season awards cannot rely on postseason performances.

If Santana doesn't get the Cy Young Award, they should stop handing it out entirely.


By the way, brandy-spankin new blog: Braves New World, by Matthew Crowder. Matthew's blog title looks remarkably like thew title of a post I used almost a year ago. Matthew, I'll be expecting royalty checks shortly. Paypal's good. So's your website. Good luck.

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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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08 November 2004

Boy of Summer 2004 NL MVP

With all due respect to Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre, is there really any serious argument to be made for an NL MVP other than the San Francisco Giants' left fielder? Pujols had a remarkable season. He's the best hitter on the best team in the National League, and at the age of 24, with the most impressive four-year start to a career that anyone has ever seen, Pujols should be winning MVP awards long after Barry Bonds has retired.

But not yet. Bonds' 45 homers did not quite lead the league, as Pujols, Adam Dunn (46 each) and Beltre (48) all had more. But each of those players had about 200 additional at-bats in which to hit their homers, while Bonds was lucky if he saw one good pitch to hit per night. He was walked an astonishing 232 times, 34 more than his own record set two years ago. The league so feared Bonds that he was intentionally walked 120 times, more often than anybody else in MLB was even un-intentionally walked. Mickey Mantle was only intentionally walked 126 times in his career.

Bonds won his second batting title, hitting .362, 15 points ahead of his closest competitor, Todd Helton, who had the help of Coors Field for half his games. His .609 on-base percentage, an all-time record, was 140 points better than Helton, his closest competitor, and marked the fourth consecutive year he's led the NL in that category. Ditto for slugging percentage, though his .812 clip marked only the fourth highest season in history. Boo-hoo. His 1.422 OPS also set a record, and outpaced Helton's Coors-inflated mark by about 350 points. There was, literally, no competition for him.

The Giants, however, did not make the playoffs, and some people like their MVPs to come from playoff teams. They finished a mere two games behind Los Angeles though, competing for the NL West until the very last weekend of the season, during which he went 0-for-3 with seven walks. That's right, three at-bats in a weekend, as the Dodgers refused to let him beat them.

It wasn't for a lack of effort on Bonds' part that the Giants missed the playoffs. He hit .349 in September, but with only 13 RBI, as his teammates tanked down the stretch. He even struck out 12 times, almost twice his total from any other month in 2004, apparently trying to make something happen for his team. This is not a selfish player.

This is a guy who wants to win and did the best he could with a weak supporting cast to get to the playoffs. According to Lee Sinins' Baseball Encyclopedia, Bonds had 152 Runs Created Above Average, which easily paced the majors (Helton was second with 78). This happened also to be exactly the number of RCAA that the entire Cardinals team had. The Giants were +90 overall, meaning that the rest of Barry's team racked up a nifty negative 62 combined. Put an average left fielder in his place and the Giants are on a par with the Expos and Rockies. With him, they had a shot at playoff glory until the second to last day of the regular season, when "closer" Dustin Hermanson coughed up four runs in the ninth inning of a game the Giants led 3-0. Hey, SuperMan can't do everything himself.

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06 November 2004

Boy of Summer 2004 AL MVP

Let me tell you a little about my pick for the American League Most Valuable Player of 2004:

* He did not win a batting title. Ichiro Suzuki had an historic season on a last place team, and even if he'd had the same season for a division-winner, he would not be my MVP. A singles hitter, even an extraordinary one, playing an easy defensive position will almost never get my vote.

* He did not lead the league in RBI. Miguel Tejada had an excellent season on a mediocre team, but he also had about 50 more plate appearances with runners on base than any other MVP contender in the AL. RBI have much more to do with circumstances than talent.

* He did not lead the AL in homers. Paul Konerko and a couple of idiots had a handful more.

* He did not lead the league in walks, falling well off Eric Chavez's pace of 95. (Interestingly, for the first time in a fuill season since 1976, the league leader did not have 100 bases on balls. I guess Barry Bonds took them all.)

He didn't have the best OBP, Slugging %, OPS, the most doubles, triples, or steals.

He did lead the league in Runs Scored. By one.

Other than that, all he did was win. All he did was to take a team that had a losing record a year ago, and carry them to the playoffs, beating out not one, but two very good teams for a division title.

Their big-name-free-agent "ace" had an ERA over 5.00. They got 118 games and fewer than 400 at-bats combined out of their starting thirdbaseman and starting DH, not to mention barely two-thirds of a season from their starting centerfielder and cleanup hitter. This team's firstbaseman was such a bad hitter that his OPS among AL regulars with at least 450 plate appearances at that position was better than only John Olerud, who was so bad that a last-place team released him in mid-season. Talk about having your work cut out for you.

Vlad the MVPer Posted by Hello

But Vladimir Guererro did just that, and more. He took his bat and his helmet, left the concerns over his gimpy back in the clubhouse, and went out every day to prove that the Anaheim Angels' 5-year, $70 million investment was not a waste. He picked up the team in September, hitting ten homers, winning AL Player of the Month honors and virtually holding open the door to the playoffs for his teammates, the Angels' first division title since 1986. All for the bargain-basement price of $11 million this year. Chan Ho Park This in the Right Field Stands made $13 million.

Oh, and he put fannies in the seats. Almost 3.4 million people came out to Edison Field this year, many of them to see their new star right fielder. That increase of over 300,000 from last year set an Angels' record. Most Valuable, indeed. In more ways than one.

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