AL Cy Young: Why the debate?

There has been some talk about which pitcher is most deserving of the AL Cy Young. A number of names seem to have come up in most press coverage, most frequently those of Mulder, Schilling and Santana. A good indicator of the contenders seemed to be would be anybody in the top 5 in ERA (Although, I am by no means saying ERA without flaws but face it nobody without a top 5 ERA has a chance).

AL ERA Leaders (9.5.04)
1. Tim Hudson 2.95
1. Johan Santana 2.95
3. Curt Schilling 3.38
4. Jake Westbrook 3.42
5. Pedro Martinez 3.55

Mark Mulder appears nowhere on this list. In fact due to some recent troubles his ERA has jumped to a pedestrian 3.90. To be fair however one ought to look at some of his other numbers just in case. Opponents are hitting Mulder at a .250 clip and getting on base at a .320 clip. His K/BB ratio (one of my favorite stats) is at 3.19 which is a fair increase from last year, his K/9 declined slightly. All in all, Mulder has had a good season. However, the only reason his name is mentioned in the Cy Young race are his 17 wins. Although this is a important factor it isn't enough to overcome such a high ERA.

What about the other member of the Big Three in contention? The main rap against Hudson is that he simply has been injured too long during the season to deserve the award, and its a good rap. Comparing a guy with only 149 IP started to the other contenders simply doesn't make sense. Wait til next year.

Jake Westbrook is enjoying a breakout year with the resurgent Indians. Jake has held batters to a .251 average. However, with his record only at 12-7 and his ERA at 3.42 he is unlikely to overtake any of the other contenders and thus much more analysis is largely academic.

Pedro can also be disqualified; he has a excellent season, no doubt. For all the talk about his diminished status as a power pitcher he still averaged 9.45 K/9, opponents are hitting an anemic .232 off him. However, his ERA is the highest its been in years (since 1996 with the Expos) and the batting average is about .15 higher than last season. A good season, but one of Pedro's weakest in years and not worthy of another Cy Young Award.

Curt Schilling has recently come (along with Santana) to be considered one of the top two contenders for the award. At 18-6 his record is hard to argue with. However, in the world of Aho, win/loss record is just a factor and not the factor in selecting a worthy candidate. Curt is holding his opponents to a .251 average and unlike some of other names mentioned with almost the same stat he has done a better job of keeping men off the basepaths with a .279 OPS. Another factor is playing on a gutsy contender like the Sox, helping to pitch them into contention (and nearly past the Yankees thus far). His K/9 has declined by a significant margin but I don't hold the development of finesse over power against a guy.

Now if you've been reading this you might be wondering what criteria I'm using to determine the worthiness of these pitchers Cy Young chances. Well, folks its this simple; Johan Santana has made himself 2004's standard of excellence in AL pitching.

The numbers are just unreal. Since his league best ERA has already been posted I'll examine the lowest opponent batting averages in the majors.

1. Randy Johnson .192

2. Santana .196

3. Jason Schmidt .204

4. Oliver Perez .206

5. Al Leiter .215

You might have noticed that the only one in the American league is Johan. In fact the next best AL starter is Ted Lilly at .232, and he doesn't appear on the list until #11. Santana also has the lowest opponent OBP in the AL at .253, and the lowest ERA, and the most K's (by almost 30 over Pedro). What's more is Johan has been hottest when it counts the most: after the break. He is 8-0 with a 1.68 ERA since the All-Star hiatus. This is the man who has been AL pitcher of the month twice in a row. Johan's k/9 is an insane 10.34.

The only reason that there is any debate over Santana is his 16-6 record. Perhaps if Schilling was getting a win in every start I might consider that enough difference in their records. However to deny the award to Johan based on Schilling having two more wins is well, there is only one word for this ladies and gentlemen: idiocy. Only one man is leading in every significant pitching statistic other than wins (and 16 wins is pretty damn good with 6 starts to go).

That man is Johan Stantana.

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