|Thursday, September 19
Wins, innings pitched matter most toward Cy Young
By Joe Morgan
Special to ESPN.com
People want to draw comparisons between the Cy Young Award and the Most Valuable Player Award. They think the two awards are the same, except one is for pitchers only and the other is for players and an occasional pitcher.
But there is another difference: A team's placement in the standings is more important in the MVP voting than it is in the Cy Young voting. The Cy Young is more of an individual award than one tied to team performance.
Consider Steve Carlton's season in 1972, when he went 27-10. He was the unanimous National League Cy Young winner, but his team -- the Phillies -- won only 59 games and had the NL's worst record.
When I evaluate Cy Young candidates, I first look at how consistent they are over the course of the season and their value to their team. Carlton more than proved his worth; he accounted for 46 percent of his team's victories.
Statistically, wins mean the most to me. After victories, I look at innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts -- in that order. While wins are the most important, I will use the other three statistics in a tiebreaker situation between two pitchers.
Fans tend to value ERA as the most important statistic for a pitcher. But ERA is like a batting average; it's a personal number. Pitchers can have low ERAs and not win many games. Cincinnati's Elmer Dessens has the 10th-best ERA in the majors at 3.00. Does that make him baseball's 10th-best pitcher? He only has a 7-8 record in 28 starts.
If a pitcher has a low ERA and consistently loses low-scoring games, like 2-1 or 3-2, it means the opposing pitchers are outpitching him. That is not a criticism; the pitcher may be pitching great. But he is pitching well enough to lose, not to win.
Everything in baseball is about production, not percentages. I view pitching statistics in the context of a hitter. ERA and batting average are percentages that don't help a team win. However, wins and innings pitched are productive numbers for a pitcher just as RBIs and runs scored are for a hitter.
A pitcher's winning percentage matters, but it depends on how many innings he has pitched. I would rather have a pitcher who is 17-5 than one who is 7-0. Not only did the first pitcher win more games, but he has also logged more innings to win 17 games. The more innings a pitcher throws, the more he helps his team because he is taking pressure off the rest of the staff.
AL: Zito's to lose
Zito, who earned his 22nd victory Wednesday against Anaheim, has not only won the most games in the American League, but he has also won tough games in the A's race for the AL West title. He has gone 11-2 since the All-Star break, earned four victories during Oakland's 20-game win streak, and recently stopped the A's three-game losing streak with a two-hit shutout. He has proven what a Cy Young winner really is.
His two closest contenders are Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez of Boston. Lowe has been less consistent in the second half than he was in the first half. And Martinez has skipped a few starts in September and hasn't pitched as many as seven innings in more than three weeks. While Zito has helped fuel the A's second-half surge, neither Lowe nor Martinez have been able to keep the Red Sox in the playoff race.
The only way Zito should be denied the Cy Young is if he were to lose badly in his last two starts and either Lowe, Martinez or Anaheim's Jarrod Washburn were to win in spectacular fashion. Otherwise, Zito should win, with Lowe second, Martinez third and Washburn fourth. Lowe has won more games and has pitched more innings than both Martinez and Washburn.
NL: Schilling, Johnson or both?
However, if I were forced to make a decision, I would take Schilling. He has been the more consistent pitcher all season. When he won a league-high 14 games in the first half, he got the Diamondbacks off to the start they needed to take control of the NL West. And he has sustained his excellence throughout the season, going undefeated in three separate months.
Houston's Roy Oswalt (19-6) had a fine season and should finish third in the voting. A victory over St. Louis last Friday would have put him in the Cy Young race with Schilling and Johnson, but he got a no-decision and the Astros lost the game to fall further behind in the NL Central. In another year, he would be a deserving winner -- just not this year.
No closers allowed
In today's game, closers pitch only the ninth inning 90 percent of the time. Not only do they pitch just one inning, they also always have a lead when they enter the game. Meanwhile, a starting pitcher has to labor for five innings to earn a victory. If a dominant closer meant as much as a dominant starting pitcher, the Diamondbacks would make either Johnson or Schilling a closer, and teams would never touch them. Either pitcher would have the same type of season Smoltz is having.
There have been worthy exceptions among closers. When Mike Marshall (1974), Sparky Lyle (1977), Bruce Sutter (1979), Rollie Fingers (1981) and Willie Hernandez (1984) won Cy Young awards, all three pitched a lot of innings and sometimes closed games having to pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Without a single start, Marshall pitched 208 1/3 innings in 1974, more than all but 14 pitchers that season.
At the same time, I disagreed when Dennis Eckersley won the award in 1992 because he only pitched 80 innings in 69 games. While it has taken Smoltz 70 games to pitch 76 innings this season, Fingers pitched 78 innings in only 47 games during the strike-shortened '81 season.
I may not view the game the way others do. But during my major-league career, I realized the value on a daily basis of a starting pitcher, especially one who could handle a heavy workload.
My objective is not to belittle what today's closers do. No single player has meant more to the Yankees during their stretch of World Series teams than Mariano Rivera. But again, it's about production. A closer pitches one inning with a lead to earn a save. A starter pitches at least five innings to both secure and hold a lead for the victory. You do the math.
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan works as an analyst for ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and also contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.