Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Eighty-sixing Doc's Cy Young hopes

Vegas Watch has the Jays' Roy Halladay installed as the betting favourite for the American League Cy Young Award.

This begs the question whether the AL field is wide open enough that the sportswriters might have no choice but to vote for a pitcher whose great numbers aren't backed up by juicy won-loss record. Halladay's criminal lack of run support (but it's all gonna change, now that Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace are back!) has his record at just 8-6 entering his start tonight vs. Cincinnati. Guess how many starting pitchers have won the Cy Young Award without winning 20 games and/or at least two-thirds of their decisions?


Nineteen eighty-six it was. That was a season of Mike Scott, his split-finger fastball and scuffing allegations that never really went away. He put up a 2.22 ERA, 306 strikeouts, and five shutouts, including the first pennant-clinching no-hitter in baseball history. Pitching in the Houston Astrodome helped, but he wasn't a creature of his environment.

WHIP wasn't in common use in 1986, at least not for any nine-year-old baseball nut in the vicinity of Bath, Ontario, but Scott's was 0.92. That is the lowest in a roughly 20-year span in between the hitting-starved strike season of 1972 and Greg Maddux's prime in the mid-'90s.

What's less remembered -- here comes the punchline -- is that Scott wasn't a runaway Cy Young Award winner. He only edged the better-known Fernando Valenzuela 98-88 in the voting, getting 15 of the 24 first-place votes. Valenzuela was 21-11, but with a 3.14 ERA pitching in Dodger Stadium.

Scott was 18-10. The Astros averaged 3.98 runs in his 37 starts and were held to three or less in 22 of his 37 starts. That's actually better than the 3.56 per start Halladay has received.

The real smoking gun, though, might be that the Cy Young voters (and it's important not to see them as a collective here) would prefer to vote for a pitcher who's a known quantity. No one wants to look back in 10 years and say, "We gave a Cy Young Award to Cliff Lee?"

They want to make sure it's not an anomaly -- Scott was just a couple years removed from being released by a last-place New York Mets team.

That might be what Doc has going for him. He's the one big-name pitcher in the AL who's having a good season, even if that slipped a certain idiot's mind yesterday. The Cy Young voters are finely starting to put less emphasis on wins. That said, there still hasn't been a winner who didn't have a gaudy record. Brandon Webb was 16-8 when he won in 2006, but keep in mind, he actually tied for the National League lead in wins.

Halladay should form a strong case, plus the AL field is lacking. Who else is there, unless L.A. Angels closer Francisco Rodríguez sets a save record? Johan Santana's jump to the other league has left the AL bereft of bankable pitching stars. It's just a matter of when for Félix Hernández and Scott Kazmir. As far as this season goes, King Felix is in the same boat as Halladay -- good numbers but a so-so record (6-5, 2.83).

Meantime, many of the league's winningest pitchers -- Cleveland's Lee, the Angels' Joe Saunders, Texas' Vicente Padilla -- would seem hard-pressed to keep up their current place. Lee and Saunders were each in Triple-A for part of last season. The same goes for Oakland's Justin Duscherer, a converted reliever who's put up a 1.99 ERA (he's one inning short of qualifying for the ERA lead).

Who knows, perhaps Doc might win by default -- with a 16-12 record.

(As for the latest between J.P. Ricciardi and Adam Dunn, who cares? Sue me for actually wanting to talk about baseball, not who didn't phone whom and who is or isn't lying, probably Ricciardi. It's a fun story, though.

Incidentally, the Vegas Watch post went up on the same day that someone's fingers got ahead of his brain and typed that Shaun Marcum was the Jays' best candidate for the All-Star Game. Who was that A-hole? It was this A-hole.)

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