Fortunately, when there are no 20-game winners in a season, the voters tend to look at more indicative measures of success than just wins. So let's take a gander at the top candidates, sorted by ERA:
|Name||W-L||ERA||IP||Hits Allowed||K/BB||WHIP||SLG||HR||Unearned Runs||DP|
|Roy Oswalt (Astros)||15-8||2.98||220.7||220||166/38||1.17||.403||18||3||27|
|Chris Carpenter (Cardinals)||15-8||3.09||221.7||194||184/43||1.07||.364||21||5||20|
|Brandon Webb (D'Backs)||16-8||3.10||235.0||216||178/50||1.13||.361||15||10||36|
|Bronson Arroyo (Reds)||14-11||3.29||240.7||222||184/64||1.19||.397||31||10||19|
|Carlos Zambrano (Cubs)||16-7||3.41||214.0||162||210/115||1.29||.351||20||10||19|
|John Smoltz (Braves)||16-9||3.49||232.0||221||211/55||1.19||.393||23||3||22|
|Derek Lowe (Dodgers)||16-8||3.63||218.0||221||123/55||1.27||.360||14||9||30|
|Aaron Harang (Reds)||16-11||3.76||234.3||242||216/56||1.27||.433||28||11||25|
Okay, it looks tight. Zambrano has the best winning percentage here despite playing for the worst team in the National League. However, he also walked twice as many batters as just about anyone else on this list. Oswalt and Carpenter posted the best overall numbers, but did not log as many innings as some of the other workhorse candidates. Webb, Arroyo, and Harang each posted fantastic numbers in extremely tough ballparks for pitchers, but they each also allowed a bunch of unearned runs. If Webb had allowed as many unearned runs as Oswalt, for example, his ERA would jump to 3.37. An official scorer's decision here or there can really affect a pitcher's ERA.
With numbers this close, we need to look at some intangibles:
- Chris Carpenter threw five complete games, which is important since Jason Isringhausen struggled as the Cardinals' closer for much of the year. On the other hand, Carpenter allowed six runs in each of his final two starts, and was as responsible as anyone else for the Redbirds' near-historic collapse.
- Zambrano actually went 16-5 since the end of April, and helped himself win with six jacks on the year. But those facts seem more pertinent to an MVP Award argument than a Cy Young Award argument.
- Derek Lowe was actually set to pitch the final game of the season on three days rest if the Dodgers' playoff chances were in jeopardy, but since home field matchups were all that was at stake, they saved him for game 1 of the NLDS. Lowe had gone 8-1 since the end of July, and sinkerballers generally do well on three days rest. Had he gotten that extra win and been the only pitcher in the league to win 17, he might have gotten serious consideration.
- John Smoltz was his usual clutch self, holding opponents to a .192 batting average with RISP and 2 outs. There's no weakness in his numbers or in his game. A solid, solid pitcher.
- Arroyo and Harang are flyball pitchers in a homerun park. It's amazing that they averaged fewer than five runs allowed per game, much less put up Cy Young-type numbers. They, along with Brandon Webb, gave their teams exactly what they needed: quality innings, and lots of them. Webb's league-leading 36 induced double plays also loom large in evaluating his worth, as they got his team out of a lot of jams.
- A model of consistency, Roy Oswalt did not have a month with an ERA over 3.72. He kept his Astros hanging around until the return of Roger Clemens, and even turned it up a notch for the Astros' improbable September run.
In my mind, it really comes down to Oswalt and Webb, and I have to give Oswalt the slight edge because of his consistency. Minute Maid Park is no Chase Field, but it still isn't a real great place to pitch in, and Oswalt made it work for him. Either pitcher would be a good choice, and Oswalt's mine.
How will the voting actually go? Well, Harang and Arroyo are going to split consideration among the few voters who are either Cincinnati fans or who actually take home ballpark into account. Derek Lowe doesn't have those sexy strikeout numbers that voters like. Smoltz and Zambrano will both get consideration, but probably not enough because of their slightly higher ERA totals. I don't expect the voters to give out back-to-back Awards to Carpenter without his really separating himself in the second season.
So again, we're left with Brandon and Roy. Will voters go with the extra win or the lower ERA? In this case, they'll opt for the lower ERA because that sub-3.00 ERA looks oh-so-pretty and no one reached that magic mark of 20. But if Webb does pull it off, neither he nor his fans should consider it a cheapened award. You can make a great case for either Oswalt or Webb's Cy Young credentials, and both pitchers are great ones to build a franchise around.
Read more from Keith Glab at www.baseballevolution.com