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:
|Roy Oswalt (Astros)
|Chris Carpenter (Cardinals)
|Brandon Webb (D'Backs)
|Bronson Arroyo (Reds)
|Carlos Zambrano (Cubs)
|John Smoltz (Braves)
|Derek Lowe (Dodgers)
|Aaron Harang (Reds)
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'
- 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
- 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.
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