Sigh Young

On September 27, 2004, the top two starting pitchers in the National League went head-to-head. The home team’s starter (PITCHER A) went 7 strong innings, allowing just 1 run while striking out 10 batters in earning the win. The losing pitcher (PITCHER B) also notched 7 innings, gave up just 1 earned run and whiffed 8. He was undone by his defense as he allowed 2 unearned runs.

These two pitchers dominated the league. What follows is a list of each pitchers NL ranking in a variety of pitching categories for the 2004 season.

           IP  WHIP  K  K/BB  ERA  Opp OPS  Win %  Run Sup
Pitcher A   2     1  1     2    2        1     28    41/45
Pitcher B   3     2  2     1    3        4     39    44/45

These two starters fairly dominated the National League in every significant pitching category except one — win percentage. Interestingly, win percentage is the only one of the statistics listed above that depends as much on how many runs are scored to support a pitcher as the number of runs that pitcher surrenders. In addition, a weak bullpen can certainly negatively impact a pitcher’s wins. In the case of these two aces, however, it’s clear that most of the blame lies with their teams’ (lack of) offensive performance.

           Run Support
Pitcher A        41/45
Pitcher B        44/45

Anyone who has ever listened to sports radio knows that the establishment  in virtually every sport – think certain players just “know how to win.” Analysts cite intangibles, heart, grit, and myriad other non-quantifiable attributes that make certain players into winners. It is frequently this logic that leads “Joe from Staten Island” and “Chris from Queens” to announce confidently that each would rather have Derek Jeter than Barry Bonds. No matter that the latter’s numbers are other-worldly, he’s never won. On the other hand, where Derek Jeter is concerned, the numbers purportedly don’t tell the whole story. The analysis is simple: swap the performances of each player for the years in question. If you’d like to add a win to Jeter’s value because he plays a premium defensive position (although typically not too well), be my guest. If you think that Barry’s ornery personality is a drag on his clubhouse and costs his team a win or two every year, feel free to subtract from his value. What you’ll find is that the Yankees championship teams go from great to greater, while the Giants of the same vintage go from postseason contention to mediocrity.

Derek Jeter’s best attribute has always been the team assembled around him. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for either of the pitcher described above. Who is going to win the NL Cy Young? Going into the last part of the season, I would have placed my money on San Francisco’s Jason Schmidt. He was dominant before sustaining an injury that led to his compiling a 5.53 ERA in September. In my estimation, the likely winner will be Roger Clemens, who at age 42, enjoyed an excellent season. He notched 18 wins against just 4 losses, maintained an ERA below 3.00 and fanned more than 200 batters. Although Clemens posted numbers worthy of consideration, I suspect that he wouldn’t be included in the conversation were he to have posted a record of 16-14 or 12-14. Those records belong to Pitcher A and Pitcher B respectively. Who are they? Randy Johnson and Ben Sheets. Johnson toiled for the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that won the fewest games in the NL. Sheets could hardly call himself lucky though as his Milwaukee Brewers were the second most inept team in the NL. And for good measure, they played even worse when he took the mound.

Who should win the NL Cy Young? I don’t know that I can make a case for Johnson over Sheets or vice versa. Each was outstanding and their numbers are very close. I suppose if I were forced to choose, I would select Johnson as 1A and Sheets as 1B. Following them, I’d rank Schmidt, Clemens, Carlos Zambrano, Oliver Perez (worst Run Support in the NL), Roy Oswalt, and Jake Peavy.

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