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August 28, 2003

Breaking Balls

AL Cy Young Race

by Derek Zumsteg

Esteban Loaiza's a fine candidate for the Cy Young Award this year...he's the right height, you see. He's 6'4", as all the cool kids are these days, as well as the last two winners of the AL Cy Young Award. On the other hand, he was born late in the year, and there hasn't been a late-born winner since Pedro Martinez in 2000.

That's pretty dumb, huh? Who cares how tall Esteban Loaiza is, or what color his eyes are? You've already spotted where I'm heading with this, so I'll give it up: speculation around the Cy Young beyond who should win it is counter-productive.

Like the MVP, the Cy Young speculation centers around a bunch of indicators of pitcher ability that every year reinforce the importance of those statistics. If everyone runs an article saying Tim Hudson can't win because he doesn't have the win total, it makes it less likely Hudson's going to get the award. Even if the effect seems small--voters making a choice between equally-qualified second-place candidates on their ballot, for instance--the knowledge that their vote might help a winner over the top can lead them to go with the bandwagon. And in turn, this leads to speculation on which candidates for each award have the needed momentum. They in turn get mentioned early and often on sports pages.

It's unfortunate that baseball coverage on the end-of-season awards has been reduced to the level of political coverage: Nick Johnson has a three-homer, two walk game? How will this sway MVP voters?

Toss aside all of that. Who's the AL Cy Young winner today?

I have trouble saying Esteban Loaiza. I mean really...Loaiza? I would never have predicted Loaiza would be a viable Cy Young candidate this year, not if you gave me 100 names to throw out there. Before this year, I'd never seen anything to make me think he could put a year like this together.

Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs once, and finished 9th in the MVP voting that year. What the heck, sometimes you get probed by the alien and sometimes you do the probing.

So check out these leading candidates. I dropped Mark Mulder out of contention because he's out for the season and won't be able to keep pace with the pack.


                VORP    SNWAR   Wins    ERA     K
Loaiza          68.3    6.3     16      2.51    158
Hudson          65.4    6.3     13      2.40    129
Pedro Martinez  55.8    5.6     10      2.29    166
Mike Mussina    49.9    4.3     14      3.18    164

I think it's a two-horse race here, between Loaiza and Hudson, with Pedro and Moose lagging behind.

Loaiza's a great candidate. He's started a ton of games, even if his outings are a little shorter than Hudson's. He's striking out guys by the score, and not walking the ones he doesn't set down on strikes. Loaiza's been luckier than some of his competitors in racking up the wins, but still, with that kind of K/BB ratio, he could have a bad defense behind him and get away with it. Hudson, by contrast, pitches in the Al Davis Reconfigurable Hole and is supported by the best defense in the majors, as ranked by Defensive Efficiency.

Hudson's real advantage over Loaiza, though, is that he's got an easy story for sympathy: if only the normally excellent Keith Foulke had been his usual self, Hudson would have 17 wins already, and be right back in it. You can't blame a pitcher for his bullpen, right?

Well, in the same way, don't you have to penalize Hudson for having a tighter defense behind him? And then doesn't that mean that we should try and take out run support, and other secondary factors?

Hudson and Loaiza are close, though, and what it may well come down to is who can have bigger outings down the stretch. If Hudson pitches twice against the Mariners, dominates, and that proves to be the margin of victory in the AL West, while the White Sox fall out of contention, the vote will fall to Hudson. Loaiza's in a hot pennant race as well, and will have the same chance to prove himself on a national stage in front of the voters. That these pennant races will determine the teams that continue into the post-season, and the winner of the best pitcher award, seems appropriate. It would be much less exciting to see someone for the Tigers compete against someone on the Devil Rays. Or at least, that's true for those of us who aren't in Detroit or Tampa.

If Loaiza wins, he'll be the most unlikely Cy Young winner in recent memory (Bob Welch in 1990 might come close). It's fortunate that this year, all of the superficial statistics--the wins, particularly--have come together to recognize a pitcher we can also honestly say deserves the award.

Related Content:  The Who

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