Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CC for Cy Young

Sorry for the hit and run - fantasy draft starts in 14 minutes...

Why CC Sabathia should win the National League Cy Young award

Steve Aschburner, SI.com

Had someone bothered to create and name Denton True (Cy) Young's award after him while he still was pitching, he might have won enough of them to make Roger Clemens feel like LaMarr Hoyt, Steve Bedrosian or another of the one-and-pretty-much-doners.

After all, Clemens won seven Cy Young awards without ever winning more than 24 games in a season, completing more than 18 or logging as many as 282 innings. Young had a dozen seasons in which he won at least 25 (five years of 30 or more). Eleven times, he started at least 40 games and nine times, he completed at least 40. He averaged 334 innings across his 22 seasons in the bigs.

Forunately for the hurlers who have followed in Young's footsteps and hope to win his eponymous award, no one is expecting them to match those outlandish numbers. That shift in what constitutes a "great" pitching season explains how sixteen victories, a 3.48 earned run average, or a 2-3 record in a mere 82 innings could earn Brandon Webb (2006), Bartolo Colon (2005) and Eric Gagne (2003), respectively, a Cy Young Award in recent years. Indeed, this isn't a quantitative honor but a qualitative one.

All of which means that CC Sabathia, if he and his Milwaukee Brewer teammates maintain their current pace, ought to win the NL Cy Young Award this season, which would make him the first pitcher to win the Cy in back-to-back leagues in consecutive seasons.

Here are five more reasons why:

1. There is no set criteria, so why not?

Don't get your annual awards confused here. The Cy Young Award was created before the 1956 season by commissioner Ford Frick to honor baseball's "best pitcher.'' Period. For its first 11 years, the lords of the game didn't even distinguish by league, presenting just one trophy; beginning in 1967, it was split in two and awarded to the best NL and AL pitchers. Again, period.

Therefore, the Cy Young doesn't carry the extra baggage of the Most Valuable Player Award, which allegedly requires voters to gauge the intangible of a candidate's contribution to team success. The Cy Young, as defined, carries no "value'' component. Neither does it require a wire-to-wire, Opening Day-till-October presence. It simply is supposed to go to the best pitcher in the league. Is Sabathia the best pitcher in the NL? Has he been for what is going on two months?

2. All pitchers aren't created equal

Eight relief pitchers have won the Cy Young Award over the past 34 years, beginning with the Dodgers' Mike Marshall in 1974, despite the existence of the Fireman of the Year award which exists specifically for relievers. Nine pitchers have won the Most Valuable Player award since 1956, even with the Cy Young and Firemen awards available to honor them.

Game-over guys such as Dennis Eckersley, Willie Hernandez and Rollie Fingers won both the MVP and Cy Young honors by pitching only in the most important portions of ball games. Is it really that big a leap to cast a vote for someone who absolutely warps the race for a postseason berth for three full months -- in essence, by pitching only in the most important portion of the baseball season? Sabathia, since being acquired by Milwaukee on July 7, has started 10 games, completed five of them, struck out 74 in 79 innings and posted an 8-0 record with a 1.59 ERA. The Brewers also won his no-decision start Sunday against Pittsburgh, after he gave up one run in six innings, whiffing five and walking none.

3. There is precedent for this situation

Rick Sutcliffe is the name mentioned most often here. The red-headed right-hander went 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 155 innings pitched after being acquired by the Cubs from the Indians in June 1984. Dwight Gooden, Joaquin Andujar and Mario Soto all had more victories that season. Bruce Sutter logged 45 saves with a 1.54 ERA. And all of them spent the entire season with their respective teams. Yet Sutcliffe blew them away in the balloting with 120 points (runner-up Gooden had 45).

There have been others who earned votes with strong half seasons after switching leagues. In 1998, Randy Johnson, who went 10-1, 1.28 in 11 starts after being traded from Seattle to Houston, finished seventh in the NL balloting. In 1987, Doyle Alexander, who went to Detroit from Atlanta in mid-August and went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA to help push the Tigers to the AL East title, finished fourth in the AL voting.

In fact, what was Fingers' Cy Young in 1981 if not a partial-season version, due to the strike that gutted the season in the middle of the schedule? After going 1-2 with 12 saves and three blown saves in the "first half'' he went 5-1 with 16 saves as Milwaukee earned a share of the playoffs in the AL East in the second half.

Far more common are pitchers who take a couple months to reach their full Cy Young form, and steal the award from the early favorite. Sabathia deserves to be in that group, regardless of where he began the season.

4. Get over the sanctity of the leagues stuff

Switching leagues makes performing at an award-winning level more difficult, not less so. It's harder to dominate an unfamilar league with unfamiliar opponents and surroundings and no preparation time. Count me in the minority who believed that Mark McGwire -- back in our gullible, digging-the-long-ball days in 1997 -- deserved to be a more viable MVP candidate, well, somewhere than he was. All McGwire did that season was club 58 home runs and drive in 123. Yet he finished 16th in balloting for the NL MVP and didn't rank even one 10th place vote in the AL because he got traded from Oakland to St. Louis at the end of July. Larry Walker and Ken Griffey Jr., the MVP winners in the NL and AL that year, have nothing to apologize for. But when someone can lose out by doing nothing wrong and simply getting traded, the system does.

You have to take the bad with the good here, of course. That means that Sabathia, if the Cleveland portion of his season counted, would be 14-8 with a 2.95 ERA. Right now, that's probably not good enough to unseat Arizona's Brandon Webb (19-4, 2.74). But give Sabathia the month of September, with every start counting in the Brewers' NL Central and wild card chases, and he might overtake the Diamondbacks' right-hander.

5. Timing and history can make a powerfully persuasive argument

Two pitchers in Brewers history have won the Cy Young Award. Fingers got it in 1981 as the finishing piece to an offensive powerhouse (Harvey's Wallbangers) otherwise ready to win. The next season, Pete Vuckovich, his 3.34 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP beat a lot of prettier competition -- Jim Palmer, Dave Stieb, Sutcliffe -- because his guile and tenacity earned him an 18-6 record, even with a bum shoulder late in the season, and helped earn the Brewers their only full-season division title.

Sabathia might end up posting numbers even more impressive than either of those men, while helping Milwaukee to only its third postseason experience and first since that 1982 team. That alone makes him deserving of serious consideration.

Convinced yet? Let's watch it play out over the next month. Just for the record, too, let's not eliminate Rich Harden, the Cubs' counter to Milwaukee's acquisition of Sabathia. Since arriving from Oakland, Harden has gone 4-1 with a 1.47 ERA, 70 strikeouts in 49 innings and a dazzling 0.857 WHIP. Given another month, he could end up as the NL's best pitcher -- and that is what the Cy Young award is all about.

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