WTNYAugust 28, 2003
2004 NL Awards
By Bryan Smith

I recently got into an argument with a friend on two National League awards, the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year, and have decided to write about it. I should mention that I chose Eric Gagne and Brandon Webb, respectively, while he chose John Smoltz and Dontrelle Willis. This content is justifiable on this site simply because its my prediction of the award. Enjoy...

1st- Rookie of the Year- Brandon Webb vs. Dontrelle Willis

A look at the overall basic numbers:

Webb: 22GS 8-6 113H/143.2IP 2.51ERA 141K/51BB
Willis: 20GS 11-4 109H/118.1IP 3.35ERA 106K/41BB

These translate to these stats:

Webb: 6.4IP/GS 1.14WHIP 2.76K/BB 7.08H/9 8.83K/9
Willis: 5.9IP/GS 1.27WHIP 2.59K/BB 8.29H/9 8.06K/9

We know that Webb is more of a workhorse, going almost two-thirds of an innings more per start. The K/BB and K/9 ratios are too close to count against Willis, but he is well behind in both WHIP and hits per nine innings. Let's see who is steadier by analyzing their month-by-month splits:

Webb May: 1-1 2.65 28/34 24/12
Webb June: 2-1 2.06 23/35 23/8
Webb July: 3-2 3.23 38/39 44/9
Webb August: 1-2 2.60 21/27.2 39/20

So, he has been very consistent throughout all of his months, not taking any serious hits in that ERA. His august walk total is nearly doubled of the next highest, but he has figured out the strikeout more in July and August. Now to Willis...

Willis May: 3-1 3.72 31/29 34/12
Willis June: 5-0 1.04 25/34.2 28/8
Willis July: 2-1 2.94 29/33.2 31/12
Willis August: 1-2 7.29 24/21 13/9

What? A 7.29 ERA in the month of August? Both Willis and Marlin brass are blaming this on Willis' constant attention, and say that he's tired. His first three months were sensational, especially a June when he really came after hitters. But in August his ERA, H/9, K/9, and K/BB are all very far off.

So, both were very steady pitchers, although Willis has started to tail off. A good September will keep him in this race, but Webb is clearly ahead. Webb was ranked #1 on Baseball Prospectus' steadiest pitcher statistic. There are a couple of things that point in Willis' favor: his high win total, outstanding charisma, and attendance charts.

First, the wins. There's no question that an 11-4 record is better than that of 8-6. But Webb has a better ERA, and is the 6th unluckiest pitcher in all of baseball. And despite all the smiles and media attention, there are people taking notice of Webb. In this week's Sports Weekly, Bobby Cox calls Webb the best starter on his team, and basically states he wouldn't think twice about the Rookie of the Year award. Remember, there was one point this month that Webb used his sinker to get 73 consecutive outs before a flyball putout. He's the type of pitcher you consider bringing a fifth infielder for, and has the best sinker in the Majors (better than Lowe and Brown).

Finally, you can't argue with attendance. Here's a look at his last five starts, and the attendance of those games:

7/30 ARI= 37,735
8/6 @STL= 31,606
8/11 LA= 20,288
8/16 SD= 26,104
8/22 @SF= 42,244

So, in his last five games, Willis has brought an average of 31,595.4 people to the stadium. The Marlins were desperate for fans before his arrival, now have the best marketing tool in Flordia. In one start against the Braves, Peter Gammons reported it was the most watched non-playoff baseball game in five years. Willis is helping baseball, but is that enough to win an award for?

Finally, some oddball stats:

- On Baseball Prospectus, Webb is listed as the 4th best starting pitcher with a 5.3 SNWAR
- Michael Woolner reports that the cumulative OPS of batters faced has been .739
- Woolner also writes that the ERA of opposing pitchers is 4.39

- Willis is tied for the 26th best pitcher on the Prospectus chart, with a 2.7 SNWAR
- The OPS of batters faced is .736
- And the ERA of the opposing pitchers has been 4.69

So, when using park effects and what not, Webb is drastically a better starter. The difference in OPS isn't substantial, but Willis has definitely faced easier pitchers in route to his 11-4 record. While the media sometimes tends to vote on their favorite player, there's no question that Brandon Webb has been this season's best rookie.

2nd- NL CY Young- Eric Gagne vs. John Smoltz

First, a look at overall stats:

Gagne- 63G 43SV 30H/66IP 113K/17BB 1.50ERA
Smoltz- 58G 44SV 45H/61IP 67K/8BB 0.89ERA

Which converts to these more complicated stats:

Gagne- 0BS 0.71WHIP 6.65K/BB 4.09H/9 15.4K/9
Smoltz- 3BS 0.87WHIP 8.38K/BB 6.64H/9 9.89K/9

By far the more difficult argument, since it takes the importance of reliever ERA into question. In terms of ERA, Smoltz is the superior; Gagne wins many other categories. He has less blown saves, a far better WHIP, and his strikeout rates are insane. Both are threatening Thigpen's record, but aren't likely to break it.

One record that should be broken, is the consecutive saves record. Gagne has forty-three straight this season, and his streak dates back to August 2002. He has been a savior in Los Angeles, and truly makes it an eight-inning game. An aberration in the All-Star Game may actually hurt him, although it shouldn't.

Smoltz has been fantastic, and his K/BB rate is the best anyone could have. His ERA is his best asset, and will probably be the 2nd Atlanta reliever in two years with a sub-1.00 ERA.

Baseball Prospectus' reliever rankings have Smoltz in the fourth spot, while Gagne is 6th. This appears to rely heavily on ERA, as Shigetoshi Hasegawa is in the first spot. Reliever ERA weighs way too much in current society, as the Smoltz-Gagne earned run spread is only five.

I hardly have a great argument against Smoltz, other than the dominating WHIP and K/9 numbers Gagne has. That's all for now folks...

Editor's Note- Since writing this article, I discovered John Smoltz was placed on the 15-day DL, and won't be back until September. This should give Eric Gagne ample time to surpass Smoltz in saves, and will give Bobby Thigpen some rest.