Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
OK, it's that time of the year when everyone is making postseason predictions. I'm not sure the Houston Astros have enough offense to win three consecutive series against the Atlanta Braves, presumably the St. Louis Cardinals, and the AL champs, but I like their odds of winning the whole thing. Why? One word: pitching.
The Astros have the best trio of starting pitchers in baseball. Roger Clemens (1.87) led the majors in ERA, Andy Pettitte (2.39) was second, and Roy Oswalt (2.94) was ninth. Three of the top nine pitchers in terms of ERA. There are only two other starters in the postseason -- Chris Carpenter (2.83) and Jake Peavy (2.94) -- with a better ERA than Oswalt.
Throw Brad Lidge (41 saves, 2.30 ERA, 103 Ks in 70 1/3 IP) and Dan Wheeler (2.21 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) into the mix, and you've got yourself the best top-of-the-rotation and arguably the strongest 1-2 bullpen punch in baseball.
The above discussion provides a nice segue into a question I have been meaning to ask. Can anyone explain to me why Andy Pettitte isn't part of the NL Cy Young Award discussion? As noted above, Pettitte finished the year second to his pal Clemens in ERA, plus he tied for the league lead with Carpenter in quality starts (27), placed third in WHIP (1.03) and OPS allowed (.616), fifth in K/BB (4.17) and wins (17), and sixth in winning percentage (.654).
Pettitte (.230/.268/.348) actually edged out Carpenter (.231/.273/.351) in the three major rate stats. Clemens (.198/.261/.284), in turn, beat Pettitte across the board, as did Pedro Martinez (.204/.252/.334). Andy's second in MLB in VORP and fourth in pitching Win Shares.
Consistent with leading the league in quality starts, Pettitte allowed more than three earned runs in a game only twice all year. After giving up seven tallies in five innings on May 18, the 33-year-old southpaw pitched 165 1/3 IP while allowing just 33 ER for an ERA of 1.80 the rest of the way. Pettitte didn't win 21 games like he did in 1996 and 2003, but he pitched better this year than ever before. When the ballots have been counted, 2005 should mark the fifth time that the 11-year veteran has finished in the top six in the Cy Young Award voting.
Over in the AL, Johan Santana should win the award if voters take into consideration statistics other than wins and saves. The defending Cy Young Award winner led the league in the Triple Crown of pitching rate stats (.212 BAA/.251 OBP/.348 SLG) and it follows in OPS by a wide margin (.600 to Barry Zito's .665).
Santana also topped the AL in Ks (238) and WHIP (0.97), placed second in ERA (2.87) and IP (231 2/3), and fifth in wins (16) and winning percentage (.682). He ranked first in VORP and second in pitching Win Shares behind Mark Buehrle. (Note: The VORP and WS data may be slightly different once they have been updated.)
Like last year, the 26-year-old lefty mowed down the opposition after the All-Star break (9-2, 1.59 ERA). Johan pitched better than Bartolo Colon and more often than Mariano Rivera. If you like wins, vote for Colon. Saves? Look no further than Rivera unless, of course, his name gets lost among the five relievers with 40 or more show-up-late-in-the-game, thank-you Jerome Holtzman saves. But if you value quality and quantity, then Santana is the unquestioned pick for the AL Cy Young Award.
This is not meant to be a knock against Rivera, who had an outstanding year. However, it must be noted that Mo gave up six unearned runs out of a total of 18. His RA was 2.07. Nothing to sneeze at but a far cry from his 1.38 ERA. By the same token, Kevin Millwood, the AL leader in ERA, allowed 11 unearned runs compared to just three for Santana. The latter beat Millwood handily in RA (2.99 to 3.38) and was just two scoreless innings short of leading the league in ERA.
Santana, by the way, became the first Minnesota pitcher to lead the majors in strikeouts this year. Bert Blyleven finished second in 1973 (258) and 1974 (249). Blyleven didn't lead the AL either year because he had the misfortune of pitching in the same league as Nolan Ryan, who set the all-time record for Ks in a single season with 383 in 1973 and then came back and whiffed 367 the following year. Bert had more strikeouts than the NL leader in 1973 (Tom Seaver, 251) and 1974 (Steve Carlton, 240). He led the AL in punchouts in 1985 when he split time with the Cleveland Indians and the Twins.
With 59 career wins, 3 shutouts, and 901 strikeouts, Santana is just 228 Ws, 57 SHO, and 2,800 Ks shy of not being good enough to make the Hall of Fame.