The Denton True Young Awards
Y is for Young,
The magnificent Cy;
People batted against him,
But I never knew why.
- Ogden Nash (1902-1971), Lineup for Yesterday
Did you know that Cy Young's real name was Denton True Young? Yes, that's True.
Young was born in Gilmore, a farming community in eastern Ohio. He was known as Dent Young in his early years, then earned the nickname "Cyclone" in reference to the speed of his fastball as a young adult. His name was shortened to "Cy" a couple of years later and the pitching great was forever known as Cy Young.
By the time Young was old, he had won 511 games in his career, the most in the history of Major League Baseball. Young also holds the records for innings pitched (7,355), games started (815), and complete games (749). He wound up with the most losses (316), too.
Commissioner Ford Frick created the Cy Young Award in 1956 to honor the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. From 1956-1966, only one pitcher was selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America as the recipient of the award. Once Commissioner Frick retired, the rules were changed to honor the best pitcher from each league.
Who should win the AL and NL Cy Young Awards in 2007? Of course, the season is not over so it is premature to come up with anything definitive, but it might be instructive to at least study the candidates and what they bring to the table.
Let's take a look at the leaders in Runs Saved Above Average in both leagues as a starting point to develop a list of pitchers worthy of the award. RSAA equals the number of runs that a pitcher saved versus what an average pitcher would have allowed over the same number of innings with a home ballpark adjustment. It paints a similar picture as ERA+ but think of RSAA as the counting stat and ERA+ as the rate stat in terms of run prevention. One other minor difference is that RSAA uses runs whereas ERA+ is based on earned runs.
AL RSAA LEADERS
1 Kelvim Escobar 38
T2 Erik Bedard 30
T2 Fausto Carmona 30
T2 C.C. Sabathia 30
T5 Josh Beckett 28
T6 Dan Haren 27
T6 John Lackey 27
8 Johan Santana 24
Hideki Okajima (25) and Rafael Betancourt (23) are actually eighth and tenth, but I have excluded both because as non-starters and non-closers neither will receive a single vote for the award.
NL RSAA LEADERS
1 Brandon Webb 40
2 Brad Penny 36
3 Jake Peavy 32
4 Chris Young 27
5 John Smoltz 22
Source: Complete Baseball Encyclopedia
Tim Hudson is in sixth place but his RSAA falls all the way down to 20 or half of Brandon Webb's league-leading total. Cole Hamels and Derek Lowe round out the top eight (to put the NL on par with the AL).
Next, let's take a closer look at those in contention and examine some of the more important stats, including those which the pitcher has the most control over (such as strikeout, walk, and home run rates).
ERA ERA+ K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Escobar 2.77 155 7.12 2.77 0.42
Bedard 3.16 140 10.93 2.82 0.94
Carmona 3.16 139 5.28 2.29 0.70
Sabathia 3.38 130 7.92 1.32 0.87
Beckett 3.21 141 8.55 1.86 0.56
Haren 2.72 160 7.62 2.23 0.92
Lackey 3.34 129 6.95 2.40 0.84
Santana 2.97 148 9.79 1.98 1.34
Kelvim Escobar may not be getting as much attention as a few other candidates but his numbers don't take a backseat to anyone. He leads the AL in RSAA and is second in ERA. In addition, his peripheral stats are solid, even spectacular in the case of his league-leading HR/9 rate. The 31-year-old righthander with a fastball that touches the mid-90s and a splitter that is one of the nastiest in the game is adept at inducing groundballs when necessary (25 GIDP, T2 in the AL) and keeping the ball in the yard.
Escobar's teammate John Lackey has the weakest case at this point. Among these eight candidates, Lackey fails to rank in the top three in any of the featured stats. He has been a good pitcher this year but not necessarily special. It would take a strong September for him to get serious consideration.
Aside from a superior walk rate, C.C. Sabathia's numbers are similar to Lackey's. As such, the Cleveland Indians ace is unlikely to gain much support. Like Lackey, the big southpaw has another member of his team's rotation that is more deserving of the honor. Yes, Fausto Carmona is – or at least should be – in the discussion for the AL CYA. The 23-year-old groundball specialist, who is leading the AL in GB % (64.5%) and GIDP (28), is tied for third in the league in quality starts with 20. It's almost hard to believe that Carmona spent time in the minors earlier this season.
Josh Beckett has the best combination of K, BB, and HR rates of any pitcher in the AL. As such, Boston's ace righthander is leading the league with a 2.79 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark. Beckett will also win over the hearts of voters with his MLB-leading win total (16, tied with teammate Tim Wakefield) and winning percentage (.762).
Dan Haren is leading the AL in ERA and is among the top three in IP (185.1), WHIP (1.11), and W-L % (.737). He has been consistently solid all year, as evidenced by his MLB-leading 25 quality starts (89% of his GS). However, with 13 unearned runs, his ERA may slightly overstate his pitching prowess this year. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound righthander is fourth in the league in RA (3.35), nearly one-third of a run behind Escobar.
Lost a bit in the shuffle has been two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. His stats are pretty much in line with the past two seasons. The only thing that has changed is the level of the competition. He is leading the league in WHIP (1.02) but is not blowing away the field in strikeouts or ERA as in years past. Santana has been hurt by the long ball, allowing a career-high 27 HR in 182 IP.
If you want strikeouts, then Erik Bedard is your man. The Baltimore Orioles lefthander is leading the majors in Ks (221) and K/9 (10.9). The power pitcher also gets an above-average number of groundballs (47.9%), making him a favorite of mine with his high K and GB rates.
ERA ERA+ K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Webb 2.63 177 7.79 2.72 0.42
Penny 2.65 168 6.29 3.12 0.26
Peavy 2.21 186 9.81 2.69 0.32
Young 2.12 194 8.62 3.18 0.33
Smoltz 3.01 143 8.24 2.06 0.61
Unlike the American League, the Cy Young Award in the NL is really a two-horse race between Webb and Jake Peavy. Brad Penny, Chris Young, and John Smoltz have had stellar seasons but not on par with Webb and Peavy.
Webb has something in common with Cy Young, the Hall of Fame pitcher. Young once set the record for the most consecutive scoreless innings pitched with 45, which wasn't broken until 1968. Webb recently completed 42 consecutive shutout innings. The hottest pitcher in baseball has won six straight starts – including three complete-game shutouts – and has lowered his ERA from 3.38 to 2.63 in the process. As the ace of Arizona's staff with a MLB-leading 191.2 IP, the defending CYA winner may also get bonus points if the Diamondbacks win the NL West.
Despite Webb's emerging presence, Peavy remains a strong candidate to win his first Cy Young. The 26-year-old righthander is leading the NL in strikeouts (186) and K/9 (9.81). In addition, he is second in the league in ERA and ERA+. While Peavy may not get any credit from the voters for it, he has the best FIP (2.48) of any starter in baseball.
Penny has the third-best case and could become a factor with a strong stretch run. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound righthander has an impressive resumé as is, leading the league in quality starts (23) and placing second in wins (14) and winning percentage (.778). That said, it's difficult to argue on his behalf over Webb or Peavy.
Chris Young has been nothing short of fantastic this year but his stint on the DL has hurt his chance of winning the NL CYA. He is leading the majors in ERA and WHIP (1.01) but his bad back may prevent him from qualifying for the ERA title at season's end. A flyball pitcher, Young has benefited by pitching at Petco Park. In fact, it's almost hard to believe that he has only allowed five HR this season (vs. 28 in 2006). His rate stats have been outstanding, yet his counting stats have suffered from completing only 135.2 innings. The name fits the bill but the overall package comes up a bit shy.
Other Resources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, and ESPN.com.