Can Mike Mussina win the 2008 AL Cy Young? Who will win the Cy Young if he doesn’t? What are each player’s pros and cons? Let’s examine.

There are seven weeks left in the baseball season. There are at least seven serious contenders for the AL Cy Young Award. Listed below is each of the seven along with their credentials for the award:

Francisco Rodriguez 1-2 2.40 ERA 51 K 45 SV 48.2 IP

Cliff Lee 15-2 2.58 ERA 127 K 153.2 IP

Roy Halladay 13-8 2.77 ERA 149 K 175.1 IP

Joe Saunders 14-5 3.03 ERA 70 K 145.2 IP

Ervin Santana 13-5 3.45 ERA 150 K 156.1 IP

Mariano Rivera 4-4 1.43 ERA 61 K 28 SV 50.1 IP

Mike Mussina 15-7 3.27 ERA 96 K 140.1 IP

The choices which leap off the page are Francisco Rodriquez and Cliff Lee. K-Rod is of particular interest because of his pursuit of Bobby Thigpen’s single season saves record. In 1990 a previously unheard of Thigpen saved 57 games for a Chicago White Sox team that finished 94-68. That record was only good for second in the AL West (if that division placement confuses you, you need to learn baseball history). Thigpen would only record 54 saves for the rest of his career. But what’s also interesting is that he finished a distant 4th in the CY Young voting that year.

 Rk Name Team First Place Votes Total Points

1 Bob Welch OAK 15 107

2 Roger Clemens BOS 8 77

3 Dave Stewart OAK 3 43

4 Bobby Thigpen CHW 2 20

Thigpen’s 4th place finish doesn’t tell the whole story because Bob Welch had the maybe luckiest season of any pitcher since WWII. Why? He went 27-6 in only 35 starts. That means he won 77% of his starts, a baseball record. Welch had never won more than 17 games in a season previously and only won 35 more in his career. Thigpen and Welch’s one of a find seasons are mindboggling. What the hell was in the water in 1990?

Okay back to present day. What this all means for K-Rod is kind of unclear. Thigpen got little love from the voters. But he was competing against a pitcher that won 27 games. Thigpen’s team didn’t even win their division. I think the Angels have already clinched the AL West! projects K-Rod for 64 saves at his current pace. Will it be enough to take home the Cy Young?

The short answer is yes. The real answer is he shouldn’t. If you haven’t read Jim Caple’s article about the most overrated statistic in baseball do so now. According to Caple, Rodriquez, “hasn’t entered a game before the ninth inning or with a runner on base all season.” The save is cheap. A quick look at those numbers above tells you that Rivera is having a better season. Rivera has more strikeouts (61-51), less hits allowed (33-31), fewer walks (5-28) and a lower ERA in essentially the same about of innings. Rodriquez is only going to break the save record because he plays for a decent ballclub that plays close games in which his manager only uses him in 9th inning when the team is ahead. If the voters actually look at these facts, K-Rod might not have a chance. I think they did in 1990, let’s hope they do so again.

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee is a great story. He hardly pitched at all in 2007 because of injury. Cleveland was unsure what, if anything at all, they would get out him this year. The team’s goal was the World Series and many didn’t know if Lee fit into that plan. As it turned out, Lee has been one of their few bright spots.

Lee has the amazing W/L and low ERA that voters love to see. For more on this see our post on how Roger Clemens 20-3 season won him a Cy Young over the more deserving Mike Mussina. There’s not much in his stats that speak against him. He also leads the league in K/BB ratio and is second in WHIP. The only thing that gives me a bit of caution is his first and second half career splits.

1st 86 G 44-18 3.82 1.30 WHIP

2nd 65 G 25-20 4.95 1.36 WHIP

Do the summer months and early fall make him a worse pitcher? The numbers seem to say so, but only time will really tell. This year he’s 3-0 in 3 starts, post All-Star game, but he’s sporting a 3.72 ERA.

What Lee also doesn’t have going for him is that the Indians have been terrible. They are last in the AL Central, 14.5 games back, with a record of 49-64. We all KNOW that voters don’t usually like pitchers (or hitters) on losing teams. Most people might not recall that Kevin Brown dominated the National League in 1996 by posting a 1.78 ERA. The Marlins finished 80-82 good for 3rd in the NL East. He finished second to John Smoltz in the Cy Young voting (Smoltz won 24 games for an Atlanta team that won 100 games and reached the World Series). Pat Hentgan might be Lee’s closest comparison. In 1996, Hentgan won the AL Cy Young with a 20-10 record and 3.22 ERA for a Blue Jays team that finished 14 games below .500 in 4th place.

Right now K-Rod and Lee are neck and neck, but they both have issues. I’d say Lee has a slight lead.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the rest of the contenders and see how Mussina stacks up in the race at this point. Stay Tuned!

Note:  The Moose does not feel that Thigpen deserved the Cy Young award. And he offers up the following proof:

Closer A: 4-6, 57 Saves, 1.83 ERA, 88 2/3 IP, 60 H, 18 ER, 1.03 WHIP, 5 HR, 32 BB, 70 K

Closer B: 4-2, 48 Saves, 0.61 ERA, 73 1/3 IP, 41 H, 5 ER, 0.61 WHIP, 2 HR, 4 BB, 73 K

Closer A is Bobby Thigpen. Closer B is Dennis Eckersley. How exactly is this a debate? Eckersley’s ERA was a third of Thigpen’s. He had an 18/1 K/BB ratio! Thigpen’s was barely 2-1. Thigpen did exactly what Rodriguez has done this season: Benefited from a weaker team that failed to win many games by blowouts, thus increasing his save oppurtunities.

Chigago 1990 run differential: +49

Oakland 1990 run differential: +163

The White Sox inability to put teams away gave Thigpen an inordinate amount of save oppurtunities. Consider this: Eckersley came in 50 times in save situations. Thigpen? He came in 65 times. That’s the only reason he had more saves. He wasn’t better a converting them. He just had more chances.

Read Part 2 here

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