Welcome to the awards.
Thanks for taking a moment out of your weekend to join us. Whether you spent your week figuring out how to secure a set of suspenders to a barrel, or trying to figure out how many peanuts would make for an appropriate tip on a $50 bar tab, or getting bombed out of the playoffs, we all deserve the weekend.
Last week we ran through the awards for hitters. This week we turn our attention to the funny shaped bump in the middle of the infield.
For award definitions and background on the column itself, please consult the Primer.
This year’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an idiotic practice that must stop
Good Luck Division:
Matt Harrison went 9-3 with a 5.49 ERA. And the thing is, it is not even so much the games he won. Sure, he won a game where he allowed four runs in six innings and one where he allowed six in 5.1 innings. But he also got no decisions in a three-inning, seven-run nightmare; a five-run, 2.2-inning beatdown; and a five-run, 5.2-inning shelling. Harrison led baseball with 9.25 runs of support in his 15 starts. The only times he lost, he got crushed so badly that Ian Kinsler, Milton Bradley, and Josh Hamilton could not save him. So in light of the fact that he let batters hit .300/.358/.520 and only struck out 4.52 per nine, he wins this award with a comfortable margin.
Runners up: Radhames Liz went 6-6 with a 6.72 ERA. He only provided three quality starts in 17 tries, but his win/loss record makes him look like he was league average.
Glen Perkins only posted a quality start 12 times in 26 tries and allowed batters to hit .301/.344/.493, but 7.45 runs of support helped him go 12-4.
And Sidney Ponson was not very good, to the tune of 5.04 ERA, .311/.369/.464, but you wouldn’t know it from his 8-5 record.
Last year’s winner was Horacio Ramirez, who got released in March and spent a month in Omaha before finishing the season as a LOOGY in the Royals and then White Sox bullpens. It would be best for everybody involved if his name is never again written in the lineup as a starting pitcher. He might have a future as an entry-level lefty specialist. It is best to leave well enough alone.
Bad Luck Division
Cole Hamels would seem like an unlikely candidate for this category. The Phillies have not had a problem scoring runs this season. And one would think that a pitcher who is capable of a 3.09 ERA and who limits opposing batters to .227/.272/.384 futility would go something like 18-3. But Hamels received a no decision or a loss in 10 of his 23 quality starts to go 14-10.
Runners up: Zack Greinke also had 23 quality starts. He went 13-10.
Jake Peavy went 10-11 with 19 quality starts in 27 chances, posted a 2.85 ERA, and a .229/.299/.345 line against. 3.63 runs of support is downright pathetic.
This is Matt Cain’s second honorable mention candidacy in as many years. This season the anemic Giants offense provided a mere 3.14 runs of support, dooming a pitcher with a 3.76 ERA to a pathetic 8-14 record.
And finally Greg Smith received a staggering 2.88 run support figure and a .243/.326/.403 pitcher went 7-16.
Last year’s winner was Gil Meche. It’s a funny coincidence that last year’s honorees for both good luck and bad luck ended up as teammates this season. Meche still didn’t get great run support, ranking 71st among pitchers who threw more than 160 frames with 4.45 per start. But a 3.98 ERA resulting in a 14-11 record is well short of the injustices listed above.
Vulture alert! Vulture alert!
Astros closer Jose Valverde got the win in three games where he blew the save. He had one more where he entered late in a tied game, surrendered a run and got picked up by the Houston offense, which gifted him with an undeserved victory.
The Wes Littleton Award
The other Texas-based closer, C.J. Wilson, saved 24 games with only four blown opportunities, but it was belied by a 6.02 ERA and a .268/.366/.475 line against.
Last year, I jointly gave Joe Borowski and Ryan Dempster the hardware. Dempster inexplicably turned into one of the best starters in the National League. Borowski went the other direction, posting a 7.56 ERA before Cleveland gave him the axe in July.
Please hold the applause
Eight of Kyle McClellan’s 30 holds came in appearances where he gave up at least one run.
Elsewhere, Matt Guerrier tallied a 5.19 ERA in 76 innings. But he also had 20 holds. Two of them even came in games where he was cited for the loss. Good relievers don’t allow .275/.353/.449 lines against.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
Justin Duchscherer struck out 95 batters in 141 innings and posted a ridiculous 2.54 ERA thanks to a .225 batting average on balls in play.
On the other extreme, we had Ian Snell, who struck out 135 in 164 frames and gave up 201 hits and had a 5.42 ERA thanks to a .338 batting average on balls in play.
Most Valuable Pitcher
AL: Cliff Lee led the AL in ERA at 2.54 and was tied in quality starts with 23. He had a .253/.285/.348 line against him.
What a strange career path Lee has found. He broke into the majors at 23. He firmly established himself at 25. At that point he wasn’t particularly impressive, walking too many batters and giving up too many home runs. The next year he did better, improving his walk and home run rates. The bottom dropped out in 2007 and after the gradual erosion of his rate stats became a landslide, everybody had essentially given him up for dead. But everything snapped together this season whether because of improved health, approach, or mechanics. He set career bests in walk and home run rates and his strikeouts are up at a level we haven’t seen since 2004. He also suddenly transformed himself from a strong flyball pitcher to a bit of a groundball hound. Hats off to him.
Runners up: Roy Halladay put up a 2.78 ERA. But the story here is with his proclivity for throwing complete games and coaxing ground balls. Halladay is a machine in both categories, and that probably is not a coincidence. He has not had anything less than a 2-1 groundball/flyball ratio since before hanging chad became a household term. Interestingly, the only two entire teams that bested his nine complete games this campaign were Cleveland and Milwaukee. I wrote quite a bit about him earlier this season. There is a good chance I will dedicate quite a few electrons to him next season as well. He is one of the more unique players of our time.
John Danks and Jon Lester are two lefties with similar stats. The 23-year-old Danks wasn’t expected to be this good, but in 195 innings he crippled opposing offenses with a 3.32 ERA and a .246/.303/.371 line. The 24-year-old Lester broke through in a big way at 3.21 and .256/.320/.368 in 210 innings.
Last year’s champion was Fausto Carmona. Carmona went from being my Cy Young pick to not being able to find the strike zone with a Sherpa guide. He dealt with injury and regression. Just about the only positive development for him was that he was able to maintain an almost 3-1 groundball/flyball ratio.
NL: I am very, very torn here, just as torn as I was last week on the AL MVP issue. I really can not fault either Tim Lincecum or Johan Santana and as far as I’m concerned, there is no wrong answer. I think I favor Lincecum by the most narrow of margins.
Lincecum: 227 IP, 2.62 ERA, 2.85 RA, 265 K, 84 BB
Santana: 234 IP, 2.54 ERA, 2.84 RA, 206 K, 63 BB
Runners up: Ryan Dempster is just a remarkable story. I am not the resident historian here so I will ask, is it unprecedented for a pitcher to start out as an average starter, devolve into a terrible starter, get a fresh start in the bullpen, do reasonably well there in a low upside kind of way, convert back to the rotation at age 31 and suddenly turn into a down-ballot Cy Young candidate? With a 2.96 ERA, 187 strikeouts, 76 walks, and a .227/.302/.341 line, he deserves to be here. But like with Cliff Lee, if you would have approached me in spring training that this would be how it worked out this year, I would have had you committed for your own safety and that of those around you.
Cole Hamels was unlucky, but nobody can argue that he was not good. I am happy to see him succeeding and staying healthy. He is 24 years old, has filthy stuff and two very high quality seasons under his belt. If we are lucky we will continue to watch him put up seasons like this for another 10 or 15 years. Hopefully he we will have better run support in most of those campaigns.
Last year’s winner was Jake Peavy. Ho-hum, another sub-three ERA. He missed some time with a strained elbow, which cost him a chance to join the race above.
Any kind of column like this that doesn’t mention Carsten Sabbathia is simply not worthy of the time it would take to read it. C.C. was not worthy of the Cy Young in either of the two leagues because of the time he missed in each. If he had been in either circuit for the full season, we wouldn’t need this special category. He would have already been profiled. But he did move from the shore of one Great Lake to another. And his combined stats are staggering: 253 IP, 2.70 ERA, 251 K, 59 BB, .237/.285/.340.
As many of you no doubt remember, here at the awards we track certain franchise milestones. We started doing this after the Phillies became the first team in professional sports history to log its 10,000th loss.
In that spirit, the Diamondbacks finished the season with exactly 900 wins. They currently have 882 losses and will pass 900 sometime early in 2009.
Elsewhere, with 9960 victories the Dodgers will join the Giants and Cubs in the 10,000-win club next season.
And provided they have a non-terrible season, the 9929-win Cardinals will do the same.
The Orioles are 51 wins away from 8,000.
Finally, the Phillies may have lost 10,098 losses, but 9,000 wins is within sight as they are at 8945.
Thanks for reading the column this year. And to those of you have given feedback, I thank you for that. I bid you a good offseason and a happy playoffs.