Santana, not Colon, deserved to win AL Cy Young

Bartolo Colon had a fine season, but Johan Santana would've been a far better choice to win the AL Cy Young Award.

Originally Published: November 8, 2005
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

One of these millennia, the Los Angeles-Anaheim-California Angels were bound to have somebody win a Cy Young Award. Wouldn't you think?

Heck, until Bartolo Colon finally obliterated the Angels' Curse of Dean Chance Cy Young-less streak Tuesday, this team had seen 41 years, eight presidential administrations, 17 managerial administrations and 326 different men claiming to be Angels pitchers zip by without a single Cy Young trophy.

Johan Santana
AP PhotoJohan Santana led the AL in strikeouts (238) and was second in ERA (2.87) in 2005.

And friends, that is one mind-boggling fact for a franchise that has employed Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, Chuck Finley, Bert Blyleven, Troy Percival, Mark Langston, Tommy John, Don Sutton and John Candelaria -- not to mention (at least briefly) Fernando Valenzuela, Jack McDowell and Luis Tiant -- in between Cy Youngs.

So now Colon has put an end to that streak -- the third-longest Cy Young drought in the sport (behind the Reds and Rangers). And though we gladly salute Colon for a terrific year, some of us still aren't so sure the right guy got the trophy.

Colon (21-8) did win three more games than anyone else in the American League. And he did become the Angels' first 20-game winner since 1974. And he did have a ferocious finish -- going 10-2 in his last 14 starts, 13-4 in his last 19 starts and 17-5 in his last 25 starts -- for a team that needed every one of his wins to hold off Oakland.

But what this voting really proves is that Cy Young voters are still mushy traditionalists who value the almighty "win" above all other indicators of who pitched best over six grueling months.

Not that there isn't something to be said for pitchers who find a way to win. That is, after all, the object. But Colon sure was helped out by his bullpen (which blew zero saves for him) and his run support (6.02 runs per game).

And if you zap wins out of the who-pitched-best equation and compare him with the guy who finished third in this voting -- Johan Santana -- it wasn't even close.

Santana piled up 81 more strikeouts, beat Colon in ERA by 61 points, allowed almost two fewer baserunners for every nine innings, and had more innings pitched, complete games and shutouts.

Hitters who faced Colon had a batting average of .254 against him. The on-base percentage against Santana was .250. Any more objections, your honor?

True, Colon had five more wins than Santana (21 vs. 16). But since Santana actually pitched more innings, how was that win gap his fault? The win differential is a stat we can attribute almost completely to their offenses. It's that basic.

Santana piled up 81 more strikeouts, beat Colon in ERA by 61 points, allowed almost two fewer baserunners for every nine innings, and had more innings pitched, complete games and shutouts.

Colon got a ridiculous 1.32 more runs per game than Santana did. And Santana's totals in his last three no-decisions tell it all: 23 innings, 9 hits, 3 runs, 0 wins.

But the history of the award tells us that no starting pitcher has won just 16 games over a full season and won a Cy Young. (Rick Sutcliffe won 16 for the 1984 Cubs, but he also won four games earlier in the year for Cleveland.) So fine. Why not give this thing to Mariano Rivera -- another man who actually pitched better than Colon?

Rivera, the runner-up, had the best season of his career. And that's saying something. He had his lowest ERA ever (1.38). He allowed his fewest baserunners ever (only 0.87 per inning). He had his best strikeout-walk ratio ever (4.44 whiffs per walk).

He gave up one run all season on the road. And he gave up one extra-base hit all year to the 120 hitters he faced with runners on base. Yep, one.

But clearly, some voters think relievers aren't supposed to win this award, either -- six of them didn't even list Rivera on their ballot.

None of this is meant to disparage the man who won this award -- because we can think of 30 teams that would be thrilled to employ Colon. All we're saying is that it's way too easy to count up wins and cast a Cy Young vote.

Maybe that approach made sense four decades ago, the last time an Angels pitcher won himself a Cy. But it was also a lot harder to turn on a computer back then.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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