These Cy voters are traditionalists

Originally Published: November 10, 2005
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

All you have to do is look over the voting results for about eight seconds to know it wasn't a real fun year to be a National League Cy Young voter. Too many compelling candidates. Too tough a call.

We saw a 43-year-old pitcher (the increasingly legendary Roger Clemens) put up a 1.87 ERA -- and he didn't win.

We saw a 23-year-old left-handed phenom (the always charismatic Dontrelle Willis) lead the league in wins and shutouts -- and he didn't win, either.

Chris Carpenter
AP PhotoChris Carpenter ranked ninth in the NL with 3,395 pitches thrown last season.
And then there was the guy who did win -- Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter (21-5) had four of the most spectacular months in Red Schoendienst's lifetime (four months in which he spun off 22 straight quality starts).

He was the first pitcher in the 76-season live-ball era to make 16 starts in a row in which he went at least seven innings and never gave up more than three earned runs.

And he did something even Bob Gibson never did -- rip off a 17-start stretch in which the Cardinals went 17-0.

But should Chris Carpenter really have won this award? With all due respect to how brilliant he was for a long, long time, we're not so sure of that.

First off, can we truly convince ourselves that he pitched better than Roger Clemens? Can we truly convince ourselves that anybody pitched better than Roger Clemens?

Let's think again about that 1.87 ERA. It's the lowest ERA by any pitcher in his 40s in four decades (since Hoyt Wilhelm's 1.81 in 1965). For that matter, it's the lowest ERA (in a non-strike year) by any pitcher over 30 since Bob Gibson's 1.12 in 1968. And it was no fluke. The Rocket had only one month all season (September) in which his ERA was over 2.00.

Those nine times the Astros got shut out in Clemens' starts sure weren't his fault. Those five 1-0 games they lost when he started sure weren't his fault.

Those six games they lost when he gave up no runs clearly weren't his fault. Those 13 games they lost when he gave up zero, one or two earned runs clearly weren't his fault.

We will grant you that Clemens averaged an inning less per start than Carpenter did -- and that had something to do with why Carpenter won eight more times. But let's not confuse Roger Clemens with Ismael "Five Innings And Hit The Shower" Valdez, either.

This guy did pitch 211.1 innings. And his ERA in the games in which his team got shut out was 1.27. So can there really be any rational people out there who think his win total was any kind of reflection on how well he pitched? If there are, guess again.

Chris Carpenter had himself one spectacular year. And we're not arguing he didn't. Why would we? We're just a little confused about how this election turned out.

But Clemens still finished only third in the balloting. And here's how bizarre that is:

In the 35 years under this Cy Young voting format, only one other man pitched 200 innings, had an ERA under 2.00 and finished as low as third in the Cy Young derby. That was Wilbur Wood (22-13, 1.91) in 1971. But that was a year in which the winner (Vida Blue) also had an ERA under 2.00 (1.82). So we're handing out an asterisk.

Nevertheless, we understand that these Cy Young voters love their 20-game winners -- and love wins in general. So fine. Let's just assume these voters are traditionalists.

Then how come Dontrelle Willis didn't win?

Again, we combed through every Cy Young election since the dawn of the modern format. We tossed out the elections in which a relief pitcher won. We found only two other times when a pitcher like Willis -- with more wins and a lower ERA than the winner -- didn't finish first in this voting.

But one of them really shouldn't count. In 1984, Rick Sutcliffe went 16-1, 2.69 for the Cubs -- beating out Dwight Gooden (17-9, 2.60 for the Mets). But Sutcliffe also won four games in the American League that year -- which many voters factored in. So he really isn't much of a parallel.

That leaves only one other Cy Young vote like this one -- AL Cy, 2001. That year, the winner (ironically enough) was a gentleman named Roger Clemens (20-3, 3.51), even though the runner-up, Mark Mulder, had more wins (21) and a better ERA (3.45), and (like Willis) led the league in shutouts.

So if these voters were really voting in a traditional kind of way, shouldn't Willis have won this trophy? Hey, just asking.

We can feel our in-box starting to explode with protests from all of you outraged Cardinals fans. And that's fine, too.

Roger Clemens
AP PhotoClemens ranks ninth all-time with 341 career wins, the most among all living pitchers.
Yeah, we know Carpenter led Willis in stuff like quality starts, innings pitched and strikeouts. Yeah, we know his stats were skewed by his 5.72 ERA in September and that messy nine-spot he allowed to the Brewers one night. Stuff happens.

He still had himself one spectacular year. And we're not arguing he didn't. Why would we? We're just a little confused about how this election turned out.

If you're one of those modern, sabermetrically aware kind of people -- one who understands how semi-irrelevant wins can be in this millennium -- you should have no doubt that Roger Clemens should have won this award.

If you're an old-fashioned kind of Cy Young aficionado -- one who worships the beloved stats of yesteryear, wins and ERA -- you should have no doubt that Dontrelle Willis should have won this award.

So congratulations to the guy who won instead -- Chris Carpenter. We're just suggesting that when he's handing out all those thank-yous after his trophy arrives, he probably ought to be a little more thankful than usual. Don't you think?

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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