D-Backs' Webb wins wide-open NL Cy Young race

Updated: November 16, 2006, 1:21 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Back in the minor leagues, Brandon Webb had so much trouble controlling his sinker that he was hitting batters with it all the time and growing increasingly frustrated on the mound.

Fewest wins by Cy Young winner
 
Brandon Webb's 16 victories are the fewest by a starting pitcher who won the Cy Young Award in a non-strike season.
Webb, 2006 (NL) 16
Rick Sutcliffe, 1984 (NL) 16*
Randy Johnson, 1999 (NL) 17
Pedro Martinez, 1997 (NL) 17
*Also won four games in AL

A few years later, that sensational pitch made him a Cy Young Award winner.

The Arizona Diamondbacks' ace won a wide-open race for the NL's top pitching honor, beating out San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman on Tuesday.

"It's really unbelievable, looking back to where I started from," Webb said. "It just happened for me this year."

One of six starters who tied for the league lead with a pedestrian total of 16 wins, Webb received 15 of 32 first-place votes and 103 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Hoffman, who broke the career saves record this season, got 12 first-place votes and 77 points.

St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, last year's winner, finished third with two first-place votes and 63 points.

NL Cy Young Award voting
Player 1st-place votes 2nd 3rd Points
Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks 15 7 7 103
Trevor Hoffman, Padres 12 3 8 77
Chris Carpenter, Cardinals 2 16 5 63
Roy Oswalt, Astros 3 3 7 31
Carlos Zambrano, Cubs -- 1 3 6
Billy Wagner, Mets -- 1 1 4
John Smoltz, Braves -- 1 -- 3
Takashi Saito, Dodgers -- -- 1 1

"All three of us probably were deserving of it and probably a couple more guys, too," Webb said. "I knew that I had a pretty good chance."

Houston's Roy Oswalt, who led the NL with a 2.98 ERA, got the other three first-place tallies and came in fourth.

Webb, who went 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA and made his first All-Star team, was listed second on seven ballots and third on seven others. No pitcher was included on every Cy Young Award entry.

"It was pretty big emotions. We were very excited for it," Webb said. "It's with you forever. To have that title go along with you means a lot."

Webb's victory total was the lowest for a starting pitcher who won the Cy Young Award in a full season. The previous low was 17 wins, by Pedro Martinez of the Montreal Expos in 1997 and Randy Johnson for Arizona in '99.

Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers was honored with a 13-7 record in 1981 and Atlanta's Greg Maddux went 16-6 in '94 -- but those seasons were cut short by players' strikes.

"A lot of the wins pitchers can't control," Webb said. "You can give up one hit and still lose the ballgame."

Webb also is the first NL winner to have an ERA above 3.00 since Philadelphia's Steve Carlton had a 3.10 mark in 1982. Rick Sutcliffe split the 1984 season between Cleveland and the Chicago Cubs, finishing with a 3.64 ERA overall but a 2.69 mark in the NL.

Webb's success came only two years after he really struggled.

After a strong rookie season in 2003, Webb walked a major league-high 119 batters the following year for a terrible Arizona team that went 51-111. The right-hander also led the NL with 16 losses and 17 wild pitches that year.

But he cut his walks in half in 2005 and issued a career-low 50 free passes this year. And he got more help from Arizona's much-improved infield defense.

"Basically, I just tried to do what I've done the last three years, which is throw a lot of sinkers," Webb said.

Before Webb, Johnson was the only Diamondbacks pitcher to take home the award, winning four straight times from 1999-2002.

The AL Cy Young Award winner will be announced Thursday -- and Minnesota's Johan Santana is a heavy favorite. The NL and AL Manager of the Year will be revealed Wednesday.

Webb threw a career-best 235 innings, which ranked second in the NL. The 27-year-old sinkerballer also tied Carpenter for the league lead with three shutouts and both had five complete games, good for second in the NL.

"I was pretty surprised that Carpenter didn't get as many first-place votes," Webb said. "I thought it would be between me and Carpenter."

Voters select their top three choices and points are tabulated on a 5-3-1 basis.

Webb's worst start of the year came against San Diego in the regular-season finale, when he gave up seven runs in four innings of a 7-6 loss that allowed the Padres to clinch the NL West title. The outing increased his ERA from a league-leading 2.88 to 3.10 -- but voters weren't dissuaded.

"I think it's an honor well deserved. There was some concern that his last start would have an effect on the voting," Diamondbacks pitching coach Bryan Price said. "One start doesn't make or break a season."

One of the biggest keys in Webb's development has been his ability to control his deceptive sinker, which helps him induce one harmless groundball after another when he's on top of his game. He also helped himself in his mental approach.

"Early in my career, even in the minor leagues, if I had a bad inning or something went wrong I'd show emotion out there and let that get to me. Every year, I've tried to improve on that."

Webb agreed to a $19.5 million, four-year contract with Arizona in January. For winning the Cy Young Award, the buyout of his $8.5 million option in 2010 doubles from $500,000 to $1 million.

"When you look at No. 1s in baseball, and every team has one, a legitimate No. 1 will look like Brandon Webb," Price said. "He replaces the strikeout with the double play. That defines a No. 1 pitcher in the big leagues to me."

The 39-year-old Hoffman finished with a league-leading 46 saves in 51 chances for the Padres. He has 482 career saves, breaking Lee Smith's previous mark of 478.

Hoffman went 0-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 63 innings spanning 65 appearances. He was listed second on three ballots and third on eight.

Hoffman also was a Cy Young Award runner-up in 1998 to Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves.

Carpenter and Hoffman each receive a $50,000 bonus for finishing high in the voting.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press