Sunday, November 13, 2005

November 13th, 1990

Bob Welch Awarded Cy Young

One of the few things which constantly baffles me about voting for the Cy Young Award is the extreme overemphasis on wins. This year, for example, America League winner Bartolo Colon was better than Johan Santana in one category, wins. In everything else, Santana was superior. But voters love wins, as Bob Welch demonstrates. In 1990 Welch won twenty-seven games (against six losses) with a 2.95 ERA (a 126 ERA+). Welch struck out one hundred and twenty-seven in two hundred thirty-eight innings while allowing 1.22 base runners per inning pitched. Before we get into the numbers of the man who should've won the award, it's worth noting that Welch's season, insofar as ERA is concerned, is similar to one like Kevin Milwood's 2002 or Mark Buehrle's 2004, seasons which drew no attention from the Cy Young voters. However, the almighty win helped propel Welch to an undeserved trophy.

So who should have won the award? Well, as most questions of pitching the mid 80s through early 90s, the answer is the greatest pitcher of the last forty years, Roger Clemens. Clemens had one of the best seasons of his entire career in 1990, posting a 1.93 ERA (good for a 211 ERA+, at the time the third best post-war single season number) while tossing two hundred twenty-eight innings. Despite throwing ten fewer innings than Welch, Clemens struck out eighty-two more batters (for a total of two hundred and nine, the fifth of Clemens' twelve seasons two hundred or more Ks) and allowed just 1.08 base runners per nine innings, a number ten percent better than Welch's. The really incredible part of the voting that year is that Clemens finished third in the MVP voting, while Welch finished just ninth. So evidently sportswriters could realize Clemens was a better player in 1990, but not see how he was a better pitcher.

Fairness dictates I point out that Clemens has been the beneficiary of the wins obsession himself in 2001--when he wasn't even the best starter on his own team--and arguably again in 2004. Of course, this year Clemens was back to being the victim, so I suppose that makes him even for his career. But that doesn't mean the sportswriter notion that wins are the ultimate measure of a pitcher won't continue to leave me dumbfounded.

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