Tuesday, August 5, 2008

K-Rod for Cy Young...No Thanks

There seems to be a strong likelihood right now that Francisco Rodriguez is going to set the single season saves record, surpassing the 57 set by Bobby Thigpen in 1990. Considering the fact that Rodriguez currently needs just 13 saves in his team's final 50 games to break this record I'd say he has a pretty good chance of achieving this feet. By no means is this a gimme - he would need to put forth a 42 save a year pace through the end of the season - but still I think the chances are quite good. His team after all has the best record in baseball at 70-42 but has done this with a run differential of "just" +47. This tells me - along with the fact that Rodriguez already has 45 saves - that they play in and win a lot of close games. As a point of reference, that +47 run differential is one worse than the 66-45 Rays, 4 worse than the 61-51 Yankees, and 48 worse than the 64-49 Red Sox.

So, what does this have to do with anything?

Well resident BBTN genius, John Kruk is now apparently putting forth the "K-Rod for Cy Young" argument on account of his lofty and potentially record-setting save totals. This should not be all that shocking really though as Kruk lobbied for Russ Ortiz as a 2003 NL Cy Young candidate after he lead the league in wins with 21 despite having a pedestrian 3.81 ERA and 1.31 WHIP and striking out just 149 batters in 212.1 innings. Ignore the wins, and you have a solidly, slightly above average pitcher right there. Of course ironically enough, the NL Cy Young that year went to a different closer, Eric Gagne.

In Gagne's defense however he was pretty amazing that year beyond his 55 saves. While that number may excite some, I am astounded by his 137 strikeouts in 82 innings, his 1.20 ERA and his 0.69 WHIP. I am normally against closers winning the Cy Young, but in a down year for starting pitcher candidates then a closer who posts numbers like Gagne's certainly needs to be in the discussion seriously. Obviously Gagne was that year and he won the award running away by scoring 28 of 32 possible first place votes with two each going to Jason Schmidt and Mark Prior who did not have bad years themselves. In hindsight you could probably even make a case for each of those guys over Gagne, but in 2003, during his crazy saves streak, there was no stopping the Eric Gagne Hype Machine. For the record, Schmidt went 17-5 with a 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 208 K's in 208 IP while Prior went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 245 K's in 211 IP. I'm a sucker for K's so my vote probably goes to Prior there, but whatever.

Of course the ironic postscript to that little sidebar is that Gagne was able to achieve that dominance thanks to steroids and now both Jason Schmidt and Mark Prior's careers have been pretty much ruined by injuries.

Back to my main point though and that is whether or not Francisco Rodriguez should even be in the running for Cy Young. My answer is unequivocally, "NO" and the reason for that is that if you take away the frivolous stat of "saves" he is not even the best American League closer this year. Actually, he's really not even that close.

Here is what I did.

I looked up all the AL closers who have pitched roughly the same amount of innings as Rodriguez. Here, I found 8 other pitchers who fit the criteria. I then looked at five, what I would deem more telling categories than saves for dominance and value to a team. I scored each pitcher a number between 1-8 for each category depending on where they ranked versus their peers in the group. If they were the best they received a "1" for the category, if they were second best they received a "2" and so on. Below I have the results for each category and pitcher. Keep in mind, the lower, the better.

The Pitchers and Their Stats (after all 8/4/08 games):

Francisco Rodriguez - LAA (48.2 IP, 51 K, 2.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, .189 BAA)

Joakim Soria - KC (51.2 IP, 54 K, 1.57 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, .189 BAA)

Jonathan Papelbon - BOS (48.1 IP, 57 K, 2.05 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, .200 BAA)

Joe Nathan - MIN (45.2 IP, 49 K, 1.18 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, .185 BAA)

George Sherrill - BAL (46.1 IP, 50 K, 4.27 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, .237 BAA)

Mariano Rivera - NYY (48.1 IP, 58 K, 1.49 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, .178 BAA)

CJ Wilson - TX (46 IP, 40 K, 5.28 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, .265 BAA)

Huston Street - OAK (48.2 IP, 47 K, 3.88 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, .237 BAA)

The Categories:

Innings Pitched
Batting Average Against

The Results:

Joakim Soria - 10 pts (1 IP, 3 K, 3, ERA, 2 WHIP, 1 BAA)

Mariano Rivera - 10.5 pts (4.5 IP, 1 K, 2 ERA, 1 WHIP, 2 BAA)

Jonathan Papelbon - 18.5 pts (4.5 IP, 2 K, 4 ERA, 3 WHIP, 5 BAA)

Francisco Rodriguez - 21.5 (2.5 IP, 4 K, 5 ERA, 6 WHIP, 4 BAA)

Joe Nathan - 22 points (8 IP, 6 K, 1 ERA, 4 WHIP, 3 BAA)

Huston Street - 26.5 points (2.5 IP, 7 K, 6 ERA, 5 WHIP, 6 BAA)

George Sherrill - 31 points (6 IP, 5 K, 7 ERA, 7 WHIP, 6 BAA)

CJ Wilson - 39 points (7 IP, 8 K, 8 ERA, 8 WHIP, 8 BAA)

So, what has all this taught us? Well, of the eight closers with roughly the same amount of innings as K-Rod, he is the fourth or fifth best and clearly in the second tier of them with Papelbon and Nathan and behind the undisputed two best of the lot in the AL to date, Joakim Soria and Mo Rivera. If Rodriguez was at least in the discussion about best AL closers of 2008 then maybe I could wrap my head around him being pushed for a big postseason award if he were to reach some gaudy save total like "60". He clearly is not though. To win the Cy Young, you are supposed to be the American League's best pitcher, and Rodriguez is not even his league's best closer.

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