No Regard

May 18, 2008

Sunday thoughts…while live blogging the elimination games

Filed under: Uncategorized — FBBNow @ 3:18 pm

So, Penguins hosting the Flyers with a chance to reach the Stanley Cup, and the Celtics hosting the Cavs with a trip to Eastern Conference Finals on the line. I don’t feel like truly “live blogging” both games, so I’ll interject at points about each while spouting about a random topic

Today’s random topic: At MLB’s quarter pole, who are the frontrunners for the AL Cy Young Award?

Just to give you a hint, the first name of the AL’s current leader starts with “C” and ends with “liff.” But check back throughout the day and I’ll tell you why, despite one of the greatest starts in major league history, Cliff Lee won’t win the AL Cy Young.

** (3:22 PM EST) NBC’s resident hockey blowhard and all-time terrible GM Mike Milbury says Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh is colder than it was in Games 1 and 2 because Sidney Crosby wanted it that way. Gee, it must be nice to be the second best player on your team and have all that power.

And…the Flyers take a penalty less than three minutes in, and it was drawn by Pittsburgh’s least dangerous offensive line. That bodes well. **

OK…so let’s talk about the frontrunners for the American League Cy Young Award.

** (3:24 PM EST) Ryan Malone scores about 10 seconds into the power play on a skate deflection. Get the ugly Prince of Wales trophy shined up for Cindy and the Pens. **

I’m all about democracy, but it’s clear that if the Cy Young was voted on today, Cliff Lee would win unanimously, and deservedly so. Even though he’s getting hit hard by Cincinnati right now and his ERA is finally above 1.00, he’s still going to be leading the AL in most important categories when he goes to sleep tonight, chief among them ERA, WHIP, K/BB, and HRs allowed (tied).

So let’s identify the other Top 5 candidates. I’m going to use a weird combination of current performance and projected staying power, so excuse any inconsistencies you may fine. I’m also going to consider how likely the player is to get love from the Baseball Writers Association of America. In other words, if Josh Beckett and Shawn Marcum have the same stats, Beckett will be ranked higher because he’s considered a perennial Cy Young candidate by the BBWAA.

1. Chien-Ming Wang, New York Yankees
CM Wang(Courtesy AP)

Vitals: 6-1, 59 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 1 HR allowed, 38 K, 19 BB

Wang ranks at the top because he is already in the minds of the BBWAA as a candidate, having received an increasing number of votes the last two seasons. He’s finally started to up his strikeout total, the one big flaw in his game the last few years, and it has not come at the expense of his trademark groundball style (though it has dropped this year from close to three groundouts per flyout to two).

** (3:37 PM EST) Cavs-Celts tips off, Evgeni Malkin stuffs one in from behind the net to give the Pens a 2-0 lead. Probably no need to keep the hockey game on the small screen of my picture-in-picture, but I still will. **

Wang also plays for the Yankees, another huge plus when it comes to BBWAA awards. He’s really improved this year, though, and it doesn’t seem like any of his current success is based solely on luck. It’s just the natural progression of a guy who has developed into an ace. There’s no reason not to expect this performance to continue, and if Wang finishes, say 20-5 with a sub-3 ERA, even on a Yankees team that misses the playoffs, it’s going to be tough to deny him unless someone matches those numbers on a winning team.

**(3:43 PM EST) Paul Pierce hits a 3, TD Banknorth Garden explodes and Mike Brown looks confused. Timeout Cavs, 12-4 Celts.**

2. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

(Courtesy Getty Images)

Vitals: 4-3, 59 IP, 3.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 2 HR allowed, 45 K, 14 BB, 2 CG, 2 SHO

As I posted yesterday, Shields is the ace nobody has heard of, but his career numbers, both minors and majors, validate his current performance and portend dominance for years to come.

What Shields does that almost no other starter in the AL can is throw complete game shutouts. He already has two, matching the AL high last year from Paul Byrd, Jose Contreras and John Lackey. If he can throw two more, he’ll have a feather in his cap that could only be touched by Roy Halladay. No other starter in the AL has the durability or the pitch conservation skills Shields has.

If the Rays continue to win, Shields win continue to win. He may finish with just 15-17 wins, but if Tampa shocks the world and Shields remains among the Top 10 in strikeouts, ERA, IP, K, K/BB, HR/9 while throwing at least four complete game shutouts, he’ll have enough to win the award.

Again, he’s ranked this high because he’s simply following a path of performance he paved last season and none of his stats scream “I’m LUCKY!” As opposed to, say…

3. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox

Dice K(Courtesy AP)

Vitals: 7-0, 54.1 IP, 2.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 4 HR allowed, 48 K and…

Holy crap has Dice-K been lucky this year. The AL leader in wins is undefeated despite walking 32 batters, third highest in the AL behind Jeremy Bonderman and the luckiest man on the planet, Fausto Carmona, whose walked 35 and struck out 22 yet has an ERA of 2.25 (he is, literally, on pace for the biggest anomaly of a season in ML history).

To be fair, Matsuzaka has been wild in spurts, posting three starts of five or more walks and four starts of two or less. That’s why I’ll rank him third, because he does have five very good starts to his credit this year. And in order to win the Cy Young, you need games where you win despite walking eight and striking out one at some point. Or something like that.

**(4:05 PM EST) In another pathetic quarter in a series full of them, Boston leads the Cavs 18-13 after one.**

There are some signs that scream for a fall, such as allowing 3 fly outs for every 2 ground outs and a second consecutive season of averaging more than 104 pitches a start, but as long as he plays for Boston and he keeps winning, Matsuzaka will be in the running. Still, I can’t ignore the stats that say he’ll come back to Earth sooner or later, which is why he’s ranked behind division rivals Wang and Shields.

4. Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals

Grienke(Courtesy Getty Images)

Vitals: 5-1, 62 IP, 2.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7 HR allowed, 43 K, 15 BB

This is more like it. When Zack Greinke had a “mental breakdown” prior to the 2006 season, it looked like this type of season, which everyone knew was possible when he was selected sixth overall in 2002 out of high school near Orlando, Fla.

Greinke is a very smart pitcher who rarely wastes pitches and has improved his ability to induce ground outs. He has 70 fly balls outs and has allowed seven HRs, a rate that will drop in his favor soon. I don’t expect Greinke to allow more than 20 HRs this year. His drop in strikeouts per nine innings is allowable when considering the corresponding drop in walks, and the Royals offense is coming through when he’s on the mound, the one stroke of luck he may need to be in contention for the big prize at the end of the year. If you are looking for a sleeper to win it, here’s your guy. Just know that this is the last time he’ll ever be a sleeper for anything, because he’s arrived as an ace.

**(4:21 PM EST) The Cavs are hanging around, down five now with just under eight to go in the second quarter. Paul Pierce has 13 points and is 6-10 from the field, and the ABC crew is trying to convince us that this is an entertaining game. Pierce just hit the front of the rim on a 3, but it bounced about 2 feet in the air and went in, but PJ Brown answers with a dunk and a foul. There’s some decent up-and-down basketball…please keep it up.**

The last choice was tough, so here are the guys who just missed:

Shawn Marcum, Toronto Blue Jays

Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

Ervin Santana, LA Angels

John Danks, Chicago White Sox

and…it was basically a coin flip between Javier Vazquez, Chicago White Sox, and this guy…

5. Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays

Doc Halladay(Courtesy AP)

Vitals: 4-5, 69.2 IP, 3.49 ERA, 5 HR allowed, 55 K, 10 BB, 4 CG

“Doc” has four complete games this season, and he’ll probably finish with double digits. He’s a one-of-a-kind arm in an era where complete games are celebrated, not the common occurrence they were as late as the early 1980s. He will likely finish with more complete games than 80% of the team’s in the league will, and he does it in style. A 5.5/1 K/BB ratio is second to Lee in the AL, and he’s always attacking hitters late in the game. After two straight seasons of precipitously declining ground outs, he’s back up to the 2.7/1 GB/FB rate he posted in his most dominant seasons.

The one thing that will keep Halladay from winning another Cy Young is his team. If Toronto can’t support him and win some of those complete games, he’ll be putting up 14-16 wins along with 11-13 losses, and as unfair as it is, the writers focus far too much on winning percentage for that not to take him out of contention.

So there you have it, the top 5 contenders to knock Cliff Lee off his current perch as 2008 AL Cy Young. If I were betting, here’s how I would predict the finish:

1. Wang

2. Shields

3. Halladay

4. Matsuzaka

5. Grienke

6. Lee

**(4:48 PM EST: Congrats to the Penguins, up 4-0 late in the second. I hope they get crushed by Detroit or Dallas. This basketball game sucks; but an amazing year for Kansas Univ. athletics continues, as Paul Pierce is dominating with 24 of Boston’s 48 points. The Celts lead 48-38 with 40 seconds left in the first half.)**


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