Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Resume breakdown of U.S. and China

Before I get started with the medal-breakdown, you may notice that my medal-count differs slightly from the “official” medal count that you might find on ESPN.com or NBC.com. I refuse to acknowledge the medals that China won in events in which it cheated. Three members of the Chinese women’s gymnastics team are under the age of 16. He Kexin, Jian Yuyuan, and Yang Yilin accounted for two gold and two bronze medals. So, I have removed two gold and two bronze medals from China’s medal-count. I have also added two gold medals to the U.S.-count since it won the silver in the two events in which China cheated. I have also subtracted two silver medals from the U.S.-count since those turn into gold.

Refer to the guide below if you want to quickly calculate the non-cheating medal count. Simply take the “official medal count” and make the following amendments…

Cheating Adjustments


The U.S. has been the undisputed king of the summer games ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent dismantling of the short-lived Unified Team after the ’92 Olympics. There is a good chance that streak will continue in Beijing as the Americans have been atop the medals-leaderboard since Day 1. However, that isn’t a given because the U.S.’s lead is tenuous. China has been on the U.S.’s tail from Day 1. China’s assault on medals—gold especially—is incredible considering the fact that it only tallied 63 medals—32 of which were gold—in 2004 Games in Athens. With four days to go in Beijing, China already has 79 medals, 45 of which are gold. Give a country with 1.3 billion people eight years to get ready for something, and chances are something good is going to happen. I’m not sure there’s any other way of looking at it.

Even though China has been very good, the U.S. has been its usual brilliant self. Russia has been the primary victim of China’s success. It had 92 medals in ’04 but only has 45 in Beijing. The U.S. has seen its fair share of disappointments as is the case at virtually every Olympics. Remember the catastrophic headlines from the 2006 Winter Games in Torino when Bode Miller didn’t win five gold medals? Well, expect to hear some of that same treatment as a result of the U.S.’s underwhelming display in track & field. Justin Gatlin’s four-year ban and the sudden and shocking rise to prominence of Jamaica’s track team is the main culprit here. However, let's not get carried away with the negativity. The U.S. currently boasts 14 medals from track & field--six more than any other country--with more sure to come. Look for the U.S. to take the gold and silver in the Men's 400 m. The track team lost a sure gold medal when Lolo Jones, who was a mere three seconds from easily winning gold in the 100 m hurdles, tripped on the second to last hurdle.

America's team sports have been outstanding. It has seen its best indoor volleyball showing (men and women’s) in years. Both water polo teams have been outstanding. Both men and women’s beach volleyball has been outstanding as usual. The men and women’s basketball teams have dominated. Women’s softball has been unstoppable. The women’s soccer team has found its way back into the gold medal game. Even the vaunted Gymnastics team won gold in non-cheating gymnastics.

I was curious to see how the U.S. stacked up against China in a comparison of resumes. The U.S. has the most medals. China has the most “golds.” Which one is more impressive? A gold medal is clearly more valuable than a silver medal and a silver medal is obviously more valuable than a bronze medal. The difference between gold and silver and silver and bronze is often razor-thin. So, I decided to compare the U.S. and China on a simple points-based system that awards three points for a gold, two points for a silver, and one point for a bronze.

Below is a chart comparing the U.S. and China in the non-cheating medal count and a simple point based system (Gold=3, Silver=2, Bronze=1)…


China’s robust gold-count is quite impressive. The U.S. holds the overall medal-lead but, at this point, China’s resume is more impressive per overall points. The U.S. only trails by eleven points which is a fairly small deficit. Both countries have been outstanding and it’s going to be fun to see who ends up on top. Hopefully the U.S. can make it four-consecutive Summer Olympics leading the medal-count.

The U.S. also has an opportunity to surpass its medal-count from the ’04-Olympics. It’s going to be close.

U.S. ‘0828242779159
U.S. ‘04363927102213

I will be on hiatus until the first week of September. Enjoy the rest of the Olympics and good luck fighting off the anticipation of college football!

Monday, August 18, 2008


If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of the Olympics. I need more Olympics in my life. I’m guessing the fact that they only come around every four years makes them as appealing as they are. If they had to survive a 162-game slate like MLB, I’m sure we would all hate the Olympics. But that’s not how it is and I’m riding the Olympic-wave. There have been a number of notable subplots from Dara Torres nearly winning the gold medal in the 50M freestyle at the age of 41 and Usain Bolt destroying all conventions of how fast a human can be to Bela Karolyi re-writing the rules for on-air analysts. Torres swam in the 1984 Olympics (!!!). Bolt broke the world record in the 100 m despite beginning to celebrate with high steps and chest slaps at the 75 meter mark! And, I’m begging for some sort of legislation that demands Karolyi be an analyst for every sport whether he knows anything about it or not. In fact, I’d rather he not know anything about it. He would be a ratings-machine. I could go on forever about the intrigue that these games have brought.

Despite the sheer awesomeness of these games, the obvious story in Beijing has been Michael Phelps. To get an idea of how captivated the world has been by Phelps, take what you did in front of your TV in your living room (standing, yelling, screaming, fist-pumping etc.) and multiply that by 40 million. You weren’t alone.

Going into the Beijing games, NBC and ESPN—among others—began to speculate heavily about the possibility of Phelps winning eight gold medals. Clearly this was in their best interest because such speculation would no doubt drive-up ratings. Phelps won six gold medals in Athens so it wasn’t totally unreasonable to suggest eight was possible. However, it seemed like the line between possible and likely was intentionally blurred beyond recognition heading into the games. People were expecting Phelps to break Mark Spitz’s 36-year record. It doesn’t take a lot of math and swimming knowledge, though, to realize that the odds were heavily stacked against Phelps to the point that it was unfair to treat it as anything more than an absolute best-case scenario. Best-case scenarios almost never happen. For starters, Phelps and his American teammates weren’t even the favorites in the 4 x 100 free relay. If Phelps had a 40% chance of winning gold in that race, and a 95% chance of winning gold in his other seven races, the odds of him winning eight gold medals was 26%. The odds were much worse than that, though. Phelps didn’t have a 95% chance of winning the other races. In fact, he probably only had a 65% chance of winning the 100 fly and an 80% chance of winning the 4 x 100 medley relay. If we assume that he had a 95% chance of winning the other five races—which he pretty much did—then he had a 16% chance of winning eight gold medals. That’s not very good.

So, how did something with a 16%-likelihood end up happening? There were a multitude of factors that provided the “perfect storm” for arguably the greatest individual performance in sports history. Here they are in no particular order:

1). “The Thorpedo”

Ian Thorpe was instrumental in this whole thing for two major reasons: 1). He retired—effectively removing Phelps’s primary competition in the 200 m freestyle, and 2). He said it wasn’t possible. As everyone knows now, that’s something you don’t say about or to Michael Phelps. Like Michael Jordan or Tigers Woods, Phelps creates criticism or exaggerates existing criticism to motivate him to perform beyond his already elite level. What Thorpe said wasn’t outrageous by any means. In fact, he said he wished Phelps the best and that Phelps is the only person that could do it. However, Phelps took Thorpe’s comments as a slap-in-the-face and ran with it. These comments came out leading up to the Olympics so it no doubt got Phelps fired up at the perfect time.

2). Jason Lezak

Lezak probably gave the most incredible performance of any athlete of the Olympics—Phelps included. Lezak was already a pretty good swimmer in his own right. He once owned the American Record in the 100 m freestyle with a time of 47.58. Still, he had never medaled at an individual event in the Olympics despite being the oldest male swimmer on the U.S. Team. When it came time for him to jump in the water to anchor the U.S.’s 4 x 100 free relay, it looked like Phelps’s quest for eight gold medals was over. France’s Alain Bernard not only had a full-body length lead over Lezak but he was also the World Record holder in 100 m with a time of 47.50. Lezak’s mission wasn’t just to keep up with Bernard—something he couldn’t do to begin with—he had to beat Bernard by more than .5 seconds. Lezak not only kept up with Bernard, he flew by him. In an effort that can only be described as superhuman, Lezak swam more than 1.5 seconds faster than he had ever done before in the 100 m. If that’s not unbelievable enough, he also swam the fastest 100 m freestyle in history by close to .6 seconds. It was the most impressive display of swimming of all-time. Phelps doesn’t win eight gold medals without an unfathomable swim by Lezak. Lezak went on to do in the 4 x 100 medley relay what Bernard was not able to do in the 4 x 100 free relay and that was hold on to a full body-length lead. He held off Australia’s Eamon Sullivan who is the world record holder in the 100 free (he broke Bernard’s record in Beijing).

3). Milorad Cavic

Poor Milorad Cavic. Nobody in Beijing was more complimentary of Phelps than Cavic. He did, however, make three gigantic mistakes. He reportedly said he would win the race for sure, stared down Phelps before the race, and said it would be good for swimming if Phelps lost. Word no doubt got back to Phelps and the rest is history. I’m not sure how much of a factor Cavic’s comments were but since he only lost by .01 seconds, they probably cost him the gold medal.

4). Alain Bernard

Despite getting blitzed by Lezak on the anchor leg of the 4 x 100 free relay, Bernard didn’t “blow it.” He swam a 46.73 split which is blazing. However, Bernard did provide Phelps with more “fodder for the fire” when he made the following comments before the final:

“The Americans? We're going to smash them. That's what we came here for.”

Again, I’m not sure how much of a factor Bernard’s comments were but considering the U.S. needed the fastest split in swimming history by nearly .6 seconds and got it, I’m guessing they probably cost him the gold medal.

5). Mark Spitz

I can’t help but to feel for Spitz. He wanted to be at the Beijing Games to see Phelps possibly break his record but nobody invited him. His only recourse was to do interviews back in the States professing his desire to be there. However, without his Spitzian-efforts 36 years ago that produced seven gold medals in a single games, I doubt Phelps even attempts to achieve eight gold medals. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Phelps broke it by one. Spitz set the record—and as everyone knows—records are made to be broken.

6). Luck

Looking back on how the whole thing unfolded, it’s clear that luck or fate or whatever you want to call it had more to do with Phelps winning eight gold medals than anything else. I said earlier in this post that going into the Olympics, Phelps probably had close to a 16% chance of breaking Spitz’s record. Well, in hindsight, his chances were much, much worse. What are the odds that Jason Lezak was going to swim 1.5 seconds faster than he had ever swam before and .6 seconds faster than anyone had ever swam before? The odds are 1 in 100 at best. Cleary, this is a guess on my part but Lezak has swam many, many times in his life and never even come close to swimming that fast. 1 in 100 might be giving that possibility too much credit. As if those odds weren’t enough to overcome, what were the odds that Phelps was going to pass Cavic after being considerably behind even as Cavic’s fingers were inches from the finish pad? At no point in the race—especially in the last 50 m—was Phelps better than a 1 in 10 bet of winning. That’s probably on the optimistic side as well since Phelp’s hands were six feet from the wall when Cavic’s hands were one foot from the wall. It doesn’t take too much math to know that the odds of both a 1 in 100 event and a 1 in 10 bet of happening are 1 in 1000. Nevermind the other six swims. Phelps had water leak into his goggles in the 200 m fly. If that happened in the 100 m fly, Cavic would’ve won. Even the great Michael Phelps can’t plan victories by one-tenth of a second. Luck ruled the week.

7). Michael Phelps

That’s not to take anything away from Phelps who is an athletic freak. His body is perfectly designed to swim and his work ethic is equally impressive. Plus, Phelps has the unique ability to deliver. There is no doubt that Phelps was capable of winning each of his races. He had done it before. However, winning all of them at the same event is what separates him from every other athlete in the world. For instance, Aaron Piersol—the best backstroker in the world—was certainly capable of pulling off a double-gold in the 100 and 200 m backstroke like he did in Athens. However, he could only manage a silver medal in the 200. The best backstroker in the world couldn’t go two for two. Phelps went eight for eight. He delivers. His work ethic and determination are also what sets him apart. In an interview following his final race in Beijing, Phelps hinted that he would like to try other events like the 50 or 100 m Freestyle or the 100 m backstroke. That would be like Michael Johnson—former U.S. Sprinter and current World Record holder in the 200 and 400 m—throwing his name into the 100 m and hurdles. That’s unprecedented if not impossible. Phelps vs. Piersol in the 100 m backstroke and Phelps vs. Sullivan and Bernard in the 100 m freestyle officially become what I’m looking forward to the most in the 2012 Summer Games in London.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Deprivation is Over

I have been a Michigan football fan for 20 years. In fact, I remember the moment it all started. My earliest memory is from the ’88 Hall of Fame Bowl victory over Alabama. In those 20 years, I have never been more satisfied than I am at this moment. The level of access that Rich Rodriguez has allowed fans to have is simply unprecedented for Michigan. Believe it or not, I come from an Ohio State family. I know the enemy very well. I also know the enemy has been so much kinder to its fans in the customer relations department. I have spent a good portion of those 20 years begging for the same information that Ohio St. fans take for granted. Buckeye-fans are very knowledgeable because the Ohio St. coaching staff has allowed them to be. Until now, Michigan fans have had no such luck.

The purpose of this post is to simply express the unadulterated joy that has been infused into my life by the “new” Michigan football program. Previously, I felt like an abused dog who longs for something as simple as a being praised. To prove my point, Mgoblue.com has a feature running up to the Utah game on August 30 where it releases a video each day. The videos include interviews with players and coaches at practice. The videos are no more than a few minutes each but I feel like I’m waking up on Christmas morning every day. It’s pretty sad that something as basic as a snippet from practice could have such an effect. But, that simply underscores how boring and secretive the previous regime was. The videos from practice are just one example of fan-access. Rodriguez is so much more open than Lloyd Carr ever was. He isn't evasive. He doesn't act as if the secret to the Krabby Patty recipe is hidden in Schembechler Hall. Rodriguez's willingness to actually answer questions extends to his coaching staff as well. It's entirely refreshing. If any group of fans deserves this sort of reward, though, it’s Michigan-fans. The deprivation lasted far too long. I now have hope that this silly addiction that I succumbed to many years ago will actually end up paying off. Enjoying Michigan football has become a reality again.

I actually started this blog because I was unsatisfied with the Michigan program. I thought a blog might be the outlet that I needed to counteract my frustrations that existed in a littany of areas. Sure, the coaching staff was always pretty weak but that was just a function of the entire philosophy of the program. Everything—from the preparation to play-calling to conditioning—was rooted in the 60’s and 70’s. That included the level of information afforded to the fans. With one lucky hire, all of that went out the door. Some have compared it to an upgrade. I compare it to a transplant. The body is the same but the substance is entirely new. This is what I thought I was getting myself into 20 years ago. I am overjoyed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Antidote to Tigers-Depression

The Tigers have been an unmitigated disaster this season. There are only three things that fans can take solace in as the season unwinds: 1). Mags has a shot at his second consecutive batting title, 2). Miguel Cabrera isn’t a bust, and 3). Dombrowski will have $50 million to spend in the off-season. Considering the Tigers entered the season with a $140 million payroll and the envy of every baseball city in America, those three things aren’t enough to off-set the colossal disappointment. So, I’ve turned to an old friend to provide me comfort in this time of need: prospect-fawning.

Before I get to the fawning, I want to emphasize that there isn’t a glutton of players in the minors worth fawning over. The system is in pretty good shape depth-wise but there aren't the superstars at the top like we've seen in recent years (i.e. Joel Zumaya, Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller, and Cameron Maybin). It will probably take another year or two before the system looks anything like it did B.M. (Before Miguel). However, there is at least one player who you probably haven’t heard of—if you are a regular reader of my blog, then you’ll probably recognize this name from last year’s prospect rankings—who is quickly turning into a star. In fact, if it were the 90’s, he would easily be the best player in the system. I’m talking about the home-run machine himself, Ryan Strieby. In an attempt to break the awkward silence that surely just ran rampant over the internets, I’ll quickly get to his credentials.

Strieby has been a monster at the plate this season. He has torn apart the Florida State League to the tune of a .914 OPS and 29 home runs. Strieby hasn’t been a prospect to watch on anyone’s radar, really, until now. I liked enough of what I saw last season at West Michigan (A) to place him as the 14th best prospect in the organization. That was considerably more optimistic than other outlets at the time. Now, it’s impossible to ignore what he has been doing to opposing pitching since July 1st (19 home runs, 47 RBI’s and a 1.200 OPS in 38 games).

Strieby’s numbers have steadily climbed each year in the organization which is exactly what you would expect from a legitimate major league prospect. He just turned 23 over the weekend which still leaves him one of the younger players on the Lakeland roster. He has already set the Lakeland team record for home runs in a season with 25. He is currently at 29 with 19 games to play.

Strieby's Progression

Oneonta (A-)20224.654.335425.241
West Michigan (A)21443.769.4221676.253
Lakeland (A+)22417.914.5612994.278

Strieby didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. He was the SEC Player of the Year in 2006and a First Team All-American at Kentucky. The SEC—as you probably know—is the premier college baseball conference in America. Strieby was somewhat curiously drafted in the fourth round by the Tigers. Certainly, his numbers seemed to merit an earlier selection. However, he only played one season of D-1 college baseball. He transferred to Kentucky from a C.C. college for his junior season and joined the Tigers the following year. Without a track record of success, it’s somewhat understandable that everyone missed the boat on this guy but his stat-line in the SEC should’ve tipped some people off.

Despite his impressive college accomplishments, Strieby has never been billed as a future contributor in Detroit because Jeff Larish has been the “first baseman of the future” for a few years now after progressing nicely through the system. Strieby should start getting pub as the best hitting prospect in the system because he has significantly outperformed Larish at high-A while doing it almost a full year younger.

Strieby vs. Larish

Ryan StriebyLakeland (A+)22417.914.5612994.278
Jeff LarishLakeland (A+)23457.839.4601865.258

Larish’s designation as “first baseman of the future” certainly took a hit when Miguel Cabrera was permanently moved to first base. So, it would seem that Strieby’s place in the organization is even more uncertain. However, the Tigers may want to consider making Cabrera a DH. Larish’s progression was respectable. Strieby’s is eye-popping. The Tigers have already seen an older-version of Strieby--albeit a third-base version--waste away in the minors in Mike Hessman. Hessman is a 30 year old HR-machine who can’t get out of AAA. Strieby should be ready for the majors by 2011. The Tigers will likely have to move Larish or watch his value waste away. The same thing could potentially happen with Strieby. It’s unfortunate that the best offensive prospect in the organization plays a position that will be occupied for the next ten years. Fortunately, the AL has the DH.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Worst Cy Young Winners (NL)

There was almost perfect symmetry between the NL screw-ups and the AL screw-ups. My initial tally was 12 screw-ups a piece but there were two borderline cases in the NL that I just could not sign-off on. First, I wanted to include 1989 when Mark Davis beat out a slew of starters who had similarly uninspiring years. Orel Hershiser had the best season of the bunch. At first glance, it looked like ’89 was just a repeat of ’87 when Hershiser was erroneously beat out by Steve Bedrosian. However, Davis had a much better year than Bedrosian. I don’t condone Davis winning in ’89 but I couldn’t pull the trigger on calling it horrible. I could be convinced otherwise, though. Secondly, I wanted to include 2005 when Chris Carpenter beat out Roger Clemens despite sporting an ERA almost a full run higher. However, Carpenter and Clemens essentially made the same number of starts (33-32 in favor of Carpenter) yet Carpenter finished with 31 more innings. It doesn’t take too much math comprehension to see that Carpenter basically averaged an inning more per start. There is not question in my mind that Clemens’s ERA wouldn’t have been as impressive if he were able to go as far into games as Carpenter. So, I left that vote off the list as well. I do have a bonus-inclusion under “ML” since it was in ’59 when the award was only given to the best pitcher in the majors.

Worst Cy Young Votes in National League History (winner listed first)


Roger Clemens2.9814682%214.3181.16218
Randy Johnson2.6017753%245.716.90290

There was no chance Randy Johnson was going to win the Cy Young in 2004 no matter how good he pitched since his Diamondbacks were one of the worst teams in MLB history with a 51-111 record. However, the Cy Young is not an MVP award. Astoundingly, there were 23 voters in the NL who thought Clemens was the better pitcher in ‘05. Johnson pitched 35 more innings with an ERA+ that was 31 points higher. Interestingly, if Johnson had won the award as he should have, he and Clemens would have been tied with six Cy Young’s a piece. Instead, Clemens holds a 7-5 advantage.


Tom Glavine2.4716877%229.3201.20157
Kevin Brown2.3816472%257181.07257
Greg Maddux2.2218767%25118.98204

Whereas Dave Stieb’s snubs wouldn’t have made an impact on his Hall of Fame chances, the same cannot be said for Kevin Brown. Unlike Stieb, Brown’s chances for the Hall of Fame are borderline even without a Cy Young Award. Had he won one or two, he probably would’ve been a good bet for election. Instead, Brown came up with zero and thus his chances are zero. It’s debatable just how many Brown should have won. It’s one or two depending on how you view ’98. There is no question in my mind that Brown should have easily finished ahead of Tom Glavine who won the award. Brown pitched 28 more innings with virtually the same ERA+ and a much better WHIP. However, Greg Maddux was the best pitcher in the NL in ’98. In a case very similar to the AL Cy Young voting in ’01, Maddux was clearly the best pitcher on his team and still lost the award to his teammate. People who vote this poorly should have their credentials stripped. Maddux pitched 22 more innings with an ERA+ 23 points higher. I know this can be difficult for Cy Young voters to comprehend but if Pitcher A and Pitcher B pitch for the same team, and Pitcher A pitches more innings and has a better ERA, then Pitcher A is the better pitcher. Maddux was robbed of a fifth Cy Young Award.


John Smoltz2.9414975%253.7241.00276
Kevin Brown1.8921661%23317.94159

Smoltz had a very good season in 1996. However, Kevin Brown had an ERA that was more than a full run better. How could a reasonable-thinking person conclude that Smoltz was the better pitcher? Brown’s 216 ERA+ is the highest single-season mark to not result in a Cy Young Award (min. 215 innings). Smoltz led the league in wins and pitched for a playoff team. In other words, Brown had no chance.


Steve Bedrosian2.83150638951.207440
Orel Hershisher2.0613150%264.7161.201900

At least when Sparky Lyle won the AL Cy Young in ’77 he pitched 137 innings. Bedrosian only managed 89 innings. Orel Hershisher pitched close to three times as many! Bedrosian won because there were no other obvious candidates. Even Hershisher, the best pitcher in the NL in ’87, was only 16-16. Jesus couldn’t win the Cy Young with that record. Bedrosian’s win was, by no means, unanimous. In fact, he only received 9 of the 24 first place votes. The majority of voters agreed that Bedrosian was not the best pitcher in ’87. They just couldn’t agree who was.


Rick Sutcliffe2.6914494%150.3161.08155
Dwight Gooden2.6013765%276.7171.07268

I’m sure every pitcher would love to be able start over halfway through the season like Sutcliffe was able to do in 1984. Sutcliffe went 4-5 with a 5.05 ERA to start the season with Cleveland in the American League. He was traded to the Cubs and saw his ERA immediately drop to 0.00. By rule, his horrid stats over 15 starts in the AL would not be factored into his statistics for Cy Young voting purposes. Sutcliffe went on to receive a godly amount of run support (5.6 runs per game) and finished the season 16-1 in the NL. Even if we pretend that it’s OK that Sutcliffe’s AL statistics got washed away, Gooden pitched 126 more innings in the NL with nearly identical ERA numbers. I realize that a 16-1 record is like a pair of bare breasts walking into a room but these voters get paid to look away. It probably didn’t help Gooden that he was a rookie but he should’ve been a back-to-back winner in ‘84-‘85. Additionally, this would never happen in the MVP voting. There is no way that the best ½ season could be as impactful as the best full season.


Steve Carlton3.1011968%295.7231.15286
Steve Rogers2.4015270%277191.12179

Steve Carlton was the Tom Glavine of the 70’s. And like Glavine, he won a Cy Young that he shouldn’t have. Rogers had an ERA+ that was 33 points better. He also had a better winning percentage and WHIP. However, his name wasn’t Steve Carlton. So he apparently didn’t deserve it in ’82.


Bruce Sutter2.2218750%101.36.9811037
J.R. Richard2.7113058%292.3181.093130

There is a closer every year who puts up numbers like Sutter put up in ’79. I can understand truly great relief performances resulting in the Cy Young like Eck in ’92 and Eric Gagne in ’03. If voters are going to give the Cy Young to Sutter in ’79, then they should give it to a closer every year. I just can’t fathom how big of a detour from logic it would take to get to the belief that Sutter’s impact was greater than Richard’s. Richard threw almost three times as many innings! He had 313 strike outs to go with 18 wins and a 1.09 WHIP. A sure-sign that NL voters in ’79 were on some sort of a controlled substance is that Joe Niekro—Richard’s Houston teammate—finished ahead of Richard in the voting while pitching significantly fewer innings with a much worse ERA and WHIP. As for Sutter, Gagne’s ERA+ in ’03 was 335. That’s the sort of season that should garner Cy Young consideration if you’re only going to pitch 100 innings.


Mike Marshall2.4214156%208.3151.1914321
Andy Messersmith2.5913277%292.3201.102210

Sutter was bad but I don’t think anything trumps Mike Marshall in ’74. While I commend the voters for going with a reliever who actually pitched over 200 innings (which is unheard of in today’s game), Marshall probably had the worst of the ten seasons that resulted in a Cy Young going to a reliever. Messersmith’s season wasn’t overwhelming but he was clearly the better pitcher in ’74. Marshall lost 12 games! Can you imagine a reliever doing that today? Well, I guess I should say “can you imagine anyone other than Shawn Chacon doing that today?” Marshall also pitched in 41 games in which his team lost. Messersmith pitched 84 more innings with a better WHIP, more wins, a better winning percentage and an ERA only slightly less impressive than Marshall’s.


Ferguson Jenkins2.7714265%325241.05263
Tom Seaver1.7619367%286.320.95289

I’d like to invoke rule 1a of the Cy Young Voting Common Sense Charter that states, “If Pitcher A has an ERA that is a full run lower than Pitcher B and Pitcher A pitched a competing workload, then Pitcher A was the better pitcher.” Seaver went for 286.3 at a 1.76 clip. That is phenomenal. I do have to give Ferguson Jenkins credit for a 325-inning season but a 143 ERA+ won’t cut it when we’re talking about Seaver’s 193. This should have been a fourth Cy Young for Seaver. Like Maddux, though, he actually should’ve finished with five and here’s why…


Bob Gibson3.1213277%294231.19274
Tom Seaver2.8214260%291181.07283

Seaver and Gibson went for just about the same amount of innings in 1970. Seaver had the better ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and had more K’s. The only thing Gibson had going for him was that he led the NL in wins which, as you know by now, is the only statistic that matters


Mike McCormick2.8511769%262.3221.15150
Jim Bunning2.2914953%302.3171.04253

I don’t necessarily want to embark on the task of ranking the worst Cy Young winners in order but the ’67 result would be a frontrunner for worst all-time. Jim Bunning pitched 40 more innings with an ERA+ that was 32 points higher than Mike McCormick. Even more absurd is the fact that Bunning only received one of 20 first place votes. He must have slept with a lot of sportswriters’ wives.


Early Wynn3.1711969%255.7221.26179
Sam Jones2.8313458%270.7211.26209

The ’59 voting was almost as bad as ’67 but not quite. Sam Jones pitched more innings with a better ERA+. While not as egregious as some of the other awful votes, ’59 is where the Cy Young voting shenanigans got started.

The 2008 NL Cy Young Race

I’m not sure that it’s possible for the NL Cy Young to go to an undeserving pitcher this year. For that to happen, there would have to be a deserving pitcher to start with. There are at least ten pitchers in the NL who could legitimately claim a shot at the Cy Young. There are a number of scenarios that could play out including a repeat of the ’84 NL Cy Young with Sabathia winning despite playing in the league for half the season. We could also see a repeat of the ’01 AL Cy Young with a pitcher winning the award over a teammate with better numbers (i.e. Webb over Haren). I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the top five listed below end up winning the award. If I had to guess how the season was going to end in the NL, I’d say Webb distances himself from the rest of the group including Haren and picks up his second Cy Young Award. Also, look out for Randy Johnson next season. After battling injuries for the better part of two seasons, The Big Unit has allowed only two earned runs in his last 27.3 innings.

Best guess for 2008 NL Cy Young ballot (as of August 7, 2008)

1). Brandon Webb
2). C.C. Sabathia
3). Carlos Zambrano
4). Dan Haren
5). Jake Peavy
6). Tim Lincecum
7). Johan Santana
8). Edinson Volquez
9). Ryan Dempster
10). Ben Sheets
11). Tim Hudson

Worst Cy Young Winners (AL)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Worst Cy Young Winners (AL)

The Cy Young Award has been handed out to the best pitcher(s) in baseball since 1956. It started out as one award given to the best pitcher in MLB. Don Newcombe was the first winner. In 1967, the award split into two separate awards given to the best pitchers in the American and National Leagues. The award is supposed to go to the “best pitcher” but since it is voted on by humans—by definition—it is a purely subjective award. In most cases, voters get it right. However, as you might expect, there have been a number of votes ranging from highly questionable to downright horrible. Of the 95 Cy Young Awards that have been handed out, 24 have gone to the wrong pitcher—12 in the American League and 12 in the National League. That’s a 76% success-rate which isn’t too bad. However, in a world rules by statistics, poor decisions stick out like Brian Knobbs’s beer belly.

Cy Young voters love them some “wins.” Voters seem content with voting illogically as long as there is a high-win total involved. In virtually every instance that the award was given to the wrong pitcher, the winner had a higher win total than the pitcher who should’ve won. I would suspect that most knowledgeable baseball fans would admit that the most meaningful pitching statistic is ERA. “Wins” is a function of the strength of a team. ERA, while somewhat affected by defense, is on the pitcher. Wins are important but they are not always indicative of the best pitching performance. Before I get to the American League’s worst winners, I want to clarify that this isn’t a knock on the winners. There is no question that winning a Cy Young Award—whether it was the right decision or not—means that the winner had an excellent season. However, the award is supposed to go to the “best” pitcher in the league. A good season is commendable but only the best should win the Cy Young.

Worst Cy Young Votes in American League History (winner listed first)


Bartolo Colon3.4812272%222.7211.18157
Johan Santana2.8715570%231.716.97238

As you can see, the 2005 AL Cy Young voting is the classic case of favoring flare over substance. Santana clearly had the better season. He had a considerably better ERA than Colon and he even pitched more innings. Santana’s WHIP was an unbelievable .97. Colon’s was a pedestrian 1.18. While Colon won more games, Santana clearly performed the best. It’s a shame that Santana was denied being honored as the best pitcher in the American League in 2005; it prevented him from becoming only the third pitcher to win three consecutive Cy Young awards (Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux are the only two to do it). Colon is easily one of the least deserving winners of all-time.


Barry Zito2.7515882%229.3231.13182
Pedro Martinez2.2620283%199.3320.92239

The only thing keeping the 2002 Cy Young voting from being worse than 2005 is the fact that Barry Zito pitched 30 more innings than Pedro (or five more starts). Pedro’s numbers for ’05 were staggering. His WHIP was astronomically low at .92. His ERA+ was 44 points better than Zito’s. Pedro even had a better winning percentage. Zito’s season was pretty good but it paled in comparison. In fact, Pedro’s ’02 campaign was one of the most dominating pitching performances in MLB history.


Roger Clemens3.5112887%220.33201.26213
Mike Mussina3.1514261%228.7171.07214

At first glance, the 2001 AL Cy Young voting doesn’t look that bad. However, it is a perfect example of how screwed up the thinking of Cy Young voters can be. Clemens and Mike Mussina played for the same team. Mussina beat Clemens in every statistical category with the exception of wins and winning percentage. Those are the categories that pitchers have the least control over. Mussina had the better ERA, ERA+, and WHIP. In fact, it really wasn’t close. Mussina also pitched more innings. How a pitcher can have a considerably better ERA over more innings than a pitcher on his own team and lose to that pitcher is unfathomable.


Jack McDowell3.3712569%256.7221.29158
Randy Johnson3.2413670%255.3191.11308

Sometimes pitchers win Cy Young Awards because their teams make the playoffs. In ’93, McDowell had the golden combination of leading the league in wins while pitching for a playoff team. That virtually guarantees a Cy Young. However, he wasn’t the best pitcher in the AL in ’93. Randy Johnson was. The Big Unit was denied a sixth Cy Young because of politics. Johnson owned McDowell in all of the most telling statistics including ERA, ERA+, and WHIP. Johnson also struck nearly twice as many batters for a whopping total of 308. However, McDowell got more run support and was deemed the better pitcher.


Bob Welch2.9512682%238271.22127
Roger Clemens1.9321378%228.3211.08209

The three worst Cy Young votes that I have seen happened in 2005 (Colon over Santana), 1993 (McDowell over Johnson), and 1990. Bob Welch wowed voters by amassing 27 wins which was the highest win total in MLB in 22 years (Denny McClain won 31 in 1968). Most voters had their minds made up before a statistical breakdown even entered their consciousness. Welch had the lethal combination of leading the league in wins on a playoff team. Unfortunately, nobody paid attention to Roger Clemens who had one of the great seasons in MLB history. His 213 ERA+ is one of the great marks of all-time. Only Clemens in ’05 and Kevin Brown in ’96 posted better ERA+ marks without winning the Cy Young. Clemens also destroyed Welch in WHIP. There is no question—given the same run support—that 100% of smart people would’ve chosen Clemens to pitch for them over Welch in 1990--unless, of course, your name is Rachel Phelps and you own the fictitious Cleveland Indians.


Bret Saberhagen2.8714577%235.3201.06158
Dave Stieb2.4817252%265141.14167

Dave Stieb has been more adversely affected by poor Cy Young voting than any other pitcher in MLB history. He should have won two Cy Young awards. Instead, he has zero. If it’s any consolation, even with the two that he deserved, he still wouldn’t have been a Hall of Famer. He simply would’ve joined Denny McClain as the only two-time winner not in the Hall of Fame. Instead, Saberhagen won it and he joined McLain as the only two-time winners not in the Hall of Fame. Still, I’m sure Stieb wouldn’t have complained. He was clearly the better pitcher in the AL in 1985. Stieb’s ERA was 27 points higher and he pitched 30 more innings. Unfortunately for Stieb, the voters were made up of a group of people who obviously didn’t understand that having better run support doesn’t have anything to do with pitching.


La Marr Hoyt3.6611571%260.7241.02148
Jack Morris3.3411761%293.7201.16232

If Pitcher A has a better ERA and ERA+ and pitches 33 more innings than Pitcher B, shouldn’t it be a fact that Pitcher A pitched better? Unfortunately for Jack Morris, there were enough voters in 1983 who would’ve answered “no.” Hoyt had the highest ERA of any Cy Young winner in MLB history but he led the league in wins and his team made the playoffs so Morris was S.O.L.


Pete Vuckovich3.3411475%223.7181.50105
Jim Palmer3.1312975%227151.14103
Dave Stieb3.2513855%288.3171.2141

The 1983 Cy Young voting was so bad that there were two pitchers who deserved to win ahead of the actual winner, Pete Vuckovich. Jim Palmer had a much better ERA and ERA+ than Vuckovich and he did it over more innings. If it were just between Palmer and Vuckovich, Palmer should’ve been the guy. However, Dave Stieb’s season destroyed Palmer’s season. He clearly should’ve won the Cy Young in ’83. He pitched 55 more innings (or eight more starts) than Vuckovich and had a much better ERA+ than both Palmer and Vuckovich. Amazingly, Stieb only garnered enough votes for fourth place.


Steve Stone3.2312378%250.7251.3149
Mike Norris2.5314871%284.3221.05180

It was more of the same in 1980. Mike Norris had a much better ERA, ERA+ and WHIP and did it over 34 more innings. Yet, Steve Stone took home the hardware.


Sparky Lyle2.1718272%137131.206826
Jim Palmer2.9113265%319201.141930
Nolan Ryan2.7714154%299191.343410

I don’t know who should have won the award in 1977 but it shouldn’t have been Sparky Lyle. Lyle pitched a not-so-whopping total of 137 innings. Nolan Ryan went for 299 and Jim Palmer went for 319. Ryan struck out 341 batters which was the 8th highest total since 1905. Ryan and Palmer split the votes allowing Lyle to sneak away with the award without even receiving 1/3 of the first-place votes. Together, Ryan and Palmer accounted for 12 first-place votes which were more than Lyle’s nine. Ryan famously won zero Cy Young awards but he arguably should have won in ’77. Either that, or Palmer should’ve picked up his fourth.


Jim Perry3.0412567%278.7241.13168
Sam McDowell2.9213463%305201.20304
Jim Palmer2.7113467%305201.19199

The 1970 vote again features Jim Palmer. On three occasions, Palmer had a better season than the eventual Cy Young winner. However, in all three instances, a third pitcher had a better season than the eventual Cy Young winner as well. Like the ’77 voting, I’m not sure who should’ve won the award in ’70 but I know it shouldn’t have been Jim Perry. Palmer and Sam McDowell both had better ERA’s and did it with nearly 30 more innings. Perry was clearly the least qualified of the three. Amazingly, Palmer and McDowell each had an ERA+ of 134, pitched exactly 305 innings, and won exactly 20 games. Separating those two is a chore that I want no part of. The silliness of the ’70 vote didn’t end with Perry winning. Two of Palmer’s teammates actually finished ahead of him in the voting even though Palmer pitched more innings with a better ERA. Palmer only managed a 5th place finish!


Jim Lonborg3.1611171%273.3221.14246
Joe Horlen2.0614673%25819.95103

I don’t know too much about either pitcher but I do know that Horlen’s ERA was more than a full run better than Lonborg’s. There is only so much a pitcher can control on a bad team. The Cy Young is supposed to be given to the best pitcher in the league. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity like there is with the MVP. Assuming the inning-totals are relatively close, if Pitcher A has an ERA that is a full run better than Pitcher B, then pitcher A was the better pitcher.

The 2008 AL Cy Young Race

The 2008 AL Cy Young will hopefully go to a deserving candidate. Unless something major occurs over the next two months, we should be looking at a four-pitcher race between Cliff Lee, Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, and Francisco Rodriguez. Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders of the Angels will likely cancel each other out. Each of the four pitchers has a compelling case to be considered the favorite at this point. Halladay is second in the AL in WHIP, third in ERA and leads the league in Complete Games, Shutouts, and Innings. Cliff Lee leads the AL in Wins and Win % and is second and third in ERA and WHIP, respectively. Mike Mussina probably has the weakest “numbers” but probably has the best sentimental case (not that I advocate this). He is the third oldest starter in the AL. He has finished in the top six in the Cy Young voting eight times without winning the award. He is tied for the league-lead in wins. At this point, he doesn’t deserve to win but you can’t put a “good story” past the voters. The last remaining candidate—and likely winner—is K-Rod. He isn’t having his best season but all anyone will care about at the end of the year is that he destroyed the single-season saves record. Halladay and Lee are pitching for teams that are under .500. Mussina’s numbers aren’t good enough. That should mean any easy victory for K-Rod which would make him the tenth different reliever to win the award.

Best guess for 2008 AL Cy Young ballot (as of August 4, 2008)

1). Francisco Rodriguez
2). Cliff Lee
3). Roy Halladay
4). Mike Mussina
5). Joe Saunders
6). Ervin Santana

Worst Cy Young Winners (NL)

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