In a typically engaging essay (Cy's the Limit?") posted to Da Box earlier, Coach Kent posed the following query:
" ... how do you think Doc compares to other AL starters? Not long-term, just for the upcoming season. Or, to ask the question another way, who do you think are the leading contenders for this year's Cy Young award?"
The reaction and discussion (still ongoing at this writing) ignores one teensy point: those two questions (who are the AL's top starters? who are the leading contenders for the 2003 Cy Young Award?) are only barely related.
In the more than quarter century (1977-2002) of the post-Sutter era of closers dominating baseball's decision-making on pitching, the 26 AL Cy Young winners have fit pretty easily into four distinct categories, with some overlap -- and Halladay is Alfonso-Soriano-leads-the-AL-in-walks unlikely to fit any of the four. The one exception to the quarter-century rule (there's always one), as we will see, is a name that should be familiar to Blue Jays fans.
Here's the breakdown; there are more than 25 names listed because some pitchers fit more than one category, and so are listed twice. They are presented in order of season in which they claimed the award, with multiple-time winners noted parenthetically.
Pitched for a playoff team:
Sparky Lyle, Ron Guidry, Mike Flanagan, Pete Vuckovich, LaMarr Hoyt, Willie Hernandez, Bret Saberhagen (1985), Roger Clemens (1986, 1999), Frank Viola, Bob Welch, Dennis Eckersly, Jack McDowell, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez (1999), Barry Zito
Doc's chances: Barring a very surprising Wild Card run, the presence of New York and Boston in the same division means Toronto could finish with the third best record in all of baseball (they won't) and not make the playoffs. No help here for a Doc-for-Cy candidacy.
Won a ridiculous (23+) number of games:
Ron Guidry, Steve Stone, LaMarr Hoyt, Roger Clemens (1986), Frank Viola, Bret Saberhagen (1989), Bob Welch, Pedro Martinez (1999), Barry Zito
Doc's chances: Probably the best bet for a Doc-for-Cy run lies in his ability to string together 23-25 wins. Voters like "wins" even when other pitchers are clearly better. Is this possible? Sure ... if spares like Hoyt, Stone and Welch can put up Sandy Koufax numbers once in a career, Halladay sure could. But even that's no sure thing, especially if one or more candidates fits one or more of the other categories. Ever hear of Ron Bryant?
Was a dominant closer:
Sparky Lyle, Rollie Fingers, Willie Hernandez, Dennis Eckersly
Doc's chances: Well, unless Carlos Tosca has something really bizarre in mind ...
Was a repeat winner:
Roger Clemens (1987, 1991, 1997, 1998, 2001), Bret Saberhagen (1989), Pedro Martinez (2000)
Doc's chances: Mathematically impossible, of course.
Notes on Strike Year Winners:
David Cone (1994) and Randy Johnson (1995)
Both had established name value, though neither had yet won a Cy; both had eye-popping W/L totals (Cone 16-5; Johnson 18-2) in shortened seasons; Johnson also qualifies under "playoff team" category while Cone's Royals were surprisingly battling for a Wild Card berth in the Postseason That Never Was.
Pat Hentgen finished on top of the weakest Cy Young field ever in 1996. He nosed out Andy Pettitte -- a personal favorite of mine, but certainly no Hall of Famer -- in a year when Charles Nagy, Alex Fernandez and Ken Hill were all in the Top 10. Amazingly, a setup man (guy by the name of Mariano Rivera) finished third, albeit a distant third.
Doc's chances: Almost none. There are too many former winners still around (notably Martinez and Zito) and a handful of AL pitchers who get far, far better press -- Hudson, Mulder, Mussina, just to name three -- for this type of "exception" to occur again.
So, is Halladay one of the top starting pitchers in the American League? Sure thing. Will he win the AL Cy Young Award any time soon.
Barring a Blue Jay pennant, a conversion to closer and 55 saves, a once-in-a-career two dozen wins or complete collapse by the rest of the A.L.'s elite pitchers ... no. No chance.
Flame away ...