Cy Young is in the Cards

added 10/3/2005 by

When Astros' hurler Roger Clemens steps off the Turner Field mound
on Thursday night, he may have a familiar feeling. He's had it before. Nine other times.


Nine times he's pitched near perfectly this season - six of them on the
road. Just as many times, his teammates' bats have let him down by
not scoring a single run. But the result of that absent run support won't be shown just on a
scoreboard.


The 43-year-old mammoth of a pitcher just finished up a season in which
his performance would usually make him a frontrunner for his eighth Cy
Young award.


But as the season wound down and his competition got stronger, the
evidence became clear that Clemens could possibly retire with that No. 8
hanging over his head - a sort of Cy Young could've been, should've been.
Clemens has openly stated he doesn't pay attention to those type of
accolades.


I disagree. His drive and competitiveness have kept him going for 22
years and could drive him into his middle-to-late 40s. When not in a
pennant chase, one concrete reason for his dominance at the end of
the season is the hardware - and, or course, the chase for the World
Series ring.


The numbers game


If voters look at his per-game performance, Clemens would hold his
eighth hands down. Out of his 32 starts, Clemens has not allowed an
earned run 11 times. He's yielded only one run nine times and just
two on seven other occasions. His ERA never jumped above 2.00 the
entire season, and while his strikeout numbers aren't astronomical,
his game-by-game numbers - five games of nine or more Ks - speak for
themselves.


His bullpen would even give him an award for the rest he's given it.
In 21 of those starts, Clemens has gone at least seven innings. Four
of those were eight-inning performances. In the entire month of April and
all but one start in July, he was automatic for seven-plus.


As much as Clemens hopes voters look at his earned run average, strikeouts
and number of quality starts (20) - and not his win-loss record - they
won't, because they haven't ever.


Not since 1981 has an National League starting pitcher won the Cy
Young Award with less than 16 wins. In his seven Cy Young years,
Clemens has averaged 20 wins.


Clemens finished the year first in the majors with a 1.87 ERA, 10th in the
NL in strikeouts (185) and tied for 20th in innings pitched (211.1).


The field


Clemens lost to one of the frontrunners, St. Louis Cardinals' ace
Chris Carpenter, in August when he tweaked his hamstring in an
Astros' 4-2 loss at home.


Carpenter has come out of nowhere from two seasons ago, and voters
typically like to root for the unknown and the underdogs. Carpenter
is in the top five of every major statistical pitching category in the
majors - wins (second with 22), strikeouts (third with 213), ERA (fifth
with 2.83), complete games (tied for first with seven) and shutouts
(second with four). The list goes on, and it doesn't hurt he's the
leading pitcher on the best team in the National League, in terms of
records. Since Carpenter had such a dominant season in 2004 and did not
win the award, voters may also be sympathetic to his cause.


Willis is another fan favorite, and with a strong push in September, may
have overtaken Carpenter in some voters' eyes. The youngster with the non-traditional windup has more wins (22) than Carpenter, more shutouts (5) and a better ERA (2.63). He's not a strikeout machine, so he's only 18th in the NL.


Carpenter and Willis were the first two to reach 20 wins in the majors. In
defense of Clemens, those other two hurlers have had superb run support,
and Willis has still given up his share of runs.


But few will look at run support or lack thereof, as they didn't last
year when Randy Johnson went 16-14 despite having an ERA under 3.00
and pitched a perfect game.


The decision


The truth of the matter is this - the Astros making the playoffs could
make voters to see the real value of Clemens - instead of Willis.


A pitcher on a playoff team has more value than one that couldn't get his
squad to the promised land - no matter if it was no fault of his own.
Carpenter has already sealed up a playoff berth and a division title
for his Cardinals. Since no reliever is worthy of Cy Young talk this
season, this is a three-horse race.


All have arguments working against them. Clemens was hampered by injury in
Setpember and doesn't have enough wins.
Carpenter faltered down the stretch, giving up 22 earned runs in his last
five starts.
Willis finished strong, winning eight of his last 10 starts, but opponents
never knew which Willis would show up.


As much as I was brought up to dislike the Cards, Carpenter's first Cy
Young Award is in the cards.


Feedback? Email Dustin at dwenzel@katycourier.com.


Dustin Wenzel is a sportswriter with the Katy Courier.