I've been getting letters from readers asking for a companion to the Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day: a Johan Santana for Cy Young Award Stat of the Day. As amazing as it is for anyone to suggest that someone other than Bonds might win the National League MVP, these readers say, it's just as amazing to suggest that someone other than Santana, the red-hot Twins lefty, could win the A.L. Cy Young.
I'm not going to do a Johan Santana for Cy Young Stat of the Day, because the Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day -- BB4MVPSotD to its friends -- is wearing me out and getting on people's nerves, which I count as a bad thing and a good thing, respectively. But while Santana hasn't been as dominant among A.L. pitchers as Bonds has been among N.L. batters, he should be the clear choice for the Cy Young.
Unfortunately for Santana, his main competition is Curt Schilling, who pitches for the Red Sox and leads the league in wins with 20. Santana has 19. MLB.com calls the Cy Young race between Santana and Schilling "absolutely intriguing."
Pitching in the A.L. East and leading the league in wins is a pretty deadly combination. Seven of the last eight A.L. Cy Young winners have come from the East, and four of them led the league in wins. To be fair, all of the win-leaders except Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays last year also led the league in ERA.
Santana's fans are fond of pointing out that he's been putting up Bob Gibson-in-1968 type numbers since the All-Star break. He really has been preposterous. In 13 starts since the break he's 12-0 with an ERA of 1.16, which is not a typo. And the Twins won that other game too. He's struck out 118 and walked 18 in 93 and a third innings. And so on.
And he's getting better. In September he's 4-0 with an ERA of 0.00. Hasn't given up a run in 30 innings. He last gave up two runs in a game seven starts ago. He last gave up more than two -- three -- nine starts ago. In September he has struck out 41 and walked two.
But so what?
The Cy Young goes to the best pitcher in the league, not the guy who's hottest at the end. It's not a college football poll. Santana was 7-6 with a 3.78 ERA before the break. That's good, but it's not Cy Youngian, and those games counted too.
So the question is, Is Santana better than Schilling over the whole season? And the answer is yes.
In the first stat you look at for a starting pitcher, ERA, Santana leads the league at 2.65, with Schilling second at 3.28. I don't put much stake in pitchers' win-loss records, but since they're almost identical (Santana 19-6, Schilling 20-6, playing for teams with similar records), we can throw them out anyway. I do like to look at the team's record when a certain pitcher starts, though. The Twins are 23-9 behind Santana, the Red Sox 24-7 when Schilling takes the ball. A slight edge for Schilling.
They both pitch their home games in hitter's parks, though Fenway has tended to boost offense a little more than the Metrodome in recent years. But their run support hasn't been close. The Red Sox have scored 7.29 runs for every nine innings that Schilling has been the pitcher of record. For Santana, the Twins have scored 5.52.
Santana strikes out more hitters, 10.53 per nine innings to Schilling's 8.07, but Schilling walks fewer. His strikeout to walk ratio is 6.35 to Santana's 5.18. Santana gives up far fewer hits. Opponents have managed just a .195 batting average against him, .244 against Schilling. Opponents have an OPS of .568 against Santana, .668 against Schilling. It all adds up to a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 0.92 for Santana, 1.07 for Schilling.
They've pitched about the same number of innings, 219 and two-thirds to 217 for Schilling, and given up about the same number of home runs, 23 by Schilling, 24 by Santana. Schilling has completed three games to Santana's one, for what that's worth.
Overall, Santana has clearly been the better pitcher. He's allowed fewer baserunners and fewer runs, and he's allowed his team to post almost the same record as Schilling's team in games they've pitched despite getting only about three-quarters of Schilling's run support.
He hasn't been as Bondsian, as Gibsonesque, as his fans would like to believe, overall, though he has been in the second half. If he'd been pitching that way all year, there'd be no discussing the Cy Young Award. As it is, Schilling deserves some consideration, but Santana deserves the trophy.
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Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day [PERMALINK]
Today's stat: VORP.
Well, I said this wouldn't be esoteric foofaraw every day. Some days, though.
VORP means Value Over Replacement Player, and it's a metric invented by Baseball Prospectus, a Web site you should go purchase a subscription to immediately if you care at all about meaningful statistical analysis of baseball, not to mention witty writing on the subject.
If the strange-sounding acronym hasn't already scared you off, here's what VORP is all about: It's a measure of how many runs a player has contributed to his team above what a replacement-level player at that same position would contribute, given the same number of plate appearances.
Replacement level is actually determined statistically, but it's useful to think of a replacement-level player as a waiver-wire guy, an interchangeable reserve. It doesn't really matter exactly what replacement level is, as long as we understand it's a constant against which everyone at a single position is measured.
I'm not going to give you the list of National League VORP leaders because you know by now that Barry Bonds has practically lapped the field. Similar to most of the stats we've been talking about for the past week, his nearest competitor in this one, Albert Pujols, has about 70 percent of Bonds' total.
What I want to do is address the complaints from several readers about my calling that part of the Giants' offense made up of players not named Barry Bonds "anemic" in Thursday's column. These readers noted that the Giants were -- depending which day they wrote -- first or second in the National League in scoring. They wondered how I could call that offense anemic.
Through Monday's games, Bonds had a VORP of 136.2, meaning he'd produced 136.2 runs more than a theoretical replacement-level left fielder would have produced, given the same playing time. But forget about that. If Bonds magically disappeared, he wouldn't be replaced by a theoretical replacement-level player, he'd be replaced by Dustan Mohr, who's not a bad ballplayer at all.
Mohr had a VORP of 17.7 in 306 plate appearances. Bonds had 566 plate appearances, so extrapolating to give Mohr that many, he ends up with a Craig Biggio-like VORP of 32.7 runs. In other words, replacing Bonds with Mohr would have cost the Giants about 104 runs to date. (By the way, VORP only measures offense, not defense, which we'll get to Thursday, I promise.)
But of course replacing Bonds with Mohr means Mohr has to be replaced on the Giants' bench. That's where a replacement-level guy really comes in, so that would cost the Giants roughly another 17 runs. So losing Bonds would come with an offensive price tag of about 121 runs.
The Giants had scored 787 runs through Monday, 5.25 per game, third in the league, amusingly about a thousandth of a run per game behind the Rockies, who get an offensive boost from playing half their games at high altitude. The Cardinals led the league at 5.32 per game. Without Bonds' offense, the Giants would have scored 666 runs, 4.44 per game. That would have been 11th in the league, a sliver behind the Marlins, just ahead of the Mets.
Anemic is probably too strong a word, but that wouldn't be a very good hitting team without Barry Bonds. Without Bonds' bat, the Giants would have scored about 60 runs fewer than they'd allowed, which means they'd be a losing team. I've mentioned before that without Bonds the 2004 Giants would be the 2003 Tigers. That was an unfortunate exaggeration. A better comparison would be the current Pirates or Reds.
It's interesting that both Giants and Cardinals fans have made the point that the Giants have scored a lot of runs, Giants fans to defend Bonds' teammates, Cards fans to argue that Bonds isn't carrying the Giants, because look, they're near the top of the league in runs scored. But clearly they're near the top of the league in runs scored only because they have Barry Bonds.
You can do this same exercise with each of the MVP candidates, figure out how many runs it would cost their team to have replaced him with his logical backup. But considering that Pujols was second in VORP at 94.7, it's safe to say that nobody's ouster from the lineup is going to cost his team's offense 121 runs.
Previous column: Instant replay
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